Small Kitchen? No Worries

Six expert tips to make your restaurant's tiny kitchen work for you

The tiny house movement has not been limited to the private sector, it has seeped into our public lives, most notably in the restaurant industry. With more and more restaurants focusing on small menus and more and more patrons looking for takeout or a fast bite, the tiny restaurant option just makes sense. Smaller restaurant simplify operations, reduce waste, and are more financially sound investments. Restaurants are learning that all the space they thought they needed to execute a menu, is not always necessary. What’s more, is that with less space, you’re less likely to loose track on your inventory, which ends up becoming lost profits.

However, if you are thinking of opening a tiny restaurant, there are some factors to consider, most importantly: DESIGN. Smaller kitchens require better planning, so the folks at Blue Orbit Consulting have provided us with five essential tips to make your small kitchen both functional and efficient:

To create a successful cockpit kitchen there are several important criteria to be considered:

tip #1 : plan your menu around your kitchen

Menus must be engineered to avoid bottlenecks by spreading demand across several major pieces of equipment. If the top three sellers on a menu all come from the grill, then the kitchen gets backed up waiting on grill space while the rest of the equipment sits idle.

tip #2: do more prep

Pre-service preparation is important to make sure that items can be pre-portioned, grouped and/or partially cooked. For example, a pasta dish that includes mushrooms, peppers, and onions can be cooked faster when the vegetables are portioned and grouped together in a bag and the pre-cooked/chilled pasta is portioned in a bag. The cook merely needs to heat the ingredients together, toss, and plate. Prep work can be done several hours before the meal period or on a third shift.

tip #3: reduce steps during service

Cockpit kitchens need to be highly organized with ingredients, garnishes and sauces all close to final plating. The key is to reduce steps, so a well-organized line will conserve motion and allow a cook to produce several dishes at the same time. This often means custom stainless steel reservoirs or shelf placements.

tips #5: vacuum seal your inventory to save space

Consider vacuum sealing backups. Gallon containers and tubs take up a lot of space. For sauces and proteins, consider vacuum sealing in smaller quantities or batches that can be stacked on a shelf. For instance, if you typically move 3 lbs. of collard greens in an hour, pack them in 2 lbs. bags and drop the second bag I a water bath so it’s warm when you need it. Backup sauces for 12 oz squeeze bottles should be neatly stacked in 12 oz bags.

tip #6: eliminate the need for separate pieces of equipment

Equipment must be well planned. Refrigerator and oven doors must open to facilitate speed. Drawers should be substituted for doors for under counter ingredient access to prevent bending/stooping fatigue. Ovens should be stacked to reduce linear travel. Warming drawers and broilers can be positioned above the line. Griddles can be used for grilling, toasting and sautéing, eliminating the need for separate pieces of equipment. If a soup’s portion size is 8oz, then an 8oz ladle should be in the soup to eliminate double dipping.

Tiny kitchens are not just for food hall kiosks and food trucks anymore. They’re making their way into full sized restaurants, allowing them to allocate more space to seating or retail sales…or more importantly, allowing restaurants to rent smaller spaces with the same number of seats.

Cockpit kitchens take more time to plan and custom stainless-steel work can be expensive, but long-term labor savings, lower rent and throughput efficiency can quickly recoup those expenses. Also, some of the savings can go back to the cooks that operate these small spaces in the form of higher wages, so everyone wins. I’d rather reward one or two high-caliber cook with $20/hr. than pay three to six average cooks $14/hr.

Featured photo by Mikhail Rakityanskiy on Unsplash

Contributor: Ray Camillo is the Founder and CEO of Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting, a full-service national
restaurant and hospitality consulting firm with over 75 years of experience in the industry. 

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