When to engage a commercial kitchen consultant designer?

The million dollar question, when at what point do you reach to a commercial kitchen consultant?

At there risk of offending anyone that has been guilty of the below, here goes!

There are many different examples of project and size and type , too may to list, but the answer always to all is to engage at the START of your planning and consideration phase, I have listed some examples below to help explain, these are all based on years of real life examples.

The confusion or lack of understanding of the ‘when and why’ to reach or engage (in Australia) in my opinion is largely the fault of the body that is supposed to promote the profession within industry. It does little to promote itself or its members to the outside world, which causes confusion  as too who/what a commercial kitchen designer consultant does.

Typically a project may have an architectural team engaged, an interior designer and the relevant specialist consultants involved, rarely any are experts or greatly experienced in what makes a commercial kitchen or food service operation design work.

The only people you want working on your kitchen and or bar plans from a ‘functional and effective’ point of view are people with lots of ‘real’ project experience that are involved from conception to completion, and those that have relevant industry experience operationally, you need to then add a good dose of industry equipment experience, a clear understanding of all the  types, features and benefits of commercial food service equipment  is essential.

Modern food service, menu’s and equipment mean we can now design effective kitchens is much smaller spaces than the old school hotel kitchen plans of past era’s. However there is a big difference between ‘compact and effective’ and ‘too small’.

I have  yet to come across a set of plans that has allocated too much space for the food service and or bar operations, its always on the too small side and this not only effects the performance of the operation but food safety and profitability.

To work out how much ‘space is required’ a detailed brief on what the facility is required to do needs to be obtained. This is a very specific detail also, simply ‘provide food and beverage’ is not a brief! (I have seen exactly those words written on a Government brief before!)

What sort of food? What type of service? What sort of numbers? What is the product/food supply situation? What are the staff skill’s/numbers anticipated to be? What would a typical menu look like,, yes the MENU massive impact on what happens kitchen design wise, yet I’m often asked to design a facility that doesn’t have this sorted! Horse/cart !! It doesn’t have to final or exact but food types, methods of cookery, service delivery all so very important.

Anything else you want to add?’

Seems so obvious but I have had clients for example that say at the last moment ..well there is going to be 50 people staying on site 7 days…..but that’s for the first 6 months..after than it will go to 250…”WT! you didn’t think that was important to state up front!” massive design implications. OR .’.we are going to cater for 100 …but we may also pick up the catering contract around the corner that would be for an extra 100!” ….great …=total redesign!

Provide as much detail at the start about the short/medium and long term plans  for the operation, this will have a big impact on design.

Current Trends 

Casual, multicultural, fast casual, healthy, funky, hip, amazing presentation, are all current directions the food and hospitality industry is heading. Designs that feature strong interaction between kitchen/food/guest are playing major parts in design, food is as much entertainment as it is a meal these days.


The major factor for space/design/equipment calculations is? How does one know how much space to allow in a project early on.

In my opinion, is to plan it like you are working it yourself, this is what i do, and i also collect as much information if possible from the existing operation and staff (if an existing business) on what is working or not working for them currently.

I really don’t understand how you can design a kitchen for commercial success if you have not experienced years of working in them yourself, you need to be able to picture yourself as the operator , actually running and cooking in the operation, same goes for the bar. That means from menu design, ordering, receiving, storing stock, then we can look at preparation and cleaning requirements, and all the space calculations are still always going to come back to the menu and type of service and skill levels of the staff expected.

So with this is I mind we work backwards, from the loading/receiving bay.

Put your Builders/Architect/Engineers Chef’s Hat on!

It’s easy to be caught up writing and concentrating about food, efficiency, systems etc, menu trends all essential points, however.

There is a HEAP of building infrastructure and services involved with a professional food kitchen/operation/bar.

If i was to say there is easily Fifteen hydraulic points/considerations in a typical 100/150 capacity restaurant/pub/bar you would say I was mad! There is at least this amount, there are ‘non negotiable’ plumbing items such as hand basin/s, dish/glass washers and then believe it or not often over looked ‘food preparation sinks’ and then we have Combi Oven/s ice machines, Gas lines this list goes on and this is without looking at mechanical ventilation, that is exhaust canopies and make up air to the buildings all under the HVAC engineers final specifications of how it will actually work.

The early days of a kitchen plan actually involves talking to Architects/Draftspersons/Engineers/Hydraulic Consultants/Electrical Consultants/Building Engineers and the list goes on…you can even through ‘heritage and environmental consultant/engineers in there. Note the words Chef/Bar Manager/Operations Manager don’t appear on the list. Everything in the food service design is going to impact how the building is designed and or built, all the services and the infrastructure to support them needs to be planned now, normally months often years before the building is built, let alone final menu’s and or decor are decided upon.

During these early planning stages and building issues that are impacted by the food service plan are going to raise their head, and there will be plenty. Examples may include, unable to place exhaust canopy in chosen location due to building engineering issues, type of cooking appliance/fuel can have a local planning/environmental impact and require pre approvals, electrical load capacities are insufficient to meet the requirements, trade waste facilities need to planned well in advance to locate their position, these calculations can’t be completed until the correct hydraulic plans are in place and these need to be based on the kitchen plan, gas locations or lack there of, ceiling heights in some areas may cause issues with coolrooms, exhaust canopies etc unable to locate plumbing or drains in certain locations due to structural integrity of the floor/slab..the list is massive.

The sooner an operator can focus on getting the basic layout of the kitchen/s, bar/s completed early on the better the project will be in planing  and building stages and costs. If the above examples are considered  ‘after’ or ‘late’ in the cycle it will always lead to

a)increase in project costs b)delays in the project c)compromised design and specifications

I often see Architectural and Interior Design conceptual drawings that look amazing at the front, so much beautiful design and presentation it looks fantastic! But when you peel back the wrapping the ingredients that are required to make that kitchen or bar functional, efficient and effective are simply not there, the design doesn’t work. It can be as simple as a lack of sinks and the right ones to comply with the Australian Standards for Food Premise Designs, through to lack of storage, no cleaning/chemical facilities, no equipment storage the list goes on. Partly the blame for this is the amazing 3D rendering computer design software that is out there now, its sometimes easier to come up with a life like amazing 3D image than what it is to have details to scaled schematic drawings.

3D presentation it encourages looking at the presentation side of things or the ‘Wow’ part before we have looked at the ‘How’part.

The Wow is much easier to achieve than How, and that probably explains why you should engage a Foodservice/Commercial Kitchen/Bar Designer as early as possible, because there is no point in making the design look wonderful if functionally it doesn’t work, the lack of functionality will make or break an operation.

In the ‘how’ we can look at how much food we will be procuring, how often and storage requirements, then the cooking and preparation requirements, how service flows, how the kitchen flows, how do the food safety considerations work, and last but not least , how we are going to do the the cleaning, washing sanitizing, the same goes for bars.

And from that we can start to determine the space required, then we can get into the nitty gritty design.

There is no magical square meter calculator ,  I have seen them and they do not work, the ONLY exception to that rule is in ‘catering’ operations with set cycle menu’s and catering numbers, e.g. mining camps, aged cares facilities etc.

Avoid costly project delays caused by having to resubmit local authority plans.

I recently was asked to help out on a project that was well underway in the construction phase. The short a story was once we had sorted out what was really required for their operation it equaled a LOT of extra plumbing points.

Now the construction hadn’t reached this part of the building yet, so no problem you may say, quite the opposite actually. All the extra plumbing points meant a redraw of the hydraulic plan , which had to be done by the Hydraulic consultant (not a cheap date$!!) then the hydraulic plan had to be resubmitted to council more $$, on top of that the plumbing contractor had to stop his trench digging until then as his entire plan was about to change, so the building process was delayed until the council could look at the plans and reapprove. Luckily in this case the council was quick, it could have been a lot worse, never the less it cost time/money that would have been avoided if we (or another consultant) was involved 6-12 months earlier!

example scenario 1. Community facility/hall/School tuck shop

If I had a dollar for every ‘commercial kitchen’ i have seen designed into a community hall or facility that is supposed to be able to cater for occasional functions of 100-200 ppl that consisted of a small square room, sink, fridge a domestic oven range and bit of domestic cabinetry , hand basin if your lucky…and passed off as a commercial kitchen!

Its a crime, clearly it’s not and it’s not going to work, normally ends up on having to hire in coolrooms, extra cooking equipment and bunch of extra staff and helpers to make the function work, instead of a couple of professional staff with professional facilities and equipment pumping out the function in a professional food safe manner, efficiently, quickly and with minimum fuss.

They should  of engaged a consultant at the start, and allocated the correct amount of space and plan initially, very expensive and hard to fix up later on.

example scenario 2. Retail property development

This one is so common it’s scary,and  is often the reason why the first time operators of the business fails, poor design that results in massive extra fit out costs. The wonderful presentation of the new complex , sexy 3D designs , sometimes video animations, funky street architecture, lovely exteriors incredible interior designs and presentation all up an extremely good looking as a project and development looks amazing. Board walk dining, lifestyle, promises thousands of people in food traffic etc.

Then the client signs the lease to their new food dream building, then the plans start. What they have all too often signed up to is a blank concrete box, maybe one or two plumbing points if they are lucky, maybe an exhaust duct maybe not, normally in a location that it is totally wrong for the application.

No consideration to how,where the stores are coming in from, often they don’t even have a back door, no cleaning facilities, no hydraulic/plumbing/power. Much of these items could have been added in during the build and as such would have been at the costs of the developer. Now the customer is having to cut concrete slabs for drainage, install or move exhausts /ducts, trade waste, building works, the list goes on. Now the fit out costs have blown out massively, the business is doomed before they even start as the capital injected is way to much to gain a realistic commercial return, to cover the blow outs, even if the business runs successfully.

This is where the saying (that a Restaurateur told me when I was an apprentice)  ‘ 2nd or 3rd one in son’ never ever go in first, the costs are way to high and too often cripple the business. 2nd or 3rd time the business sells – picking up the capital costs for a fraction of new…and now the numbers are on your side! I’d say that rule is even more valid today than ever.

If the client has an engaged a food service consultant at the very beginning they would have identified many of these infrastructure costs for them early on, and as such they could of been included in the build, or negotiated with the property owner on costs… or pull out of the deal and find one with better numbers that made sense.

example scenario 3. Renovation of existing, normally increasing size and capacity

Normally this is in the hands of the Architect, includes really complex building designs, increasing the facility size and capacity, and being a renovation it’s not simple, always complex, often involving trying to keep the existing business operating during renovations.

I’ve found that the Architects and Interior designers are brilliant at the seating/dining plans, allocating space, as there are some general ‘math’ rules that do work for this, in fact there are Australian guidelines they have to follow for minimum space requirements per person any how, so the answers are already provided to certain point.

But again its the allocation of space for the food, storage preparation and service that seems to always miss out, and the operation gets renovated with a new kitchen that really isn’t much better than the original. The new kitchen should increased capacity, decrease labour, increase efficiency, and improve on food safety and decrease running costs.

I’ve seen architects in these types of projects allow more space for the bar than the kitchen! Because that’s the ‘sexy’ focus on the project , and ego’s often take over. To be fair it is the profit center also, but it doesn’t take up anywhere near as much space to make drinks than it does to prepare food. The space requirements for both couldn’t be further apart!

Commercially however the bar will make more money than the kitchen , but this doesn’t equal  a poorly planned undersized kitchen. Sometimes the architect will engage the currently chef for input, that’s a good start, but that information should only act as part of the brief. Normally that Chef has not designed kitchens before, if they have maybe one or two, and only bits of, they are looking from a little bit too inside.

An outsiders view added to the inside will add far more options to the designs and a lot more solutions from experience in many projects. They will also have a wide picture on all the relevant equipment, specifications and regulations that will impact the design. The other issue with ‘only the existing chef’s view/input is’ generally you can bet that that Chef WILL NOT be at that business in 12 months let alone 3-5 years, fact! the design needs to work so ANY PROFESSIONAL can come in and work it, sure they will all have their own ideas on what they would have done out liked etc…no design will ever be 110% perfect , there is always complications, restrictions and barriers that will mean some sort of compromise to and up at the final result. The client should always remember that the Chef isn’t paying for the new kitchen and it’s their money and business on the line, the final decision should always be with them the person with the skin in the game.

The above scenario I often see in large club /hotel type operations, a decision is made to improve the operation, increase capacity and update the look. The result is always some cleaver Architecture that increases the existing building and amazing interior design that revives and refreshes the interior, often increasing dining capacity at the same time. But the common theme in the above..kitchen gets neglected, ‘we will sort the front of house out first then sort the back later’.

Which is the same as giving a car a set of shiny news wheels and paint job but leaving a clapped out motor running it!

The result always is , more customers come to the new flash facility, but the dining remains the same or in many cases worse because the kitchen is pushed beyond it’s capacity, it’s broken, standards slip, can’t keep staff and then it ultimately effects food safety also.

Operators and Managers need to understand the following, There IS and ALWAYS Will be a ‘skilled’ Chef shortage, the reasons for are for another blog post. Bottom line is yes you can pay more to attract better staff, but if your kitchen is crap it wont matter, it equals working in a constant Sh! fight everyday and that’s taxing, physically and mentality, when they get an offer that has ‘better working conditions’ they will jump ship, simple as that. The conditions and hours will determine the stability of the staff more than the $$$.

I can guarantee you that the chef turnover rate in well designed and specified kitchens is far less than the those that are not, on top of that productivity and efficiency is higher which equals better bottom lines for the business.

The kitchen renovation should  be planned with the above. In the case where is its is designed nicely it is often  really just a ‘rebuild’ of what was already there, everything has been fixed up building and equipment wise.

Nothing is challenged in the way dining concepts, presentations, menu’s its pretty much the same, missed opportunity, this is the point where you design some really good initiates that can make a food service operations strand out among an increasingly crowded market place .

At the renovation phase also you should be looking at running costs also, consider new equipment technology that can dramatically reduce energy consumption, which again improves bottom line. These discussions all need to be had early on as the results will impact the design.


Engage an experienced consultant/designer/expert asap , even if its just to add some consulting advice to the existing design team, they don’t always have to do the entire designs and  spec, it can be done by the interior design or architect team in conjunction with the consultant.

Happy designing, be sure to look up ‘commercial kitchen design’ on Pinterest , our ideas board is growing..at well over 2,000 ideas, a picture speaks a thousand words as they say..so there’s plenty of creative ideas to look at there.

Commercial kitchen design Pinterest
Commercial kitchen design and food ideas on Pinterest

food presentation