Back-of-house design and technology are evolving for hotel kitchens, where it's important to find ways to maximize efficiency and return on investment for owners and operators.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Chefs want the latest and greatest with kitchen amenities as food-and-beverage trends constantly evolve.
To accommodate that, hotel brands and management companies are making smart investments to balance those needs and wants.
Successful kitchens balance guest experience, providing F&B teams tools to excel at their day-to-day jobs and mindful decisions to maximize owner return, Jason Dowd, head of global mainstream F&B operations at InterContinental Hotels Group, said via email.
Maximizing space with layout, design and equipment
Dowd said IHG looks at many different factors to efficiently maximize space in kitchen areas within its Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites brands.
He said IHG is hands-on with owners when designing the back-of-house kitchens, and will recommend how the space can be used to “attain maximum usability.”
“We have many different layouts based on the brand and concept,” he said. “Holiday Inn has a full-service casual dining concept called Burger Theory that has a dedicated (operating supplies and equipment) and (furniture, fixtures and equipment) package.”
*Holiday Inn Express features a daily complimentary breakfast buffet that includes a mix of hot and cold items. He said the kitchens to support that are “built for speed and efficiency” and have “minimized the overall kitchen footprint.”
At Staybrige Suites, Dowd said the kitchens also produce a daily complimentary breakfast, offering both hot and cold items, along with an evening social hour with complimentary food and drinks. Staybridge’s kitchens are a “more compact kitchen layout with a focus on its buffet and social hour offerings,” he said.
Depending on the restaurant, the kitchen will have different equipment suites, he said. For Burger Theory, the chefs sear the burgers on a flattop griddle, but with Toast to Toast—Holiday Inn’s fast casual restaurant—chefs utilize an impingement air conveyor oven to “increase flow-through and consistency.”
Functionality of the kitchen is the No. 1 priority, said Garron Gore, corporate director of F&B innovation for Hospitality Ventures Management Group.
“Equipment providers with no direction will end up designing a less-than-optimal kitchen with a high dollar price tag,” he said via email.
Open kitchen designs—especially for new-builds—have become a standard, he said. At HVMG, smart kitchen design is key, and centers around operational flow and multi-tasking, he said.
“All of our equipment must be multi-purpose and not what we call one-hit-wonders,” he said. “If it only creates one thing for the menu then it does not belong.”
Newer technology in equipment has “done wonders for that back line and space saving,” Gore said. For example, combination ovens allow chefs to bake, steam and roast all in one, he said. Equipment with touch-screen controls and self-cleaning features are also important to consider in kitchen design, he said.
Dishwashers have adapted mobile technology to monitor chemical usage, which is a big operating expense, Gore said. “With this new technology, hotels are able (to) keep costs in line,” he added.
Dowd said wasted space can impede the output of a kitchen, and it helps to have a solid plan on how to operate a line of staff.
At Embassy Suites by Hilton, layout for kitchens producing cooked-to-order breakfasts are analyzed in two hotel formats: new-build and adaptive-reuse hotels, Shawn McGowan, senior director of global brand F&B at Hilton, said.
Hilton is implementing induction cooking systems more frequently for new-build Embassy Suites, he said. And in adaptive-reuse properties, the kitchens are redesigned if the cooked-to-order station has a flat-top griddle.
“The induction cooking systems have immediate temperature with up to four induction-cooking hubs for one cook using a down draft venting system, (which) is more cost effective than traditional hood systems,” McGowan said via email.
This design type also allows hotel kitchens to have more guest-facing interaction, which is a growing trend, he said.
“Our cooked-to-order display kitchens now become an extension of our restaurant capabilities and can be utilized during evening receptions as a pop-up concept, able to produce a wide variety of small plates and shareable (menu items) for our guests to enjoy,” he said.
For greater efficiency of space, Gore said it’s important to invest in a lot of shelving. He also suggested if an F&B team hasn’t used something in months, it should go into storage, if it’s even needed at all.
Kitchens also must have reliable and efficient means of washing, sanitizing and storing equipment, he said.
Invest in equipment, people to maximize ROI
Gore said there’s a fine line between keeping the chef happy and spending wisely.
“We always make sure to run an ROI analysis on any major capital expenditures and big pieces of equipment,” he said. “We ask ourselves, ‘can it produce something better, save on labor and have long-lasting life?’ We also listen to our chefs and make sure we hear their needs.”
In addition to investing in equipment, owners and operators should invest in F&B teams and making them happy, Gore said. Each year, HVMG asks for wish lists from its F&B teams to help chefs keep up with current trends, he said.
Open dialogue and communication is best to create an “excellent working environment that is driven to make money for owners,” he added. A “smart investment in capital will produce guest-facing results every time.”
Dowd agreed that investing in a quality staff and providing them with the proper training and tools to best do their jobs is key to any F&B operation.
“Communication among the team is essential, as we run a fairly lean F&B operation, and the team’s ability to effectively communicate needs and changes greatly impacts the kitchen’s success,” he said.
On the equipment side, Dowd said he’s a firm believer in the “buy once, buy right” philosophy. Investing in the right tools for the job and factoring their long-term usability before purchasing can save a lot of money and headaches in the long run, he said.
Avoiding single-use equipment is one example, he said.
Dowd said budgeting for kitchens is based on factors like location, whether the property is new-build or a renovation, and concept. That’s why it’s important, he said, for IHG to build relationships with its owners to help guide them during the construction phase, to opening day and beyond.
*Correction, 29 August 2018: This story has been updated to correct a brand name.