Essential reading for retailers and suppliers in the home improvement market
Catering Design Group creative director Drew Keen discusses the key to successful catering operations in retail outlets. According to the Oxford Dictionary, synergy is 'the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.' Successful catering operations within garden centres and farm shops display perfect synergy between their front and back of house facilities.

What this means is that both are able to operate effectively, and with maximum efficiency at all times to deliver your menu and manage customer and staff flows
It's natural for garden centres and farm shops to devote a large chunk of their restaurant or café budget to the front of house, because that's what's on show to customers. However, all too often, this is at the expense of the investment back of house.

The kitchen is the engine room of every catering facility - irrespective of menu and service style. If your kitchen is unable to deliver your front of house requirements, the quality of your food and service will suffer and so, in turn, will the customer experience. Service style and menu will also impact on the size and design of your kitchen as well as the choice of equipment. A good example of this is storage; a menu featuring largely regenerated 'bought in' items will demand bulk storage close to the servery area, whilst a home-made offer will require storage of fresh ingredients close to the prep area. It's all about achieving the correct balance to ensure optimum efficiency between the two areas.

Staff & Customer Flow
When planning the perfect synergy between front and back of house, consider the journey your food takes from the kitchen to the table and then how empty plates make the journey back. The most effective venues will have routes which avoid excessive queues and clashes between staff and customers around counter or till areas. Is there a quick, direct route from front of house to the dishwash area? Where possible plan the kitchen with separate entrance and exit routes to allow for the free flow of staff, food and 'dirties'.

Intelligent design of the kitchen area will reduce the risk of cross-contamination and create the optimum flows within the space to deliver maximum efficiency with the appropriate staffing levels.
If done correctly the front of house design will improve service and profitability by providing effective queue management and an abundance of retail and impulse opportunities around counters and till points.

Current Food Trends
Today's trends are also having a marked effect on both back and front of house design. Provenance is king and as a result, what we're seeing is an emerging trend for open kitchens, which allow the customer to see their food being prepared. The beauty of the open kitchen is that it gives you a wonderful opportunity to showcase the quality and freshness of your produce. It's all about fresh ingredients being prepared to order on the premises. For example, if you bake bread in-house, there is no greater pleasure for customers than to watch a chef at work with dough and the heady smell of freshly baked bread around them. Back of house steps into the spotlight in an open kitchen setting, allowing the customer to view the care, attention and skill that goes into preparing their food.

However, a visible kitchen needs to look good, professional, clean and well organised. Pot wash items or microwaves should be screened off or located out of view. In a theatre kitchen, think about the exposed visible surfaces. Rather than white gloss cladding, consider using coloured ceramic tiles instead, which combine aesthetic appeal with a high hygiene levels. Good design will ensure the view to the kitchen is controlled, so that 'messy' operations are away from the open pass and more importantly, away from customer view.

Operational efficiency within your kitchen comes from choosing the right equipment for your menu and its intended use. Think about the number of covers. Will the kitchen cope with your requirements - can the equipment produce the required menu, within service times for the anticipated customer numbers? Do you have sufficient power capacity to be able to run the equipment? How many staff will you have and how skilled will they be? Does your equipment need to be fully automatic? Failure to fully consider all of these questions can adversely affect the quality of service and the overall customer experience.

Enhancing the Customer Experience
Theatre cooking is extremely popular and can showcase special menu dishes or promotions, whilst adding excitement to the food offer. Counter areas are ideal for carrying out elements of food preparation functions, particularly during less busy periods. For example transferring the cooking and preparation of breakfast items to front of house counters not only enhances the customer experience, but can also reduce staffing costs by combining back and front of house roles.

With good design, synergy has the power to ensure operational efficiency, whilst creating a catering facility that not only looks and feels great, but works irrespective of budget.

View User Profile for Drew Keen Catering Design Group creative director Drew Keen offers his insight into creating succcessful catering operations in retail stores, as well as key trends within the sector.

Posted by Drew Keen | 1 September 2015 | 17:14 | More from: Creative catering

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