Recipe for success
Star Pubs & Bars head of food Mark Teed reveals the varieties of kitchen and pub layouts that make a winning combination:
- Open plan – the consumer can see what’s happening with open-plan kitchens, which they find reassuring. The noises emanating can also give atmosphere and a vibrancy to a soulless dining room. However, as most activity is in line of sight, kitchens need to be well ordered and clean. Layout is an important consideration. You wouldn’t, for example, have microwaves on display.
- Small/streamlined kitchen – these are ideal for pubs with limited space, such as listed buildings where you don’t have options to put in larger kitchens and to high street outlets where a smaller footprint means less rent is spent on the kitchen. They work well with a narrow specialist food offer that can be delivered quickly. This is particularly relevant for pubs wanting to service ever-growing convenience market for takeouts and delivery.
- Chef’s table – this is suited to high-end gastro-style pubs and restaurants. They are typically found in or next to the kitchen and will be for parties of eight to 10 rather than for couples. It’s all about the immersive experience, going on the journey with the chef.
- No kitchen – when there is no kitchen, a credible back-bar food offer, such as toasties, pizzas and pies can still work. This will require refrigeration for ingredients and a small pizza oven for warming food. No fried food can be done because of the necessity to have an extractor fan. This back-bar facility will drive increased drinks revenue and an additional income stream from the food.
The demand for experiences in pubs is prompting operators and pub companies alike to seriously evaluate their sites’ approach to food and kitchens.
While some are scaling up their operations with open-plan kitchens and chef ’s tables to add theatre, others – often more live-event orientated – are streamlining their kitchens, or in some instances removing them altogether in favour of snug bar areas or VIP sections to watch sport.
Series of challenges
According to Fuller’s director of food Paul Dickinson, declining drinks volumes after the smoking ban in pubs has encouraged operators and pub companies to review their strategy around food. “Over the past five years, we’ve heavily invested in our kitchens. We’ve done more than 120 kitchens – the average kitchen kit is about £120,000,” Dickinson explains.
Discussing if there any particular trends or designs are becoming more popular, Dickinson explains, “It depends on the business space we have.
“There are lots of equations because most of our businesses are in listed buildings – we might take down a wall and find we can’t knock down the next one.
“We have three template models – is it a big drinks house, small food? Is food equal to drink? Is this a food volume operation? That’s the starting point of how much we spend in each kitchen.
“The challenges are immense, but it all starts around the customer. Is food as important as drink, or is drink the main driver? It’s having that equation of what we want that business to do and we’re so all over the place geographically that it presents more of a challenge.
“It starts with how many covers you have and how many times you want to turn them. From that it dictates the kitchen space, the size of the pass, what the main food offer is – is it open at weekends or in the summer?
“There are loads of variables that we take on board in order to land the right sized kitchen and the right space. It’s making sure the operation fits the food offer and we can maximise covers and the customer’s experience.”
Dickinson argues that the most essential consideration when reviewing kitchen strategy has to be what impact it’ll have on customer and staff experience.
He adds: “If you’re going to make something bigger, but get fewer customers, what’s the point? If you’re going to make a kitchen smaller and you’ve got too many chefs, it’s not going to be a good place to work in.
“You really need to be very thoughtful and have a well-balanced plan that enhances the customer’s experience so that every meal they have is an adventure. You don’t want people to come and say ‘they used to not have a wall there’ or ‘when John was here it was great’. That’s the worst conversation you can hear in any eatery.
“You really need to be very careful and measured with any investment you do.
“Then the final thing is, if you’re going to add new kit in the kitchen, getting it in and out can’t have an impact on cost.
“Whenever you build a kitchen you’ve got to be able to get kit out as well as get it back in. We can take a piece out and fix it overnight – we’ve not got to take doors off the walls and all the rest of it.
“It’s a real methodical thing you’ve got to think about, but it all comes down to your staff who are the most important thing to run a business, and your customers – that it doesn’t have an effect on what they do.”
One trend that both Dickinson and Brewhouse & Kitchen co-founder Simon Bunn have seen become increasingly popular among Britain’s pubs is the introduction of open-plan kitchens.
“The majority of our sites have kitchens with an open pass, something that we at Brewhouse & Kitchen believe is an important feature contributing to our brewpubs’ successes,” says Bunn.
“For a busy and bustling atmosphere, it allows the wait staff to quickly and effciently service their tables and for the kitchen staff to communicate effectively with all other team members.
“In a pub, that ease of communication is pivotal to the smooth running of an evening that has back-to-back bookings.
“Most importantly though, open passes add to the experience of the meal, allowing guests to smell, see and hear the food before it even gets to their table.
“For a business so focused on maximising the quality of the pub experience, from our beer-tasting masterclasses to brewing experiences, having an open kitchen makes our guests feel included in the goings on in the pub, rather than eating a meal independently of them.”
But despite the growing popularity, Dickinson urges operators to be cautious before lifting the lid on their kitchen.
“You can add theatre but if you haven’t got the chef or manager who can create that theatre, there’s no point,” he says.
“I’ve been to lots of pubs in the Norfolk area recently for weddings and I’ve been blown away by how many people have a private dining room next to the kitchen and behind the curtain you can see into the kitchen.
“One of them did it very well because it’s a very busy operation, the other one had one chef in the kitchen and he was messy and dirty.
“You’ve got to be able to have the confidence that you can execute it, because once you have that open-plan kitchen you don’t want to be spending more money to close it up.
“We’ve done a lot of research, [and for] customers who see chefs in kitchens, it conveys skill and fresh food.
“People that hide away aren’t doing themselves or their team any justice.”
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