Customers may think that the bulk of the action in the restaurant happens in the dining area, but the professionals know all about the behind the scene.
The kitchen is the beating heart and the thinking brain that determines the success of a restaurant. Some may think that size in terms of either space or manpower – or both – are the crucial things to consider. Yet those who have been in the business for decades know that ensuring efficiency, cleanliness, and excellence in terms of both service delivery and product quality are what will make or break one’s establishment.
That said, here are a few key pointers with regard to setting up a professional kitchen.
Choosing the right equipment is one of the challenges that many first-time restaurateurs encounter. In fact, there are those who tend to go overboard – buying everything from walk-in freezers or installing massive pieces like custom-made wood burning ovens –without thinking of either their long-term use or their impact on daily operational costs.
A prudent restaurateur is careful when selecting equipment. Cold storage, dry larder options, efficient yet easy to maintain gas or electric cooktops, and dishwashing facilities are all requisites for any restaurant. Smaller appliances such as stand mixers, food processors, and either free-standing or immersion blenders also go a long way in speeding up food prep. Large-scale purchases, however, need a great deal of thinking: unless one’s restaurant specializes in artisanal pizzas or smoked-on-the-premises Texas-style barbecue, then a massive brick oven or a room-sized grill may not be necessary.
Seeking out second-hand equipment (provided these are still in good working condition) is another cost-effective way of equipping a kitchen, as is leasing equipment from a reputable service provider.
When it comes to stocking, it helps to look for purveyors who offer produce and staples in bulk at reasonable prices. Make sure that they are of the best possible quality and deliver ordered items in a timely fashion.
One may have gorgeous equipment and a beautifully stocked pantry, but none of that matters if the people in the staff are neither competent nor motivated to do their best in the workplace.
It is a cliché – but one rooted in reality – that most restaurant positions, particularly those in the front of the house, are at the entry levels. But experience matters in the back of the house: chefs and assistants with a proven work ethic, reliable references, and are consistent in terms of performance and output are still the ones who have the most impact in the kitchen. Treated well, they form a strong backbone that holds an establishment together in the best manner possible.
Cleanliness is practically a religion in the restaurant industry, one that is practiced very carefully and with great fervor. After all, a single negligent act – not checking if ingredients are still sound, if the cooktops and worktops have been scrubbed down, or if the garbage has been disposed of properly – can lead to a lawsuit if it leads to harm or illness on a diner.
For this, restaurants need to assign, train, and monitor full-time clean-up crews who will ensure that the premises are spick and span all throughout. Others may choose to outsource cleaning to external service providers, but they should be accredited and made to try out prior to engagement. Waste disposal may also be coordinated with local government with regard to regular collection, or arrangements may be made with sustainability groups who can upcycle or responsibly dispose of inorganic wastes.
For reasons of both efficiency and hygiene, kitchen stations – individual work tables dedicated to a particular course on the menu or a specific specialty – need to be planned and laid out carefully.
As an example, areas handling cold dishes or viands that need to be served as soon as assembled, need to be positioned closest to the serving window and in near proximity to refrigerated storage areas and wash-sinks. Grills and roasting ovens, due to the heat and smoke generated, should be placed towards the back or, better yet, in a sanitized area outside. To get the most efficient output, the placement of serving devices should also be planned accordingly.