A few months ago I was approached by a potential client who was looking to open his dream restaurant and asked if he could “pick my brain.” As with any new potential client, I started asking the typical probing questions about his concept so I could gain a better understanding of his needs and how we could assist in his restaurant development process. Strangely enough, before even a few minutes of conversation, he posed the question, “What will be the ideal restaurant kitchen size and what will it cost?” I unfortunately had to explain to him that there are probably as many ways one can figure out how to size a restaurant kitchen size as there are ways to cook in one. Needless to say, this was the beginning of several long conversations… To this day I’m not sure if he didn’t know the answers to some of my questions, just preferred to drive the conversations himself, or was simply fearful of giving me any real information about his project, so I thought I would write this post to help others who may be searching for the answer to this same question.
As with most aspects of the restaurant kitchen design, the simple, but less than helpful answer is that “it depends.” It depends on what stage you are at in the process developing of your business, it depends on what type of restaurant concept you are creating, it depends on the total size of the space your looking to go into, what your target market/revenue stream is, it depends on how many covers your business plan says you to need to pay the bills, it depends on the size and complexity of your menu, it even depends on how frequently you intend to receive inventory deliveries. As you can imagine, at this point, the poor guy’s head was spinning so I began to systematically take him though the questions above, over several conversations, to see if we could figure out the answer to his seemingly elusive question of the ideal restaurant kitchen size.
If he hadn’t selected a location yet, I explained that the restaurant kitchen size, generally speaking from a budgetary standpoint, can be planned for as a ratio of 1 part kitchen to 2 parts dining room for a fine dining, full service, from scratch kitchen; or 1 part kitchen to 3 parts dining room for a more casual style menu; or somewhere in between, should the answers to the other questions above dictate.
Of course this wasn’t the answer he was hoping for and proceeded to volunteer some more about his concept. He has his eye on and really, really likes a space that is about 2,200 square feet in total size with his menu and service concepts being somewhat reminiscent of a popular fast casual restaurant where much of the food is “finished” to order in front of the customer. Now obviously he doesn’t just have a back of house kitchen, but also has an exterior service kitchen slash retail area as well so I advised to error on the larger size in caution, so he insisted on planning the 1:2 ratio so he can ensure he has enough space.
OK, simple enough, although now he provided some information about his menu… without giving out too many details, let’s just say it turned out that he only needed about enough “kitchen” as does a gourmet sandwich shop. Of course now that I have this information, the restaurant kitchen size estimate is entirely too big and quite frankly, I asked if he really needed 2,200 square feet to sell sandwiches? I proceeded to explain that there is a whole different conversation we should be having about “How to Determine Restaurant Size” first (teaser for a future post), but if we’re still talking about the restaurant kitchen size, and if we stay at that ratio, we need to know if the business plan justify such a large kitchen. I explained that if he is set on the space, and he is set on his concept, he needs to be sure his business plan shows (accurately) that the concept can pay for it. Once again, his head was spinning.
The moral of the story is… As with any type of new business, particularly a restaurant, it is so very important to sit down and develop a comprehensive business plan before and if you do it accurately, it will most of your design questions before you even have them. I’ve certainly done my fair share of restaurant business plans for and with clients and in my opinion, it should be based first on your concept, which will drive the menu and subsequently help you determine how much space you will ultimately need for your new restaurant.
We’ve helped develop dozens of business plans with clients over the years, and know how daunting of a task it can be when you are starting from scratch. We always recommend using a software platform to make things easier after you’ve completed your food cost analysis, using our Free Food Cost Calculator. Palo Alto Software has several programs to help entrepreneurs develop their business, sales and marketing plans. We encourage all of our clients to use since it makes life so much easier, theirs and ours! We’ve placed some links below to their software that you can view by clicking the banner.