In today’s “Information Age,” where transparency and information sharing inform how we live our lives, it isn’t surprising that restaurants are adopting a new, more visible approach to preparing food. There has been a movement toward the open kitchen concept – where food is prepared in plain sight. It provides customers direct access to information about the establishment’s hygiene, professionalism and culinary excellence.
The model spans cuisines – from sandwiches to sushi – and categories – from fast food to fine dining. Venerable eateries like Subway have mastered it, and new favorites like Chipotle tie it to their core business message. Even longstanding franchises are experimenting with and embracing open kitchens.
Is the open kitchen here to stay or is it a passing trend? Here are some pros and cons to consider before converting your restaurant.
Transparency is a trend impacting business decisions at many levels and arguably is the key driver behind open kitchens.
- Pro: An open kitchen is an opportunity to showcase sanitary processes and the steps taken to turn fresh, high quality ingredients into each mouthwatering meal. When faced with troubling hygiene issues, Domino’s Pizza developed its “Pizza Theater” store design to ease customer concerns.
- Con: Customers may be exposed to occasional staff mistakes, messy kitchens during busy rushes and more that may adversely impact the restaurant’s reputation.
With the widespread popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs, an open kitchen can capitalize on the entertainment factor.
- Pro: Most chefs and foodservice workers are proud of the delicious dishes they create. An open kitchen can provide drama and excitement, engaging customers who appreciate the artistry of cooking.
- Con: Food preparation isn’t always glamorous or visually appealing. Open kitchens are often better suited for restaurants that want to make the food preparation process the focal point. There are other opportunities, such as offering live music or events, to provide your customers with an entertaining experience.
Open kitchens, what some have dubbed “middle of the house,” can dramatically impact a restaurant’s atmosphere and the sensory experience of dining.
- Pro: According to Chipotle, the “sounds, the smells, and the sights of cooking can really help you work up an appetite.”
- Con: Open kitchens certainly stimulate the senses, but not necessarily in a good way for every customer. Consider the commotion of a common kitchen – clanging of pots and pans, bright lights, staff yelling when orders are ready, and smells of smoky stovetops. Some customers may be looking for a quieter, calmer experience.
An open kitchen concept can help make or break a restaurant. The answer may lie in a compromise, expose part of the process and keep the line prep, solace for staff and dishwashing behind closed doors.