During the first few days in a new role, I toured the new convention and restaurant spaces that were under construction and opening within a few months. In the a la carte kitchen, the lead designer pointed out the new state-of-the-art equipment and other features of the area.

“Where is the printer going?” I asked.

Suddenly, I felt a nudge and then a whisper, “Don’t bring anything up. We will fix it later!” Later?

That was an interesting moment because I was the new team member and wasn’t aware that people were afraid to speak up.

So again, I asked, “Where is the printer going?” At this point, it was clear that questioning was seen as a nuisance.

“Right there!!!” announced the designer to end the conversation.

As they turned to walk away, I asked how many printers they purchased. 

“One! Why would you need more?”

I explained that I would need one per night because a heat lamp was above that spot, and the printer would melt every day. 

Expectations vs Reality

That printer example was a minor problem to correct in the big picture. Still, it was a symptom of a more significant issue: a designer’s approach to kitchen design when they have never worked in a commercial kitchen. There was no expectation from the ownership for the operations team to remain silent. They were spending millions of dollars on an expansion to generate profit. They did not care about the details; the designers and operations team were responsible. They wanted the best kitchen design possible within the budget. What they ended up with was far from that, and the reality was the final design lacked the proper flow and function.

Anyone who has purchased kitchen equipment or built a kitchen from scratch knows how large of an investment commercial kitchens are, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, from the latest technology to gleaming stainless steel. It can truly be a thing of beauty, a chef’s dream. 

Unfortunately, and far too often, we have seen kitchens with everything their operation needs, but the kitchen design is causing service, consistency, and turnover issues. No detail is too small when designing a workspace, and everything must be carefully considered. In this edition of CORE Profit Strategies, we will explore some of the reasons this happens and how to avoid it.

How Can This Happen?

There are many reasons why the reality doesn’t meet the expectations when it comes to kitchen design, from a lack of involvement or not involving the operations team to ineffective use of the budget and lack of design and process mapping experience.

The key is to know how to identify potential problems, create realistic expectations, and assemble the right team. 

A Balance of Function and Design

One phrase that I heard a seasoned F&B Director use was, “It’s a designer’s design, pretty but not functional.” This occurs when the initial planning does not involve operational experts to help allocate the space to ensure a balance of function and design. Sometimes, the owner hires an interior designer, architect, and equipment supplier to complete the full design. This can cause the allocated kitchen and service station space to be undersized, equipment that doesn’t match the operation and inefficient flow or wasted space.

It Looks Easy

There are also situations where owners underestimate the importance of the design and hire a designer with limited or no operational experience. They talk to an equipment supplier, develop a basic equipment list, and match it to the space. In the defense of the equipment supplier, they are providing the exact service the owner is looking for.

This can cause endless issues, from not having the right equipment for the menu to poor flow and lack of space for all the small wares and operating supplies. 


If the operations team has limited design experience, they may design the space based on what they know. Perhaps they worked in a kitchen that had a great setup, and they wanted to replicate it. This may work if the restaurants are very similar in menu content, staffing plans, square footage, and flow.

Always use past experiences to help you redesign your perfect kitchen, but remember that sometimes our memories can play tricks on us, and we only remember the good.

The Lack of Flexibility 

Nothing is more beautiful than what you see in the very best celebrity chef Michelin star kitchens. They are flawless, everything has a specific purpose, and there is nothing more pleasing than the seamless custom design.

The time, effort, and planning that goes into these kitchens is remarkable, and if you have 100% confidence in your team, the menu offering, and the business plan, and you have the money, then a custom-built kitchen is the way to go. By custom, we mean that the refrigeration, shelving, and prep tables are not purchased from a catalogue, and everything is made to spec.

Important considerations are:

    • Cost: These custom kitchen items can cost 50-100% more.
    • Flexibility: Custom generally means it is set in place, and that is where it will stay. So, if something isn’t working, the menu must adapt to the space.
    • Cleaning: If it can not move, it can not be cleaned under. The smallest gap can create issues with water/food getting into places you can not reach, and depending on the severity, it can cause odour, pest, and structural issues.

A hybrid approach is usually the best bet that utilizes in-stock equipment and custom-designed equipment for specific purposes or to maximize the space.

Unrealistic Expectations

    • Space Allocation: Having realistic expectations and setting the team up for success is important. Owners see seats as money and every inch counts, but the space needs to be proportionately allocated. There is no point in having 300 seats if the output of the kitchen and bar is 100 seats. The tables will not turn, the customers will not be happy, the employees will leave, and the doors will close.
    • Budget: The budgeting process is extremely important to fund the project properly. Running short on funds will lead to shortcuts and missing equipment and supplies. This is not to say that the budget is inflated to buy the best of the best; it must match the operation and financial structure. Clearly defining the budget for each item will ensure the right design and equipment selection. 


The printer was important to bring up because when the project was completed and the restaurant opened my team and I would be accountable for the results. So it was speak now or forever hold your peace.

You want your team to speak up. If your team has no opinion or skirt responsibility, this indicates that you need to make some changes or clarify expectations.

How Reality Can Meet Expectations 

The key is assembling the right team, defining the roles and responsibilities, and encouraging feedback and opinions.

1) Owner– Sets the tone, business plan, budget, style of service, and Menu/Cuisine.

2) FOH Manager / Chef – They are instrumental in the high-level planning and then at the detail level later in the process. 

In most cases, the Chef and FOH manager are busy working on menu development, recipes, smallware orders, and hiring and training staff. The sheer volume of work can lead to costly oversights and omissions.

3) FOH Manager: Takes the owner’s vision and plans the front of the house and crosses over with the Chef in the back of the house service areas.

Responsible for:

    • Beverage menu equipment and bar layout
    • Staffing levels based on business plan (this has a direct impact on design needs)
    • Service station requirements, storage, and flow

4) Chef: As with the FOH Manager, the Chef will need to deeply understand the owner’s expectations. The skillset of a chef is extremely diverse, and one person is rarely a master of all competencies. You need the Chef to be involved, but ” handing over the keys” can be a recipe for a disaster.

Responsible for:

    • Food Menu, equipment requirements, and layout
    • Staffing levels
    • Food preparation vs purchase plan

5) Architect – Initially, they help define the parameters to work within. They will be the ones who complete the final drawings for permits and construction and bring all the design elements together.

6) Interior Designer – Works with all parties to allocate the space and design the guest areas. The Interior Designer plays a critical role in the aesthetics and architectural design. 

7) Kitchen/Restaurant Consultant – An expert kitchen consultant has a great deal of kitchen/Restaurant leadership experience, has designed kitchens, and, most importantly, has extensive experience redesigning kitchens. 

Their objective and tried and tested opinions are invaluable to the owner, FOH Manager, and Chef. They can bridge the gap between FOH, BOH, designers, and equipment suppliers. Their expertise in process mapping and operational efficiencies can ensure that no stone is left unturned and, when push comes to shove, can help settle any conflict that occurs.

8) Kitchen Designer – A Kitchen Designer is different from a Kitchen Consultant. They are experts in equipment and are in tune with the latest and greatest equipment on the market. They work with the operations team and Kitchen Consultant to create the operational designs and the drawings for permit approvals for construction and prepare equipment schedules and budgets. They provide deep insights into the kitchen design and flow at a very high level.

How to Work with the Team

There always needs to be a lead on the project who makes the final decision, and, in most cases, that is the owner or general manager. There are many approaches, and here is an example of how the team can interact. There is no particular order because certain aspects happen at the same time:

    1. The owner creates the vision/business plan and expectations.
    2. All parties review the space and determine the space allocation blocks. The entire plan is essentially sectioned off into the kitchen, front-of-the-house service areas, bar, etc.
    3. Based on the menus, the Chef and FOH Manager do rough layouts and equipment needs. They will work with the Kitchen/Restaurant Consultant and the Interior Designer/Architect to further define the areas.
    4. Working with the Kitchen Designer, the Kitchen/Restaurant Consultant and the Interior Designer/Architect will create detailed layouts and equipment selection to present to the operations team to fine-tune. This should never be a “one and done.” Every decision should be vetted and reviewed to ensure it meets the needs. In fact, if everyone thinks the first design is perfect, give them a few days and ask again. Still perfect? There’s a problem – look closer.
    5. Review the plan as a team.
    6. Rework based on feedback.

Designing a great restaurant is about more than just the look; the flow and function must be designed into the space first. With the right approach and team, the reality can meet the expectations of the kitchen design.

Follow CORE Profit Strategies to have the next edition, “Cooking Up Change: How to Know It’s Time for a Restaurant Kitchen Redesign!” sent directly to your mailbox.

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