Doing more with less is frequently the mantra in today’s restaurants. And that ethos is more and more extending to the buildings themselves.
Restaurant chains, like 530-location strong Captain D’s and fan favorite Cheesecake Factory, are increasingly redesigning their stores to reduce overall footprint, often by 25% or 30%. While these leaner operations can be money-savers — reducing expenses for both real estate and operational costs — they can also pose unique logistical challenges.
Solving these issues to create a highly functional and highly efficient kitchen means considering everything from what’s on the menu to how many steps workers take to complete standard tasks.
Designers’ focus may turn naturally to the biggest space-consuming pieces like fryers and ovens when looking to reduce footprints, but they shouldn’t overlook some of the “small stuff” that can also make a difference in space and labor efficiency.
Move it when you can
Most major cooking equipment will be stationary by its very nature, but there is still some flexibility to be gained with the right equipment choices.
For instance, smart choices in appliance connectors can free up valuable space by allowing the appliance to be positioned closer to the wall. Some gas hoses, for instance, have free swiveling ends that offer more movement and prevent kinking to allow for tighter positioning of the appliance.
And hose reels — an efficient option for washdown of floors, equipment and other areas — can be mounted on table legs and rotated out of the way when not in use.
Designers say storage space is often what gets cut when kitchens are looking to shrink their space, but reducing dry storage by too much presents its own set of problems.
One solution is to use as much vertical space as possible. Installing overhead shelving in even tight spaces can double or triple the amount of space available in a dedicated storage area.
Choosing a compact pre-rinse unit for the dish area can make even more of that space available by reducing the height consumed by this necessary cleaning equipment.
Look at real life
A kitchen designed in a board room often lacks the “boots on the ground” perspective of how workers will use the space in real life. When Captain D’s was considering its recent redesign, a mocked-up kitchen was created where operators and other stakeholders could interact with the layout and offer feedback.
Taking a look at kitchen design through the eyes — and feet — of the people who will use it can often reveal areas where tighter spaces make for better workflow.
For instance, positioning hand sinks where employees are most likely to need them — near a prep area, for instance — not only increases the chance that they’ll be used more frequently, thus protecting food safety, but also reduces the steps that need to be taken, increasing efficiency.
Likewise, a pot filler faucet positioned by the stove offers quick, convenient access to water without taking up space for additional sink areas.
The key to equipping smaller kitchens for function and efficiency is considering every element that goes into the kitchen, down to the last toaster, spatula and faucet.