3 Tricky Pitfalls Associated with the Big Move to Go Small

It’s a movement that has been underway in foodservice for a few years now—just long enough for the early adopters to validate their decisions and, thus, inspire other more risk-averse operators to give it a second thought.

It’s the big idea to go with a smaller kitchen.

And why not? As Restaurant Business so eloquently states, “Profits are made up front, through higher customer counts and frequent turnover.” So, sacrificing a share of kitchen square footage to accommodate more seating makes perfect economic sense.

But such a savvy business move isn’t without its pitfalls. Here are three unintended consequences that can undermine your investment, with some insight on how to address them.

1. Service Suffers

In a recent interview, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies editor in chief, Joe Carbonara, got right to the essence of the issue.

“More seats means more revenue, but . . . if you shrink the back of the house [too much] and you shrink its ability to produce food in a timely manner, you’re going to have lines and then you’re going to have brand erosion.”

And the fact that consumer spending for takeout and digital-order delivery is on the rise certainly doesn’t alleviate this stress point.

In the face of all this, shrinking your kitchen has to be more strategic.

Operators who’ve made it work maintain an emphasis on design efficiency—laying out the space to optimize the ergonomic flow of staff, specifying equipment with more versatile performance capabilities, and accounting for placement of equipment according to heat dissipation, ventilation and other factors that can offset your seating/revenue gains.

2. Image Impression Suffers

Shrinking the kitchen almost inevitably forces some functions to the front of the house, even to the point that many are transitioning to self-serve in some concepts.

In light of consumer demand for transparency, as well as a growing preference for heightened dining ‘experiences,’ this shift of functions, often in the process of developing more open-display kitchen areas, has additional advantages beyond economics.

But, as patrons are able to engage establishments on this level, “design,” again, becomes the operative word. Changes from equipment to cookware to fixtures to self-serve stations, have to happen with aesthetics and food-safety perceptions in mind.

3. Menu Suffers

Shrinking the menu is another well-validated foodservice trend, in part because it not only simplifies the decision making for your patrons, but it also simplifies your effort to maintain the flavor and presentation consistency that those same patrons expect.

Yet, you should also be mindful of the growing consumer demand for ever-changing new and exciting foods.

Ethnic flavors are big now. Innovative and signature items always capture interest. But what’s next?

Consultants and other experts advise that the endeavor to shrink the kitchen should always start with menu analysis. The process, however, should look beyond today.

Obviously, it can be difficult to anticipate demand. So, the key is to find smaller, compact equipment that, pound for pound, can deliver the most ROI—by saving space, yes, but also by offering more dynamic utility and durability that enable you to easily evolve and adapt your menu going forward.