A look at modern open kitchens

Back of house moves up front for new ways to connect with guests.

The first go-round at open kitchens treated guests like Peeping Toms, offering only a peek behind the scenes through windows on the floor. The barrier is disintegrating, with kitchens now moving into the dining room. “Thanks to  shows like Top Chef, people are fascinated by food and the  idea of watching food be prepared,” says Kevin Stewart,  designer of Dai Due in Austin. While not for all, the design can help build connections and provide entertainment—extra incentive to get guests in the door. 

SideDoor, Chicago

Small space, big output.

With SideDoor, the new sister concept attached to Lawry’s, it was imperative to have a virtually self-sufficient kitchen, says general manager Max  Maxwell. Some 75 percent of the menu is executed from three stations—grill, garde manger and charcuterie—in the 140-squarefoot open kitchen, designed to blend into the dining room.

Dai Due, Austin, Texas

Bringing all the action front and center.

At this small neighborhood restaurant and butcher shop, everything from cold prep to cooking to butchery is done out front (the cooler is the only equipment back of house). Diners at the counter sit six feet away from the wood-burning grill, so large A/C units were installed to blow cold air off the line. Dimmers, rope lights and task lights create an intimate but workable environment, without additional overhead lighting.

Designed for transparency.

In a place like Austin, where transparency is a selling point, Stewart didn’t want to hide any portion of the process. At any point in service, whole animals may be wheeled from the cooler through the restaurant to the butchery station along a meat rail he designed into the aesthetic. 

Matchbox, Washington, D.C.

A bird’s-eye view.

Whether looking down into the wood-fired pizza kitchen or straight on, the view at this multilevel unit on 14th Street, says director of architecture Jennifer Jaffke, allows diners to “hear, see and smell food instead of it coming out from behind a door.”

Consideration for what guests see and hear.

One of the biggest challenges of the open kitchen is “keeping it looking good,” says Jaffke. While she spent a bit more on light fixtures, surfaces and other smaller elements than in a traditional kitchen, the cost difference isn’t significant, she says. To help keep noises down in another busy area of the kitchen, Jaffke also designed a lower ceiling to contain the sound.

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