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Think Outside the Box with Kitchen Real Estate
Think Outside the Box with Kitchen Real Estate

Any way you slice it, real estate is expensive.  The commercial kitchen is no exception.  It feeds on lots of space and subsequently lots of real estate dollars out of any developer’s pocket.  A new wrinkle has emerged today…the devotion of even more or re-allocated space to satisfy social distancing requirements throughout the back and front of the house.  What if we could maximize the developer’s return on investment AND meet spatial requirements without emptying their pockets?  It’s time to think outside the box.

Vertical is Key

It’s obvious that decreasing the footprint for the kitchen will reduce operating costs.  But how do we tackle the social distancing requirements if the space is smaller?  Thinking vertical vs. horizontal may be the answer, not only in the footprint of the space but also in the design with attention given to versatile and energy-efficient equipment as well as operational flow.

Kitchens in the Sky

Locating the kitchen adjacent to the dining area, while typical, may not be the best solution when space is at a premium.  Developers, owners and designers are reviewing the location of the kitchen from the back of the house to the ceiling of the house so to speak, utilizing what was once “throw away” space.  For example, McDonalds has developed a facility located at the Sydney Airport.  While the open-to-view kitchen is the “main attraction,” its placement at ceiling level drastically reduces the footprint of the facility, allowing the dining area to expand and cultivating space for neighboring retail facilities.  Apart from the automated operations, the core/shell accommodates the centralized MEP requirements so additional cost outlays are non-existent.  The return on investment, already driven upward with the footprint reduction, will increase by designing the kitchen with maximum energy efficiency.

Kitchens Underground

Mirroring the concept of the kitchen in the sky, designers have positioned the kitchen below the front of the house, thereby creating more space maximization for the front of house functions without increasing the footprint.  A brasserie restaurant in Munich has done just that.  A food conveyor belt was implemented into the kitchen design, repositioning the traditional pass area so it can be shared by the Rotisseur, Entremetier, Garde Manger, and Pastry Zones.  This, in turn, allows for streamlining and expediting the plating of the menu items and reducing the footprint of the pass and/or service pick-up zone. In addition, it allows space for a lineup of waiters to pick up ordered meals quickly and attend to the tables – “à la banquet” style.

Vertical Cooking Wins

Flexibility of cooking equipment allows designers to get more bang for your buck by integrating far less single-task equipment into the space.  For example, a programmable (automation) combi oven that can deliver several methods of cookery – steaming, poaching, roasting, cook and hold, re-heating, pan frying, char grilling, smoking, baking, etc. – can be conducted with one cooking cavity, within periodic times.  Not only does this move toward vertical cooking decrease spatial requirements, but it also reduces the carbon footprint through energy efficiency – the concealed cooking chamber has a glazed door for cooking visibility without having to open the door.  The MEP requirements are contained within a small space behind and/or adjacent to the oven. The oven can be specified in different configurations, for example 6, 10, 20, 40-tray, or 6-tray unit over another 6-tray. Thus, the MEP location does not change, the footprint of the unit is the same, only the height will change, and the production of cook/heated food will be defined by the configuration of the combi oven, as mentioned.

Stack it Up

Some foodservice equipment can be stacked upon each other which in turn allows for better utilization of space, an increase in production, and flexibility to meet menu requirements.  Examples of equipment include combi ovens, conveyor ovens, and microwave convection ovens, with a variety of functions and features depending on the operator’s needs from programmable and automated to requiring skilled or unskilled labor.  It boils down to ergonomics equaling efficiency of operational space.   In fact, a European manufacturer of vertical cooking equipment has taken steps to have their equipment product ranges approved and certified with an ergonomics stamp. The key take-away is that vertical equipment should be compact, within arm’s reach to quicken productivity with ergonomic ease, and be an affordable option.

Utilities Distribution Walls Get the Job Done

Replacing stud walls with a utility wall provides a streamlined approach to contain and deliver sources of fuel and water to the kitchen.  The utility wall provides structure to support the extraction hood, hand sinks, filter units and so forth. It also channels and directs the sources of water, power, gas to each piece of equipment, like a human’s central nervous system.   In the long term, equipment can be replaced or upgraded as a simple disconnect/reconnect.  The wall becomes the kitchen core – it accommodates services, equipment, and segregates the kitchen with one side for bulk prep/cooking and the other side for finishing.

Eliminate the Need for Hoods

Ventless equipment has ushered in the ability to put the kitchen in virtually any space since it eliminates the need for costly ventilation hood systems and the duct work upon which it relies.  Energy use is reduced which equals lower utility costs and a more sustainable kitchen.

Cooking Islands vs. Cooking Walls

Cooking islands encourage the ease of communication in the development of a dish and expedites service.  The linear pass area is reduced and gives more space back to the front of house area.  A cooking wall is more common in kitchens and tends to align the length of the facility.  However, the linear pass area increases and eats into the front of house space and promotes more cross-over traffic by staff, not a plus in today’s environment.  Cooking islands, on the other hand, demonstrate separation and allows distancing among the catering staff, which is advantageous for eliminating cross-contamination during these uncertain times.

A Room with a View

A transparent spatial divide between front and back of house created with the use of windows set into the kitchen walls offers the diners the ability to see the kitchen in action and provides a sense of connectivity between the front and back operations.  Not only is it useful for trapping kitchen odors and noise; but it also improves ventilation, while offering kitchen theatrics that are still visible to the diners.  Depending on the kitchen’s geometrical shape, this transparency allows the diner’s line of sight to be uninterrupted within different curves/angles.   The divide can be a separation point between front and back of house operations or it can complement operations by functioning as a quick-service window.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Thinking outside the box is essential to maximize return on investment while meeting spatial requirements.  The clear winner will be the one who, by being open to emerging trends and different ways of thinking, can reduce or reallocate kitchen space without impacting productivity or functionality…. all while maintaining the social distancing requirements that have become part of the equation.

By:  Keith Short | Director of Design – West Coast


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