Operators have always tried to limit the size of their kitchens. After all, a smaller kitchen equals more room for seats -- and more revenue -- from the front of the house.
Some operations, along with industry trends like food halls, take the small kitchen ethos to the extreme, resulting in full kitchens that occupy just a few hundred square feet or even less.
While this can maximize revenue, operators must keep service in mind when they set up shop in such a small space.
According to Donny Smith, the Columbus, Ohio, branch manager for Commercial Parts & Service, many issues in these small kitchens trace back to equipment ordering and layout.
On the most basic level, operators of these mini kitchens need to purchase equipment that’s easy to access, says Smith. While easy access is a positive in any operation, it’s nearly essential in a space where it’s extremely difficult to move equipment around.
Fortunately, notes Smith, many equipment manufacturers now offer pieces with access in mind. Operators can order units with panels on the front or side, making the equipment much easier to service and maintain. “If we walk in somewhere and we can't access the internal workings of the piece of equipment, it is impossible to fix,” he adds. “A lot of manufacturers, because this is such a trend, are creating equipment with accessibility in mind. We greatly appreciate that.”
After ordering equipment, operators next must pay close attention to the kitchen’s layout.
Many pieces of equipment, from refrigerators to fryers to griddles, require clearance on one or more sides, typically to draw in air. In an extremely small kitchen, operators may be tempted to cheat on these few inches, but doing so would be a huge mistake, Smith says. Smaller kitchens are naturally hotter than their larger counterparts, which makes the clean and relatively cool air provided by clearance even more essential, he says.
“If it’s a new piece of equipment that has failed, you have to look at the environment it’s in. Is there the space the manufacturer deems necessary not only for the piece to run effectively but to keep the warranty from voiding? [If not], it could potentially take a piece of equipment down within weeks instead of years,” Smith says.
Clearance represents just one issue in laying out a mini kitchen. Naturally, many operators take advantage of vertical space in these areas. While this makes sense from an operational standpoint, it can make service calls more complicated. If, for instance, an operation uses a double-stack oven, accessing the top unit can be difficult. Simply moving a large, heavy piece of equipment that’s several feet off the ground to a spot that makes it accessible could require a second service technician or a miniature forklift, says Smith.
To make service calls in these spaces go as smoothly as possible, then, operators need to communicate well with their service agency, stressed Smith. When setting up a service visit, the operator should tell the agency about the size and design of its kitchen. This will let the dispatcher make the arrangements that make service possible.
Even better than communicating the nature of the kitchen during individual service calls, Smith adds, is having a planned maintenance agreement with a service agency. In these sorts of relationships, the service agency should have the size and particular challenges of the kitchen on file, making it easier to set up a smooth service call.
These agreements can become even more valuable by helping prevent equipment breakdowns and emergency service calls, added Smith. While that’s true of every planned maintenance deal, it can be especially important to avoid these problems in a kitchen where there might not be enough space to cook while a repairman is on-site.
In the end, servicing a mini kitchen is often more difficult than handling repairs in a larger space. These service and repair challenges, though, can be minimized with careful planning during the equipment ordering and kitchen design process, along with a good partnership with a service agency.