Concept Drives Restaurant Kitchen Design

Speaking purely from a chef’s perspective I feel the restaurant kitchen design, in a perfect world, should drive the ultimate restaurant size. I know what you’re thinking… How can my restaurant kitchen determine the restaurant size? To put it simply, it is all based on your concept. Your concept drives the menu, your menu dictates your equipment needs, too much of an extent, drive your restaurant kitchen design and your restaurant kitchen design dictates how much space you need to efficiently deliver your concept, giving you your final approximated restaurant size. Of course it is not just that simple, there are other considerations to take into account like sales projections, product delivery frequency, etc. but from an operator’s standpoint, it is a very strategic way to start the conceptualizing process.

I’m certainly not recommending anyone hire a restaurant kitchen design consultant before they select a space, but it certainly isn’t a bad idea to speak with one first. Have you ever walked into a professional kitchen and wonder, “Where do the chef’s actually work?” One of my favorite stories I tell my clients is about one of my favorite jobs I had as a chef. I won’t name the restaurant, but needless to say it was very, very high end. We were selling $90 caviar and vodka appetizers at one point and from all outward appearances of the dining room, the price fit the bill. Walk into the kitchen however and the chef had his desk in the storeroom that was comprised of an old bathroom door and 4 piles of magazines. We had stuff everywhere! Invoices and recipes literally, piled to the rafters! Open the door to the freezer and stuff fell on you. Grab the bag of corn meal from the bottom shelf in the store room and the beans fell on your head! I’ve never seen anything like it but to the chef’s credit, that guy knew where every single thing was in that place. The key takeaway there is that this chef was probably the most talented chef I ever worked for and the kitchen was never designed for someone of his technical capability so the restaurant kitchen ultimately turned into one giant closet with dry goods and gadgets everywhere so you really need to understand what you want to accomplish with your concept first before anything else.

One of the benefits I have as a chef is that I can typically gain an understanding of someone’s concept and ballpark the approximate size of a kitchen that will be needed to execute it from the menu. From there, you can extrapolate the approximate size of the dining room based on a ratio of 1 part kitchen to 2 parts dining room for a full service, all scratch concept or 1 part kitchen to 3 parts dining room for a quick service concept, or somewhere in between. The idea isn’t to determine the “exact” size you need, unless you are franchising your concept, but that’s another conversation; the idea is to get a ballpark so you know what to start looking for when you hit the streets or talk with a realtor.

There are basically 2 ways to go about this method… You can talk with a restaurant kitchen design consultant and they can give you an estimation of the size kitchen you will need. So based on my previous sandwich shop client, he needed (and make sure to error on the high side) about 350 square feet of restaurant kitchen to efficiently serve his menu. 350 square feet for quick service but a from scratch menu, gives me an estimated store size of 1,400 square feet on the high side, but I would suggest not going any smaller than 1,200 square feet since he was going to make everything from scratch. If he was buying most items in, the he could go smaller towards the 1,050.

The other way to figure out the approximate size of the restaurant kitchen you’ll need is to literally sketch it out on graph paper. This is obviously much more labor intensive, and you won’t get the expertise of a knowledgeable designer but your ballpark will be close. Unless you’ve done this before, you probably won’t think to add things like mop rooms and ice machines, but here’s a tip… Add them! Also look at your local health code first as well. Many municipalities now require changing rooms/break rooms for employees which suck up a bit of space. If you’re going to go this route, I would sit down and look at your menu. Based on your menu, think about every single piece of equipment you will need for your kitchen and create it on the graph paper. Most major pieces of equipment come in standard sizes so you can guesstimate how big of a stove you think you’ll need for example and put it on the graph paper next to the frill and fryers, or whatever. Do this systematically for every piece of equipment on your list in a format that somewhat resembles a kitchen (make sure to keep minimum 36” walk ways) and when you’re finished, calculate the total square footage of the space by multiplying the length times the width; and just to be safe, as 25% to your calculation. This will give you enough cushion to accommodate for the equipment you may have forgotten or to add space for the larger walk-in you may wind up wanting once you contract a restaurant kitchen design consultant to get the real picture of what you will need to successfully run your concept.

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.

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