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Form fits function — and space There’s no single common concept of kitchen design

Form fits function — and space There’s no single common concept of kitchen design.
That quickly becomes apparent in speaking with the leaders of Cini-Little International Inc., one of the country’s largest foodservice consulting firms with a major share of hotel food and beverage facility design around the world.
Patt Patterson, Nation’s Restaurant News contributing editor, talked with president John Cini, senior vice president Jim Little, and Harry Schildkraut, vice president of the Chicago office and a specialist in hotel design.
Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.
SCHILDKRAUT: In general, kitchen design in this counrty is going to smaller, more compact layouts because of the cost of space these days.
LITTLE: At the same time, many overseas properties are going to larger layouts. In the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong, for example, there is an increased number of dining operations. There’s one kitchen just for Chinese food preparation in addition to Western-style kitchens.
SCHILDKRAUT: The same thing is true at the Four Seasons in Singapore, where there are three different kitchen areas: Chinese, Moslem and Western.

There's no single common concept of kitchen design
On the other hand, we’re seeing more suites concepts in this country. They have practically no food prep facilities at all. They may serve a buffet-type breakfast plus a light feeding area with only 50 to 60 seats, which is very small, even for a coffee shop.
CINI: There’s no clear trend toward centralizing food preparation for all of the different food and beverage operations. It’s difficult to locate foodservice operations in one place. For a good hotel design, you have to put activities, including dining, where the people are going to want to be.
SCHILDKRAUT: That’s especially true in a resort hotel. People want to eat where they play, so you have to place the food preparation near where you serve.
LITTLE: Often the space on a single level is limited. And you may not want to intermingle the operations for another reason. Management may want to separate quality and skill levels required for various types of feeding. You don’t need or want the same skill levels for an all-day dining area as you would for yor high-end, dinner-only operation or for your banquet facility.
SCHILDKRAUT: There’s not much space saved between having one large central kitchen and, say, three dedicated kitchens. The problem with centralizing is that you have to put food into motion to get to the serving areas, and the less of you have of that, the better things run.
LITTLE: And putting together three cooking lines, say, just for a three-meal-a-day unit, an upscale dinner operation and room service, can have its own difficulties. For one thing it’s tougher to control each dining element at a profit center. What you might possibly gain on space and personnel will cost you in control.
SCHILDKRAUT: But you can combine some phases of operations. Hyatt International, for example,wants a separate kitchen for each dining area, but it wants common support centralized. As a result, we set up a central commissary, where all basic prep and bakery operations take place. And you often see people centralizing dishwashing.
LITTLE: Some years ago we studied a convention hotel with a centralized dishwashing operation serving four or five restaurants and a separate banquet floor. We found there was no savings because of the distances involved. There were not only more people required to move dishes and more dishes needed because so many were in motion between areas, but the breakage was higher. The replacement was two to three times as great as with decentralized dishwashing.
CINI: That’s one of the fallacies of the centralization concept. You think it’s going to save space and reduce staffing, but it usually doesn’t work that way. Each case is individual. That’s why they hire us.
LITTLE: Harry faces some requirement overseas that affects where a kitchen is located. For example, in France, Italy, Switzerland and Poland, legislation forces the kitchen to have outside light and air.
CINI: That makes it hard to put a central kitchen in the middle of a building.
LITTLE: People are getting harder and harder to find for foodservice. So training is becoming a factor in a hotel’s foodservice design. For example, they’re realizing the importance of training. So there are better training programs being developed.
CINI: We’re seeing demands for a training room with audiovisual aids. And some hotel people are calling for kitchens to be laid out with an eye toward training.
SCHILDKRAUT: In European Hyatts we’re being called upon to include a training kitchen as part of the staff cafeteria. It’s only preliminary training, and I’m not talking about turning out chefs, but for cooks and helpers. In Eastern Europe especially, there’s no apprenticeship system, so the hotels have to do the training in a short time, in-house.
Those staff cafeterias are much more open and expansive than we see here. They’re more like commercial operations. There’s self-service lines, cook-to-order lines, excellent for training personnel to work in the main kitchens.
There are other things going on that affect layout, too. With the cost of labor, banquet customers are balking at paying for French or Russian service. More and more of the food at banquets is brought to the table already plated. At the Four Seasons, heated banquet carts are becoming commonplace. But even with them, you don’t want to have your kitchen too far away from the banquet rooms.
CINI: It’s a matter of distance and timing. You have to work out how many functions you could have at one time, what the service will be and how much holding time will be involved.
LITTLE: Don’t forget room service. It’s becoming a more varied factor in today’s hotels, especially those in urban areas. Instead of just combining items from the coffee shop and dining room, room service menus are taking on a different image. Part of it is to keep the business in the hotel, but there’s pizza, Oriental foods, fried chicken — what looks like an outside fast-food menu.
SCHILDKRAUT: And some of them are actually striking deals with outside fast-food units to provide the food. And then there’s sous vide.
LITTLE: Where you have high volume, sous vide could be an ideal answer. A lot of banquet service is probably going to go that way. All you need in the kitchen is a way of finishing off the foods.
CINI: A lot of commisary functions are leading to that stage. Where you do sauces and soups and bakery goods in a central location, you only need to heat things at the serving end. That means less space, less equipment and less skills are needed.
The technologies are changing, too. Now we have electronic communications from front to back. The serving personnel don’t have to run back and forth for everything. With hand-held devices they can talk to the kitchen. It saves on people and space.
SCHILDKRAUT: Another factor is volume. In its domestic properties, Hyatt can’t make money on any dining room that has less than 123 seats. Anything smaller can’t support top-level chefs or managers. So you need larger kitchen space, too. Another trend is that almost every property has exhibition kitchens today. They try to expose more and more of the mechanics of preparation.
LITTLE: Back to the future. (Laughter.)
CINI: What everyone does most is recycle ideas that work. One of those ideas is using preparation as a merchandising tool.
In Melbourne, Australia, the Hyatt hotel operates a food court, with a number of different dining styles available. It works well in a urban location where there is mixed use from hotel guests and local trade.
There are all kinds of variations in merchandising a hotel’s food in an urban environment. The Omni Richmond, Va., has one restaurant which opens out onto the adjacent mall. And it doesn’t have to be food.
In the Conrad in Hong Kong, the hotel laundry has a retail storefront opening onto the concourse to serve surrounding office personnel.
LITTLE: At the Greenbrier, we built in a retail chocolate shop with the whole candy making operation visible to the public. It’s captive hotel customer base, but you’d be surprised how much traffic the shop gets.
SCHILDKRAUT: The same concept is used in the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Va. The hotel bakery is located along the wall adjacent to a passageway. There’s a large window that lets the people walking by see into the working bakery.
CINI: As designers, the first thing we have got to do is determine what each facility is supposed to do. That may be different from what you’re told.
More and more, as people are trying to put a unit together, we find ourselves in the role of mediator as much as designer.
Years ago the owner was the operator. Today we often have the owner, a developer and a contract operator all involved in the planning.
As designers, we’re hired by one, but we often have to work with an army of entities, so we often find ourselves mediating among them. Our real obligation is to the guy who comes into the place to eat.
LITTLE: It doesn’t matter so much whether the property has a central or decentralized kitchen. What matters is whether it works. If it works, the guest or customer is going to enjoy the dining experience. As John says, that’s our real obligation.

Form fits function — and space There’s no single common concept of kitchen design
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