Restaurant Design Trends: How the Kitchen is Getting Futuristic

The front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house in terms of design and atmosphere are typically drastically different.

The front-of-the-house has space, dimmed lighting, and upbeat music paired with the sound of guests laughing and chatting. While, the back-of-the-house on the other hand has the kitchen, which is often packed, loud and a little chaotic.

As the technological age advances, diners are seeing new technologies emerge at restaurants: table-top tablets where guests can order from their table, tablet POS systems making the cash register mobile, touchscreens displaying menu items in a tantalizing manner for guests’ perusal, and online-ordering platforms allowing users to order from their smart phones.

But what about the kitchen in the back-of-the-house?

How is the latest technology streamlining the food prep? Have robots emerged in the kitchen?

We decided to chat with Jennifer Baxter, Senior Engineer of Operations Planning & Design at WD Partners, a firm that focuses on innovating the customer experience for businesses, about the latest state-of-the-art technologies and equipment being used in restaurant design.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in terms of restaurant kitchen design and equipment? 

Baxter: Open kitchen concepts – the desire to show the customer more of the preparation and cooking processes, to really earn their trust that the food they are getting is real and good for them.  Both QSR as well as Fast Casual concepts (such as Taco Bell, White Castle and Chipotle) have all been designing restaurants that allow the customer to see much more of the process than in the past.

Flexibility – being able to keep the customer engaged with different types of kitchen “theater” experiences that might vary by daypart, day, week, etc.  Along with cooking equipment that might be countertop or mobile and doesn’t necessarily require a hood like TurboChef and Ovention ovens to further increase flexibility.

Convenient Customization – being able to provide what the customer wants, their way, while being quick and convenient.  The pizza industry has been changing over the last several years with concepts like MOD and Blaze, offering the choose your own toppings model in addition to an oven time much shorter than a traditional pizza concept.

Is there any "futuristic" equipment emerging in kitchens? What about smart kitchen gadgets? Cooking robots?

Baxter: Technology is constantly being added to the pieces of equipment that have been used in kitchens for years, meant to enhance the user experience – for example digital controls that are Wi-Fi enabled or have a USB port so that menus and cook times can be easily imported and updated.  Also with digital displays, the use of pictures more than words to help bridge language barriers that can exist in more diverse kitchen settings.

Robots are being seen in the kitchen setting to automate some processes. In some cases this is to reduce labor needed, but also to allow for reallocated labor into a position that can provide a higher guest experience for a customer.

What elements of a kitchen do you think will forever be an important staple to a chef? 

Baxter: Many traditional pieces continue to be important: grills –flat & char, ranges, fryers. This also becomes important to the customer as we see more open kitchens and visibility into what is being produced – the customer tends to feel very comfortable when they can recognize the equipment and it looks familiar to them. Also versatile pieces, like ovens that have a variety of different cooking technologies all in one, to be able to save valuable kitchen square footage with the most versatile equipment.

What are three pieces of advice you can give for designing a restaurant kitchen? 

Baxter:  Design based on something – You should always have answer to the question “based on what?”

Plan for the unknown – program in flexible equipment and modular workstations that will allow you to change and grow along with your customer.

Continuously evaluate – understand your traffic patterns, menu mix and operational parameters to be able to meet both pure production needs but also customer expectations on speed and quality product.  Assessing how a concept operates along with evaluating the customer experience it delivers is a critical part of the WD Partners’ design process.