Consultant's Corner
Kitchen Design - Applying Lessons Learned
by Connie Dickson

In my travels as a foodservice design consultant, I’ve toured countless kitchens. The kitchen spectrum ranges from old to new, from cramped to spacious, and from well-designed to downright challenging. My most memorable kitchens are the old, small, challenging operations where managers have applied ingenuity and made them functional. If you have the great good fortune to be working in a right-sized, thoughtfully designed and well maintained kitchen, read no further. For those with challenges, there are steps you can take, short of a complete overhaul, to improve your operation. Even if a major kitchen renovation is not on the horizon, you can apply lean kitchen design principals to improve functionality and manage operating costs.

Let’s begin with improving staff efficiency to control labor costs. Take the time to observe your staff during both typical and busy work periods, with an eye to minimizing steps and maximizing staff safety. Are there clearly defined and uncluttered traffic aisles? Or are people and products traveling through aisle where staff are working? Do food products move logically in one direction from deliveries to production to serving? How many steps does it take for staff to reach what they need to do their job?

When space is limited, take a hard look at everything and determine what is essential. We love mobile equipment like utility carts and speed racks, but if they lack parking places and are clogging aisles, it’s time to pare down the numbers. Pull some out of circulation and only issue the minimum needed to run your kitchen. Dry storage is another culprit that creeps into every nook and cranny where a shelf or dunnage rack fits. Look at your storage creep and consider whether it makes sense from a space, flow and inventory perspective. Storage overflow may be convenient for cooks, but encroaching on circulation and challenging to track. If so, relocate it to centralized storage and use carts to collect daily supplies. Walk-in refrigerators are key support for production areas, but adding reach-in refrigerators for basic ingredients will save staff steps. In tight spaces, consider undercounter refrigerators or worktop refrigerators that provide both workspace and refrigeration.   

In food production areas, evaluate how well you’re able to maximize food quality and minimize waste. Is your menu well suited for the storage, work space, staffing and equipment available in your operation? For example, partnerships featuring local produce are a win on multiple levels, but only if you’re able to effectively clean and process the bounty from the fields. We know that customers appreciate made-to-order menu options. Shifting production to retail areas meets that need, while showcasing your culinary talent and activating the retail space. Successfully locating production in retail areas requires setting up stations to support efficient throughput and maintain safety. When structuring stations, walk through every step of the process in a mock up scenario. Where are the ingredients and back-up ingredients? Will you be accumulating dirty pans? How are those staged, washed and replenished? And for flex stations, consider how alternate menu options will change the station requirements.

Lastly, when it’s time to purchase equipment, evaluate high efficiency options against current models. Equipment manufacturers continue to develop foodservice equipment than uses less energy, reduces water consumption and even captures wasted heat. The Foodservice Technology Center at compiles priceless information to help you evaluate equipment. Efficient equipment typically has a higher initial cost, but the paybacks over time offset upcharges. In addition to equipment information, Fishnick’s website includes calculator tools to help you determine the cost of ownership over time in order to make sound decisions about equipment purchases.

Look at your operation from the perspective of a design consultant and I predict you will find do-it-yourself opportunities to ramp up its functionality!