Big restaurant small kitchen – how do you find the right balance?

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With open kitchens, live cooking stations and theatre kitchens, the cooking spectacle is now at your table side or close enough giving guests the opportunity to see the chef at work. This is a growing trend of people saying that they enjoy the spectacle of watching their food being prepared in front of them and chefs themselves look at it as a great way to interact with the guests.

Given this trend, then, as a chef – the table side – would be the only space he or she would need, wouldn’t it? But then where does the mis en place happen (common terminology for pre-prep and literally translates to put into place) or where does one keep butchery? Where are those vegetables stored, sanitized, stored and chopped? Storage, do we even consider dry storage?

All of the above requires space and unfortunately, most owners focus bulk of their investment in beautifying the front of the house (FOH) with the planning for the back of house (BOH) – the kitchen and stewarding area is generally overlooked. And this is because the BOH areas are considered ‘non-revenue’ generating space.

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The challenge which kitchens face these days as a result of this is primarily space-related – the lack of it. Therefore, the planning and designing of this space becomes extremely important to maximize the utility of the available space.

Today, smaller kitchens are servicing restaurants that are much bigger. Dubai has so many big restaurants and managing the balance between the kitchen’s output capacity to the numbers of covers is one of the main challenges we face. In terms of space, maximizing the usage of every square foot, using the right equipment and technology and hiring the right human resources plays a pivotal role. That’s where I think we need to focus our efforts by hiring right and planning for the best optimization of space. And this planning process starts when you’re in the design and layout stage well before the restaurant opening.

While planning a restaurant it is extremely important to:

  • Be sure of the operational capacity keeping in mind deliveries (if your concept fits into that space)
  • Take in to account the output capacity of the kitchen
  • Size and number of covers of the restaurant
  • Plan for the equipment accordingly based on the above criteria.

When planning for the equipment one needs to know the output capacity of the equipment. This information is readily available on the website of all manufacturers – size, production capacity and other such details. I think just due diligence in going through these details during the planning stage would help in a big way. All modern-day equipment come specifically calibrated for operational efficiency.

When you’re in the process of planning a kitchen, technology does play an important role and that’s where exhibitions like Gulf Food, Restaurant Show come in to play by doing their bit to introduce new and available kitchen-related technologies to the local market. Traditional methods are followed by many. But today, being progressive and adaptive to new techniques is the name of the game.  Any new technology can be adapted to suit your requirement in your kitchen. It definitely will not replace the role of the chef or other kitchen staff but it will definitely help control labor cost and manage time effectively.

People are becoming more aware and are now investing in technology which will help reduce time and labor cost. For example, if a person spends two hours a day just grating cheese, now with a help of the right equipment that task takes only 20 minutes allowing the person to focus his or her time elsewhere making the entire process extremely time and cost efficient. The interaction, the spectacle, the theatrics does work in certain types of restaurant and makes the space come alive with the noise and energy of an open kitchen. However, these concepts cannot work in all restaurants. And this is where a good kitchen designer and a good chef need to work hand-in-hand with the investors/owners to ensure that everyone is in-sync with the overall concept and vision of the outlet.

Nigel J Lobo
Nigel J Lobo is currently the Executive Chef and Group Culinary Administrator at the Royal Orchid Hospitality Group in Dubai. Prior to this, he was the Chef de Cuisine at The Eloquent Elephant at the Taj Dubai. Nigel holds a Bachelors degree in Tourism Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Kitchen Management from the renowned Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD). He spent his formative years training at Miramar under Michelin star Chef Paco Perez, at Compartir under Chef Mateu Casanas in Spain; Attica in Australia under Chef Ben Shewry, La Vie under Chef Thomas Buhner in Germany and at a local tapas bar in Valladolid-La Tahona under Chef Jose. Nigel remains passionate about Modern European cuisine and being born and raised in the UAE, he has harnessed the locally available produce to create successful menus which he has rolled out across all the group’s outlets. Keen to share his experiences to educate and guide young chefs or students who are looking at starting a career in the Food & Beverage industry, Nigel recently launched his website (www.nigeljlobo.com) which has different sections breaking down complex F&B terminology into simple, understandable lingo. A career that started in his late teens, Nigel has developed his skills over the years and currently oversees the operations for ten of the group’s restaurants – from efficiently controlling the logistics of services and supplies, pricing the menus for various segment and portioning the plates, to training staff and maintaining consistency in product offering across all restaurants. A sports and music enthusiast, Nigel enjoys playing squash in his free time and has been a lifelong supporter of the English football club Arsenal FC. Nigel is also a trained pianist and now admits that playing the instrument, something that used to be a chore whilst growing up, is now his best remedy to unwind and destress.