One main issue that needs to be addressed before deciding on a kitchen design is the way in which food will be delivered to guests. This is recognized as the service system. A large operation, such as a hotel, may have more than 1 service program running simultaneously: Fancy Table Service, Room Assistance, and Casual Bar Assistance. At the other end of the spectrum, quick-service restaurants employ service systems that emphasize speed and convenience, including takeout support and also the fast-food option of standing at the same counter to order, pay for, and wait for a meal served within minutes. Each service system has subsystems; together, they cover all aspects of the progression of food from the kitchen area to the table and back to the dishwashing area.
This progression is known as flow, much like the flow of traffic on a busy street grid. There are two types of flow to consider when planning your kitchen area layout: item flow and traffic flow. Product circulation is the movement of all food, from its arrival at the receiving area, through the kitchen, to the diners. Visitor flow can be the movement of employees through the building as they perform their duties. Ideally, in both types of circulation systems, you would reduce backtracking and junctions, again, to ensure that the “streets” are not clogged.
You’ll find 3 basic flow patterns in every food service operation: The raw materials to create each dish have a front-to-back flow pattern. They arrive at the back of the restaurant, in the kitchen area, where they are prepared. They then travel to the front from the restaurant, to be served in the dining room. Finally, they return to the back, as waste. The third type of traffic pattern may be the flow of wait staff as servers collect food, deliver it to guests, and clear tables. In the busy night, the whole system really does resemble a busy highway. As you can imagine, there is often the possibility of disaster if someone makes a wrong turn.
The key to managing these 3 types of circulation is that none should interfere with the others. Inside the kitchen, there is also a unique flow for each cooking section. It could be a pattern of steps chefs follow to prepare each dish or the methodical way dishwashers scrape, sort and wash dishes and remove debris. The support systems and flow layouts of your business should guide the style of your kitchen. An operation with large numbers to feed in short periods of time will differ from 1 which also feeds large numbers but over a longer period of time.
Can you see how? The distance from the kitchen to the dining room is an essential consideration, and
kitchen designers have devised numerous strategies to deal with it. You may have noticed that in some restaurants, servers are expected to perform some food-related tasks outside of the kitchen area, at waiting stations closer to the guests. They can slice and serve bread, serve soup, prepare and dress salads, or prepare drinks. The idea is to speed up support and preserve the (sometimes inadequate) space of the kitchen area for actual cooking tasks.
An additional critical decision to make early in the styling procedure: Should servers enter the kitchen area to collect the food, or should it be delivered to them through a pass-through window between the kitchen and dining room? Although the pass window is considered informal, it could be used in a fancier restaurant, perhaps masked from public view by a wall or partition. Each of these elements (distance and access to the kitchen) help determine your flow layouts. In an ideal world, flow layouts would all be straight lines that don’t intersect. However, this perfect is rarely achieved. An easy rule of thumb is that the faster you want your service to become, the more important it is that your circulation patterns don’t intersect. Within a quick service scenario, flow lines should be short and straight.
The next time you’re standing at a fast food counter, notice how few steps most workers have to take to serve your soda, pick up your burger, and pack your fries. Speed is the desired result.
The opposite is true within a fine dining establishment, wherever all the work is done in the kitchen area to enhance the feel of a relaxed dining experience. No loud dishes, no bustling waiting stations here. Now that we’ve discussed the movement of people as they go about their business in the restaurant, stick to the food flow line—the path of raw materials from the time they enter the building to
the time they become leftovers.
The receiving region is where food is unloaded from delivery trucks and brought into the building. Most restaurants locate their reception locations near the back door. Our next stop is storage (dry storage, refrigerated storage, or freezer storage), where large quantities of food are kept at the proper temperatures until needed. Food that emerges from storage goes to one of several prep areas for vegetables, meats, or salads. The slicing and dicing take place here, to prepare the food for its next stop: the production region. The size and function of the preparation region vary widely, depending primarily on the style of service and the type of cooking area.
When most people think of the restaurant kitchen, what they picture is the production line. Here the food takes its final form before it is served: Boiling, sautéing, frying, baking, roasting and steaming are the main activities in this area. The food is plated and garnished before it heads out the door on a serving tray. And that’s the end of the typical food flow line. Several kitchen performance centers are not included in the common food flow sequence, but are closely linked to it. For example, storage locations should be in close proximity to the prep area to minimize employee pacing. In some kitchens, there is a separate ingredients room, where everything needed for a recipe is organized for pickup or delivery to a particular workstation.
Storage is much more useful when placed near the preparation region than near the receiving region, saving busy workers steps. The bakery is usually located between the dry storage and cooking areas, because mixers and ovens can be shared using the cooking area. A meat cutting region is also essential. It should be in close proximity to both refrigerators and sinks for safety and sanitation reasons, as well as for easy cleaning. Keep in mind, however, that some kitchens simply aren’t big enough to accommodate separate specialized work centers. Kitchen space planning becomes a matter of juggling priorities, and it’s an ongoing commitment.
As you juggle yours, think about each task that is performed in each work center. How essential is it to the overall mission of the kitchen area? Are there homework assignments that can be modified, rearranged, or eliminated entirely to save time and/or space? Some of the ideas that should be discussed here are: the frequency of moves between numerous pieces of equipment, the distance between pieces of equipment, allowing space for temporary “landing areas” for raw materials or finished plates to sit until where required, put the equipment on wheels so it could be moved from one site to another, creating a “parking space” for the equipment when not in use.
In short, if the work centers are adjacent to each other, without crowding each other, time and energy are saved; And if people working in more than one area have convenient, unobstructed paths between those locations, they can perform more efficiently. An often-missing hub of work is the sink, which always seems to be relegated to the darkest corner of the kitchen. Sure, it’s not one of the most attractive areas, but think of the many other workplaces that depend on it. The communal kitchen generates an overflow of pots and pans. Why not move the sink closer to the production line to deal with the clutter?
And, speaking of pots, think carefully about where to keep them. Both clean and dirty, they take up a lot of space and require creative storage solutions. Pot/pan racks can often be hung directly over the sink area, giving dishwashers a handy place to shop for clean pots straight from the draining board. (Remember that anything stored near the floor should be at least 6 inches off the floor for health reasons.)