Over the past few years there has been a shift in customer preferences to healthier, locally-sourced food in not only the higher-end restaurant market, but in the fast casual category as well. Customers want to see how their food is being prepared and what ingredients are being used.
This has created a trend toward open kitchens and front-of-house food prep which dictates kitchen design and the use of visually appealing culinary equipment. Food preparation is becoming theater for diners and kitchen design can help enhance the customer experience.
More than anything, it is the change in menu choices that are driving the change in restaurant design. There is a commitment to using sustainably harvested ingredients from local food sources including meats grown without hormones or antibiotics and pesticide-free vegetables. These new, fresh ingredients are more perishable and require more refrigerator space, resulting in a reduction of freezer space.
For example, the restaurant chain B.Good features large walk-in refrigerators with a glass-wall that faces the dining area, allowing customers to see the freshness of the vegetables being used to cook their meals. From-scratch cooking and house-made offerings such a pickles and sauces are also contributing to the design changes, and ethnic foods are also increasing in popularity, fueling a demand for specialized ingredients.
Cooking Methods Are Evolving
Cooking procedures are also changing to more healthy practices, requiring different food handling and preparation equipment in the kitchen. Some restaurant chains are reducing the number of deep-fried menu items in favor of baked offerings. Open fire cooking is increasing in popularity and not just for pizza. For instance, industry innovator MOD Pizza uses convenient customization by maintaining their “choose-your-own” pizza toppings, but keeps customer wait-time low and satisfaction high by using short oven times.
Owners and chefs should develop their menus before deciding on restaurant design or equipment purchases because so much depends upon the ingredients and the cooking methods that will be employed. Flexibility and being able to plan for the unknown are important when choosing equipment; not only for increased versatility of the equipment but also in movability to allow optimization traffic patterns in the kitchen after opening. The design should be based on the menu and desired diner experience and it should be adaptable to next year’s trends as well. The key is using constant evaluation and staff input to fine tune the layout of the entire operation.
Customer Comfort Is A Factor
The idea of what customer comfort should be is also changing. Here the trends are toward softer colors and more comfortable seating, even in restaurants where a high proportion of orders are take-out. Studies have shown that softer music, colors and seating encourage diners to stay longer and spend more. Surprisingly, diners are satisfied with smaller portions and food is rated as better tasting in such environments.
With 7-in-10 adults trying to eat healthier, these trends are going to continue to evolve and restauranteurs will need to keep pace. While some restaurant consumers remain price-conscious, they are not just focused on cost. Restaurants perceived to be providing higher-value are more likely to succeed than those that are just inexpensive. Customers have shown a willingness to pay a little bit more for a meal that is significantly higher quality or has health benefits.
With dining trends continuing to change, it is doubly important to work with a designer and builder that understand the restaurant industry. Customers are becoming more discerning about their dining experiences and forward-thinking owners and chefs are wise to assemble a team of experienced professionals to help them fulfill their dreams.