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Open kitchens draw eyes to equipment

No one ever has praised the back of a grill for its beauty; instead it’s shoved against a wall after a quick sweep and forgotten. However, as transparency on the menu increasingly becomes a key access point to customers’ stomachs and wallets,  restaurants are externalizing the demand in open-kitchen designs, as well. But opening up the view means equipment can’t afford to be merely functional anymore. It has to look appealing, too. Designing a space that checks both of these boxes—and provides operational efficiency—doesn’t have to be a headache. Just take it from these fast casuals.

Longer versus taller

newks open kitchen

Newk’s Eatery has had an open kitchen since it debuted 11 years ago. Although the basic layout has not changed, the chain did update some of its equipment over the years to streamline the functionality and dependability as well as the size of equipment. “We don’t want anything above eye-level [obstructing customers’ views], because we truly want to have an open kitchen,” says Kevin Anderson, vice president of company operations. So, Newk’s chose wider not taller equipment, swapping out a 20-inch-belt oven for a 26-inch version. “Our ticket time is seven minutes or less, and having that extended 6 inches is a big factor in us being able to reach that time,” he says.

Keeping some pieces hidden

quiznos grill interior

Quiznos Grill, Quiznos’ new fast-casual prototype in Denver, put in an open kitchen to create an olfactory experience for guests, says Jonathan Tress, senior vice president of insights and innovation. “Our main focus was to create the best menu possible,” Tress says. “We identified equipment that made that a reality while still being pleasing to the eye.” The majority of its cooking equipment that adds to the sensory experience—such as grills, fryers, toasters and ovens—is in plain sight of customers and features new colors and finishes to fit the restaurant’s aesthetic. Storage and refrigeration equipment items, on the other hand, are out of sight below the counter for a more effective operational flow.

A view from the drive-thru

Back Yard Burgers will open its first unit with a fully open kitchen this year after a consumer panel asked the chain to take the mystery out of dining. But the restaurant has an added challenge: designing a kitchen that also is visible to customers at the drive-thru window.

It’s a conundrum the chain knows all too well. In 2014, it partially opened the kitchen of a company-owned unit with a drive-thru and found that planning a customer-facing kitchen that also is functionally efficient can be tricky. The placement of the sandwich station at this unit blocked employee traffic between drive-thru and dine-in kitchen areas. “We now know we need access points on both sides,” says CEO David McDougall.

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