Why Are Restaurants Opening Their Kitchens?
Restaurants must constantly innovate to stand out in a market saturated with potential places to dine out. Customer expectations shift frequently and trends constantly change, and businesses must remain flexible enough to meet those needs. As people grow more curious about what goes into their food, some restaurants have adapted to this interest by adopting an open kitchen design.
What is an open kitchen?
In these restaurants, cooks prepare food in plain sight of customers. Although this can take many different forms, venues like Subway, Chipotle and Blaze Pizza probably come to mind first. True, these are one form of open kitchens—where the ingredients are laid out behind glass and customers can choose ingredients from the containers they see. However, other types also exist.
Open kitchen designs refer to any layout where customers can see their meals being prepared. This can mean chefs cooking near the tables at sit-down restaurants, windows or glass walls allowing customers to see directly into the kitchen, or that more easily recognizable Subway-style design. Although open kitchens are more popular with, and more conducive to, fast casual restaurants, the trend has been adopted by many businesses including fine dining establishments. However you may wonder if this model really benefits the business or if it’s just another trend.
By nature, open kitchens promote transparency between the business and its customers. When they can see everything that traditionally goes on behind closed doors, customers can verify for themselves that your kitchen follows proper health and sanitation guidelines. This assuages any safety concerns that they might have. One example of a business implementing open kitchens to combat these very fears is Dominos, who in 2015 first introduced “Pizza Theater.”
Pizza Theater is exactly like every other open kitchen concept, only with a brand-specific name. Renaming the layout choice personalizes the experience for Dominos customers and fosters brand recognition. Workers make and cook pizzas behind a glass pane so customers can watch them prepare the entire order right in front of the lobby, which also has the chance to draw in people simply walking by outside. Initially, Dominos made the change to combat rumors of uncleanliness in a way that provided an easy solution to these concerns. However they ultimately gained from it in more ways than one.
Transparency also has the added benefit that customers can see and smell their food being made. Not only does this make them hungrier but also, in places that do employ an open layout the way that Subway does, lets customers make better informed decisions about what ingredients they want in their food.
This design also adds a flair to your restaurant that many eating establishments just don’t have, giving you an edge over your competition. Every successful restaurant has some niche that they fill that other places can’t, some specific demographic they’re reaching with its concept, design and atmosphere.
Thanks to celebrity chefs and the popularity of cookings shows, more people than ever are interested in what goes on in restaurant kitchens and how their favorite dishes get made. Open kitchens are a fun, interesting draw to bring in customers and can be exactly what your restaurant needs to stand out.
On top of the potential benefits to your business, open kitchen designs also improve the environment. Fewer rooms means reduced energy use; you don’t need to spend as much on heating, cooling or lighting separate areas. This model promotes better ventilation for the restaurant too. All of this saves you money and helps the planet simultaneously.
A TGI Friday’s in Nashville considered the environmental impact a vastly important factor. After a flood ravaged the restaurant in 2010, they took two years to rebuild. When they reopened in 2012, they chose to capitalize on open kitchens because they wanted to reduce their energy use and support the planet.
Are open kitchens better?
They certainly benefit some restaurants, but the upsides they provide aren’t universal. Rather, open kitchens are one model to consider, but the right decision depends on your business operations, demographics and the atmosphere that you want to cultivate. Open kitchen designs have their downsides just like any other layout.
Messy kitchens are natural and expected to some extent, especially during peak times when cooks get very busy and need to produce a lot of food in a short amount of time. However justifiable, perceived uncleanliness or disorganization could negatively impact customers’ views of your establishment. Watchful customers also means that kitchen staff has less room to make mistakes and more difficulty making up for them when they do, so this model could put undue strain on your workers.
Whirring equipment, cooking food, banging pots and pans, and staff talking to each other all tend to make kitchens very loud as well. If you envision your restaurant as a calm, quiet place for customers to relax and enjoy themselves or a conversation, this design might hinder you more than it helps. Similarly, if you have another focal point in your restaurant that makes you stand out from competition, like live music, an open kitchen could distract from that and ultimately hurt your business.
Some restaurants thrive with closed kitchens; others benefit enormously from giving customers a look behind the scenes. There’s no one, perfect way to design your restaurant. If you want to establish an atmosphere of transparency and allow customers to see all the interesting work that goes on in the back of the house, then open kitchen designs can be greatly beneficial—both for your customers’ peace of mind and for your bottom line. By weighing the pros and cons, you can make a more informed choice and set your restaurant up for success.