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The Caterer

Kitchen design: Open kitchen or theatre servery?

17 January 2007
Kitchen design: Open kitchen or theatre servery?

I have a traditional kitchen layout separate from the dining room but would like to open up the kitchen to provide an element of theatre for diners.

Solution

This can be a fairly simple option of including a theatre cooking station where one or more menu items are finished off in full view of the customer, through to a full open kitchen where preparation and cooking of all items is on view. But whichever approach you take, there are a number of considerations to bear in mind

Staff

While you may currently employ a number of excellent, well-trained members of staff in the kitchen, some don't transfer well to being in the public eye. Training is key, and worth the effort to make chefs aware that they're also salespeople engaged in promoting your business.

Menu

The exciting array of dishes that can be cooked and finished off in front of the customer can soon falter if there's not enough room to hold ingredients, so co-ordination is key. The chef, once in position at his cooking station, shouldn't need to be regularly moving back of house to replenish ingredients. His work station should be designed to include suitable refrigerated, ambient, pan and utensil storage.

Structure

You may want to open out the entire hot kitchen to be on view, but removal of a single wall, if structural, can be prohibitively expensive, and it's worth discussing preferred plans with design consultants and structural engineers. Structural columns left in situ can be used to run services down, and add to lighting or interior decoration schemes, but it can also hinder the customer's view of the kitchen theatre.

Services

Even the simplest of theatre cooking stations needs forethought to avoid the potential of trailing cables or pipes which can be a health and safety risk, both to your staff and customers. If feasible, quick-release service connections are recommended to allow flexibility of movement, but liaison is needed with mechanical and electrical contractors to define positions and allow for future expansion.

Ventilation

Customers may enjoy the theatre of chef preparing a healthy stir-fry for lunch, but not if the fumes or smoke are severe, or the aroma of fish cooked earlier still lingers. New high-efficiency filters to replace baffle filters, UV filtration or ventilation on demand are examples of new technology that has helped the chef to cook on view.

Fire control

Fire officers will need to view plans if you intend to remove walls or doors, and re-examine escape routes. Fire suppression systems could ease the concerns of both the fire officer and building insurers.

Catering flows

Any change of the kitchen configuration will affect the catering flows, and a good designer will ascertain that this is not to the detriment of the kitchen staff. Certain facets of the catering option won't be on view, (warewash, dry stores, coldstores, bin stores, catering office, for example), but the flows must be maintained or re-examined to ascertain that safe and economic work-flow patterns are in place, avoiding cross-contamination or hygiene risks.

Also think about providing flexibility when purchasing equipment. Customers' preferences change frequently - the menus we see today won't be the same in five years, and the kitchen design needs to accommodate that. One way to maintain a flexible kitchen is to purchase more mobile equipment, and counter-top pieces that are removable and not bolted down or installed.

The most common items of equipment in a theatre cooking station today are induction cookers as they don't involve open flames, which is an obvious safety benefit, and have fewer ventilation considerations than open-flame cooking. The induction hobs, or woks, can be used as table-top units in a basic chef's station for front-of-house cooking. The fact that some of these items can be simply plugged into a 13amp standard electrical supply simplifies the services requirements.

Depending on the budget and the anticipated usage, these items can be built in to counters to provide a bespoke look, and suited with ancillary items such as bains-marie, ceramic hotplates and refrigerated wells. As the menu items to be cooked at the station increase, so do the complexities of services and ventilation requirements, but it is feasible to have pasta cookers, fryers, griddle plates and any other cooking appliance in front of the customer. Depending on the operation and menu, the main cookline is still required as many other menu items are prepared, cooked and serviced in the normal way.

In an open kitchen, a glazed screen to the main kitchen allows all catering operations to be on view but without the noise and retaining a fire break to keep the fire officer satisfied. Customers can view a clean kitchen and fresh ingredients and perceive that they will be receiving a dish prepared with care and quality ingredients. The cookline should be positioned to allow all functions to be on view, as far as possible.

• Kevin Tyson is director of Hepburn Associates (01452 863917, www.hepburnassociates.co.uk) and a member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International (01483 761122, www.fcsi.org.uk)

Click here for a PDF of an open kitchen with a glazed screen which allows all catering operations to be viewed >>

Click here for a PDF of a kitchen with a theatre servery where dishes are finished off in full view of the customer >>

Do you have a kitchen design problem? Send the details to catererproducts@rbi.co.uk

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