Roundtable: Kitchen Design

A group of back-of-house experts come together to discuss the changing priorities for hotels and restaurants when it comes to kitchen design

HOTELIER: How has the design of food & beverage venues in hotels, specifically in terms of its back-of-house, changed over the last 10 years?

Edward Harvey: Kitchens are moving inside the restaurants, and what was typically back-of-house is becoming a front-of-house experience. It’s the biggest transition that we’ve noticed over the past 10 years.

David Morris: From an equipment point of view, there are all sorts of implications from bringing equipment front-of-house — not just the aesthetics but also to complement the dining environment. [For example], if you’ve got smoky, charcoal grills burning off, how do you extract this to keep the dining environment a friendly and welcoming place?

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Michael Chabowski: You’d try to keep the cleaner items in front of the client and the dirtier items to the back. But we also have a situation where the back-of-house is shrinking, which is due to the cost of real estate. But on the other hand you have got hygiene regulations coming which demand additional corridors and additional separation of food, which is pushing it in the other direction. That’s quite a balancing act.

Philip Wooller: I was curious about why this is — why is it coming into the restaurants? Is it so that guests can view what’s going on, or is it about space or efficiency?

Edward: Michael touched on a point that’s very much around building efficiency and that relates to investment and development costs. People expect — and this has grown over a period of time — theatre. No longer is a meal experience something that sits in four walls and the food just comes through the escape chute. Yes, BOH has got smaller. You could say the front-of-house kitchen has gotten bigger. But the drive at the end of the day is that we as the public, are travelling more, knowing more about different cuisines, plus we live in the biggest travel transport hub in the world. And suppliers have had to elevate their quality, their finishes.

Michael: But would you say it’s also driven by the chef? The standards of the kitchen and production are actually going up year by year, and the chefs are demanding or requiring a stage or a platform to show off their undeniable talents.

David: The flexibility and the things that they’re [suppliers] having to do to deliver this theatre… They can now introduce into a relatively standard cook suite, a robata grill or a teriyaki frying station or a wok grill, and really mix up the different cuisines that can be done front-of-house which has an element of flair and theatre to it.

HOTELIER: But has the demand for products changed in tandem?

Per-Anders Johansson: As dishwasher producers, we see this very strongly, especially when you’re looking at the finish of the machine. It needs to have a good design as well. Ten years ago, it was just a dishwasher. Now you need to think more about the design.

Gurkan Disceken: From energy to water to oil consumption, everything is very important and people are also looking for healthier food. So the manufacturers started to focus on savings. In addition, as a chef, you’re trying to produce the best food for your customers, but you have to keep your quality at the same level every time. So with our technology we’re trying to make it so we can leave everything to this one oven.

Edward: Gurkan brought up a good point around efficiency and the use of resources. Being brought in at a very early stage of the project, we get involved in helping define — even before we’ve fully designed the kitchen — the requirements from a resource perspective.

Michael: Sustainability is a word which we’re hearing more and more and more. It’s certainly key to a lot of our decision in the design process now.

Emanuele Franchi: We have a unit which is suitable to move from the back-of-house, to the front. Part of production is in front of the guests because they want to see something artisanal. But some things will always remain at the back. Another trend I have faced is that before restaurants used to buy gelato, now they want to make their own.

Gary Toms: The products I represent are almost exclusively back-of-house, never front-of-house, so the pressure for us is to maximise the space that’s available. The point made about back-of-house becoming smaller is really relevant — globally we work with all the QSRs who are constantly pressurising for maximising front-of-house and minimising back-of-house, but needing to store more and more.

HOTELIER: Are there any trends that you’re noticing in global F&B and BOH design that you think need to be incorporated in this region, or that you think are slowly coming in?

Edward: I’d like to see pop-up restaurants coming here. Maybe not high-end, but to have flexibility when we do design so that different concepts can be carried out. I heard there were 1,600 restaurants opening last year which is an enormous amount.

Per-Anders: The trend we have seen in Europe for 15-20 years is that people don’t want to spend time in the dishwashing area, they want fully automatic solutions to save people’s time and money. This is coming more and more in the Middle East.

David: Labour is more expensive in other parts of the world than it is here. If you’re selling an all-in-one superb machine, but it costs more money and if the labour is expensive, it’s a no brainer. But if it’s not… there are different priorities based on labour costs.

Michael: But we are constrained by regulations. It’s not just a question of a push towards economy, we have to bear in mind regulations which are very stringent by way of HACCP.

Edward: They’re not necessarily design regulations, but the local food control authority’s definition and expectations of kitchen design and equipment are probably one of the highest in the world.

David: Do you think it’s important that the equipment can take over the potential for human error?

Edward: Yes but you still need the humans. Flavour doesn’t come from machinery but it’s technique and the development of that machinery with the human capital that’s going to deliver a great experience. And clients, owners and developers are seeing the value of bringing consultants to the table. It has a front-end cost but with a back-end benefit.

Gurkan: Yes I believe we need consultants in this business.

Michael: We hear what you’re saying and we’re developing a system which we’re launching: MCTS Agility, which is an internet design portal. We can come in, and in two weeks do a full design. That design can be handed over to somebody who is not that experienced, say the kitchen supplier, to take it on from that point. But the core design is there, so the operator, owner/investor has a benchmark which he’s working from, and then he can move forward. It’s mainly for back-of-house projects.

HOTELIER: What are the challenges associated with the new trends?

David: Space efficiency and energy efficiency. The performance of the equipment, say for example, the recovery time of a fryer, which reflects on your quality of delivery to the customer. Finding equipment that can do several jobs. You have international cuisine but you also have an international fleet of staff so the equipment has to be easy to operate.

Gary: In this era of austerity, are you getting squeezed a little bit on price?

David: The words ‘value engineering’ are being used.

Michael: Value engineering is when you add to the cost of the project because you’re saving money in operations. That’s what it is.

David: It’s the clever engineering of design so as to save costs in certain areas, like you say, going forward in the operations, potentially save money on capital investment by doing smart things. The words are sometimes used incorrectly. But in real value engineering, the big savings are in the building.

Michael: You can do demand ventilation, for example, which adds to the cost but reduces the amount of chilled air you have to replace. That is a huge saving, but it’s a small additional cost upfront. It has a massive reduction on costs moving forward.

Edward: We go to projects and there’s no brief in some cases, and others without budget. That has significant challenges later on. There is a constant drive, certainly on significant projects who use MEP consultants, to constantly drive down the resources that are required by a building. And there are other indirect costs to a project that we don’t see, and those situations can have a very large impact and frustration to the design.

HOTELIER: How can you, as partners of the industry, work towards alleviating these challenges and contribute towards profitability?

Edward: We are all partners and Mike and I compete on the coalface on a daily basis but we can have a professional conversation about different issues. But to the others around the table, it’s very important that we understand and know their products. And the benefits that they can bring to a project.

Emanuele: Energy efficiency as well as simplicity is what we have incorporated in our machines. We have also tried to develop our gelato machine to create something in confectionary together.

Gurkan: Savings is something that we started in 2010. But what we are focusing on in the market now is the ease of use and management and aftersales service. What is important now is the aftersales service. The number one brand in the future is the one that will give the best aftersales service.
Gary: It just proves that as manufacturers you can’t just make a product anymore. It must be a value-add.

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