Published August 12, 2022
SERIES: Solution Makers
A Guide to Successful Commercial Kitchen Projects
Contributed by: The Boelter Companies
When considering starting up your own commercial kitchen or restaurant, whether from within the walls of an existing space or a brand-new building, the attention that is provided to the overall foodservice design is often reflected in the level of success your new business endeavor will achieve.
With over 90 years of servicing the foodservice industry, we’ve refined our commitment to you, our customer, by consistently providing new ways to empower you to achieve success. Boelter designs commercial kitchens, and delivers and installs foodservice equipment, and provides all necessary supplies.
We’ve created our “Guide to Successful Commercial Kitchen Projects” to help walk you through the numerous details that should be considered as you begin your project:
• Layout and Flow of Kitchen and Dining Space
• Health Department Considerations
View and download our complete “Guide to Successful Commercial Kitchen Projects” as a PDF here.
To start, define the concept. Ask yourself a few basic, high-level questions about what your intended goal is and identify the specific market segment your new venue will serve:
• Will this be a brand new, independent restaurant, or will the focus be on providing an upscale space for the senior living community?
• Is the design geared more toward a learning space, K-12 or higher education? Does your vision better align with serving hospital staff, patients, and visiting family members?
• Does the goal of your business fit the model of a restaurant chain? Does success lean more toward a brewpub or craft brewery that also serves a variety of menu items?
First impressions do matter. What first impression do you intend to provide your customers as they enter this new space? Based on your identified market segment, is it important to keep things bright, lively, and engaging, or is a more thematic environment – one that is dark yet cozy – more appropriate? Will the audio levels be quiet and relaxing or loud and edgy? Will the aromas from the kitchen greet your guests as they enter the space?
Document all of your initial ideas as you begin to develop your foodservice plan. There will be several groups and professionals involved throughout the process. As such, it will be a benefit to identify every decision-maker early on and verify that everyone involved is consistently on the same page with every decision that is made.
Keep a financial analysis and accurate records of the costs to eliminate future surprises and ensure every detail and all information is conveyed in a manner that can be easily interpreted and understood. It’s not altogether uncommon for those involved – architects, engineers, interior designers, and kitchen equipment specialists – to view things slightly differently. The more they know, the better off you’ll be.
Define (and Refine) Your Menu
Know your demographics. Evaluate your closest competition and consider how the menu items you intend to offer make you unique. Use this information to ensure that your foodservice plan won’t be a cookie-cutter example of what everyone else is currently offering. Verify that your highlighted menu items won’t adversely clash with the community you will be serving. Be creative, but not to the detriment of your business.
Your menu will likely evolve over time. However, in order to work through a basic foodservice design, it’s critical to understand, as early as possible, the foundations of what your menu will be.
Go With the Flow – But What’s the Flow?
Whether it's an existing building or brand-new construction, understanding the layout of your kitchen and identifying the flow of your dining space both play an important role in much of the decision making that will come after. As a starting point, consider the number of steps needed to complete an order – from start to finish – and factor that into identifying where the food is coming in, where it is being prepared and where it is going out.
Review the available space and think about how food will flow from receiving, delivery, and storage to production, service, and clean-up. Identify an optimal path that provides the least amount of resistance while, at the same time, offering increased efficiency.
New construction projects often afford the benefit of starting from a clean slate. However, this makes it doubly important to involve everyone at a much earlier stage. Depending on the type of kitchen and foodservice design, key decision-makers – architects, engineers, interior designers, etc. – should be actively engaged early on to ensure the finished product meets every requirement.
Understand the difference between the number of staff (on average) working in the kitchen and how many are needed at any given time. What will your kitchen look like during peak hours? What does “downtime” look like? Are full-time employees required, or will part-time be sufficient?
Knowing your menu and identifying which items (e.g. traditional fish fry) are expected to be the most popular with your guests – and the days of the week those menu items will be served – often helps dictate proper staffing requirements. From a design perspective, this knowledge will also provide a better understanding of spacing requirements and allow for a more efficient workflow.
Develop an Equipment List
The importance of understanding your menu early on during the planning stage cannot be overstated. Items on your menu will dictate the type of kitchen equipment that's needed. In turn, depending on the size of that equipment, this will assist with identifying where that equipment will be placed in the kitchen (or front of the house, if part of the design).
If the plan is to move into existing kitchen space, you may also have an opportunity to inventory and obtain an analysis of any existing kitchen equipment. Examining the condition of that equipment and accurately determining its age may prompt further inspection and verification for future usability. Consider hiring a service qualified to thoroughly inspect and test the equipment for possible repurposing and reuse.
The New Kitchen Layout
When looking at the shell of what will become your new kitchen, consider how meals will most efficiently flow from storage to the various prep areas, to production, and finally, to service. Avoid choke points wherever possible and identify opportunities to eliminate cross traffic — an effort that should reduce kitchen staff accidentally bumping into one another.
Health Department Considerations
After landing on a design for the kitchen layout, involve your local Health Inspector to adhere to any plan review or approval process that needs to be completed. It’s not uncommon for each city/municipality to utilize a different set of procedures. And health department officials prefer to be involved in the process as early as possible.
Understanding your Budget
Regardless of the type of foodservice project you’re working on, it’s important to assess your "all-in" costs consistently. Get in the habit of revisiting your budget throughout the process to avoid any unplanned expenses. Take steps to avoid starting with a kitchen plan that was estimated to cost $150,000, only to realize that it has inflated to become a $300,000 project at its conclusion. If at any point the project has changed, be proactive and revisit your budget.
The final and, quite possibly, most important step in the foodservice design process is the review and assessment of the project when it’s complete. This is the opportunity to ensure all requirements have been met, all last-minute work has been applied, and all final pieces to the puzzle have been put into place:
• Start-ups: Make sure equipment is operating as per specifications.
• Training: New equipment installation should always include adequate training provided by the manufacturer’s representative.
• Operation & Maintenance: Do you have a clear understanding of the individual equipment warranties and the correct contacts for service? Be sure to obtain all written and/or electronic copies of each Operation & Maintenance Manual.
• Final Walk Through: Conduct a thorough walk-through of the kitchen to ensure all objectives have been met as part of the design process.
• Revisit the Design: after 6 months of operation, refer back to your original design to assess how things are going.
Seeing your vision come to life can be a dream come true. All of the hard work that went into the design, development, and installation of your new kitchen or restaurant can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But the journey won’t be without its challenges. When aligned with the right group of professionals – those that have years of experience and take pride in their work – every hurdle that was overcome and hoop that was jumped through will be worth it in the end. What began as a spark of an idea is now a business you can proudly call your own.