Restaurants are increasingly seeking equipment with multiple uses. “Years ago, it was OK for a dedicated piece of equipment to, say, warm tortillas,” Souhrada says. “That’s not enough anymore. As multiple dayparts and menu items get added, equipment needs to perform tasks to serve multiple menus at different times of the day.”
And then there are efforts by an increasing number of restaurants to have a greener image, syncing with many of their customers’ demands, particularly millennials. That also may mean a balancing act between upfront costs and energy savings down the road.
Some green kitchen items have become readily accepted, like efficient spray valves and LED lighting, says Michael Oshman, chief executive of the Boston-based Green Restaurant Association. For some other equipment, however, the upfront cost may take years to recover through utility cost savings. “There’s a pressure many [operators] feel of long-term versus short-term costs,” he says.
Even those businesses that think going green is too cost prohibitive can start with small tweaks, Oshman adds. “We say maybe there are X things you can do,” he says. “You shouldn’t just throw in the towel.”
The whole concept of sustainability, including the growing focus on handling kitchen waste effectively—separating trash, compost, and recyclables—not only helps a restaurant do good, but also gives them another arrow in the marketing quiver, Seely says, which can pay dividends through traffic.
At the same time, planning for the future also can mean considering utility needs that come with growth, such as electrical boxes and gas lines with more capacity, Seely adds.
Designing a modern kitchen, then, involves a process that takes time to find efficiencies and cost savings while also building in the ability to adapt to changing dining trends.
Mark Richardson is managing director of FIT Kitchen, the design arm of equipment manufacturer Welbilt (FIT stands for Food Inspiring Technology). He says FIT Kitchen employs a four-phase plan when consulting with clients on their kitchen design: research, analysis, synthesis, and realization.
Research is a key starting point. “We can’t help our customers’ kitchen operations if we don’t understand their business,” Richardson says. That phase, which typically takes a month, looks at all parts of a client’s business, including time and motion studies of the kitchen.
The analysis of that data helps put the plan in focus. “You look at the ‘what ifs,’” says Michael Anderson, director of FIT Global Systems Integration, pointing to how changes might affect labor, equipment, and productivity. “Will a new product stress out the fryer or the grill? Or maybe we find there’s an existing item that doesn’t sell much but we see it disrupts the [kitchen].”