Restaurant footprints are shrinking; demand for delivery and takeout is skyrocketing; and labor is short. And the usual demands of the restaurant industry — battling for customer share and balancing tight margins — remain prominent challenges.
For these reasons and many more, flexibility is critical for restaurants to meet changing needs, now so more than ever.
Preparing for an unknown future
“Flexibility is key,” Josh Broehl, senior VP at design consulting firm Big Red Rooster, told Nation’s Restaurant News in a recent story about smaller restaurant formats. “Kitchens need to be designed for optimal efficiency, but they also need to have the flexibility to adapt to the future.”
Here are three ways you can support flexibility in equipment selection and use:
1. Start with a flexible foundation
Maximum flexibility comes from being part of the plan. Trying to shoehorn flexibility into a static design is challenging at best and futile at worst.
Make flexibility part of the design concept right from the start. Build for flexibility from the ground up, including considerations for accommodating future growth.
Workstations, for instance, can be designed in such a way that they start simply, with just the basics at hand, and are gradually enhanced over time as needs and demand change. That can include adding drawers, cold storage, or breading or sifting equipment on and around the table.
For this approach to work, it’s important to select equipment that has the ability to adapt and evolve as a multi-generational prep station.
Also consider whether the equipment you select can be multipurpose. A prep table on casters, for instance, can also be used as a rolling rack to retrieve foods from the cooler. Or an ice bath cart (like these from AyrKing) can be a convenient beverage cooler at lunch or used as cold protein storage during dinner.
2. Make it modular
A recent column in Foodservice Equipment & Supplies posits that a “plug-and-play” approach may help restaurants continually adapt to shifting demands. Operators can swap or modify stations quickly using mobile equipment.
“Restaurateurs need to be able to design their restaurants to adapt and change as quickly as the times,” columnist Carlos Espinosa wrote. “With the plug-and-play methodology, nothing is ever fixed to the ground. All workstations should be flexible enough so staff can quickly alter the space by swapping equipment from another area.”
The first step in this approach is to carefully consider the mobility of selected equipment and how it might be used to support your needs. Maybe it’s quickly setting up a second makeline for takeout on busy days or using portable equipment to support new menu offerings or daypart expansions.
Remember that in today’s restaurant kitchens, wheels are your friends.
3. Use space wisely
While no one has a ton of space to spare, using every available inch is particularly critical in smaller restaurants.
Operators should consider not only the traditional horizontal space in the kitchen — the tabletop and floor square footage — but also the vertical space. Creatively using higher and lower surfaces can dramatically increase the amount of available working space.
Shorter, low-profile work surfaces or storage carts that can roll under other countertops when not in use provide maximum capacity in minimum space. And options like Protein Rails use oft-underused vertical space to expand holding capacity for prep work or to create a convenient, easy-to-reach packing line for to-go orders.
Food prep carts from AyrKing are another versatile option that can help you meet current needs and can grow with your business to meet future ones.
Use them to add a flexible workspace as needed or to create an additional countertop space for equipment or food preparation.
Food prep carts are available in various sizes and have either a solid top or with cutouts to hold one or more pans, making them a flexible utility tool for any operation.
As needs expand, these carts easily transform into full prep stations with available accessories like an overshelf, cold storage, a side shelf for half-size pan and dipping basket, a hanging shelf below the work surface, and more.
Learn more about this sturdy, flexible option today.