Please share with us a little about your background.
I attended Cal Poly Pomona, studying Architecture. I received a bachelor’s degree and started working towards a master’s degree. I found a job in drafting to help fund a summer trip to Europe. I began working with a restaurant designer. I worked for six months in foodservice and interiors and developed a passion for it. Shortly after in 1977, I became a partner in their company. In 1984 I started my firm, Coastline Design.
Did your architecture degree help you, or did you find your hands-on experience was more helpful?
I didn’t realize at the time the importance of my architecture education. Early on, I was eager to get working and gain hands-on experience and didn’t fully appreciate the importance of my architecture education. However, we learned about design principles, design discipline, and problem-solving while in school. I genuinely appreciate the foundation I learned during my formal studies. Growing up, I also worked with my uncle as a mechanic. This hands-on experience helped with the mechanical aspects of restaurants, as kitchens can be quite mechanical.
Have you always worked in the hospitality/food service space?
Primarily yes. However, we’ve also done high-end residential kitchen designs for celebrities in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.
Examples of past design projects that stand out or one of your favorites?
The one that stands out the most is the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens – Stadium 1 and Stadium 2. The owner wanted to revamp Stadium 1 by adding 240,000 square feet to it and wanted to put 26 new restaurants in it. We had ten months to design, go through plan check, and build and be fully operational. This process should have taken 2 to 2.5 years to complete. But we managed to pull it off!
How many kitchens would you say you’ve designed in your multi-decade career?
It’s well over 2000. We’ve done a variety of kitchens, from “roach coaches” to chain accounts like El Pollo Loco, Green Burrito, Wahoo’s, smaller chains, California Pizza Kitchen, and high-end restaurants like Taps. They’ve all been exciting. Every project has unique aspects to them. Part of what I enjoy the most is the design discipline I’ve learned while at Cal Poly Pomona and applying that to each project. The majority of my competitors are primarily food service/equipment salespeople. They sell kitchen equipment. They aren’t designers; they don’t understand the flow of a restaurant. They usually throw a lot of equipment in there so they can sell. We take it and design it properly.
What are some of the parameters you need and use before and during the design process?
To start, we ask, what is your menu? It’s essential to understand your menu. Who’s your audience/customer? What is your anticipated volume? Lastly, and very important to know, what’s your budget? All of these play a factor. From there, we look at the space. Many inherent problems often have to be considered and worked around in an existing kitchen space. For example, it could be a space with many columns everywhere, so you’re dealing with someone else’s problems – which can be challenging, but we work at ways to get around those issues. Other times, we are given a nice, blank space and can build an optimized prototype. A prototype is easy to create when starting with a blank slate.
Look at each of the needed areas. For example, is this a refrigeration-intense restaurant? Is there a need for a lot of dry storage? I need this much storage. Is the menu prep-intensive? How much prep space is needed. Are there a lot of fresh vegetables? Once you have that information, you start putting together your program requirements. You determine the required square footage for each area you need. We then begin with what is called a “bubble diagram.” The bubbles are as big as the space you need, so you can start putting relationships together and determine how this will flow properly. We work from the back to the front and the front to the back. For example,
- Deliveries come in; they need to be stored somewhere
- Storage goes into prep
- Prep to cooking
- Cooking to serving/expo’s
- Then out to the customer
All of that is laid out in the bubble diagram to give you a general idea of a plan.
Is there an optimum space ratio for the back of house and front of house?
For a full-service restaurant with a lot of in-house dining, you would typically see between 35%-40% allocated for the kitchen. The remaining would be for the interiors, restrooms, etc.
For quick-service restaurants with a lot of takeout orders, the dining room area is usually reduced, and the kitchen space increases.
How would you say your process intertwines with architecture/interior design?
Architects and interior designers are critical to the process. We all have to work together initially and throughout the entire design process, as so much is tied together with the interiors and the architect. It requires excellent coordination and communication and becomes a team effort. When that comes together collaboratively, the better the restaurant comes out.
What factors would you say you consider for a well-designed back of house?
- Does it flow properly?
- Is it easy to work in?
- Is it easy to clean and maintain?
- Is it a comfortable environment for the employees to work in?
- Is there a lot of wasted square footage? Or is it lean and mean? Sometimes the tighter a facility is, the less expensive it is to operate. Costs to operate a restaurant are so high now when examining cost per square foot. The bigger the space, the harder it is to clean, and the more expensive running air conditioning or heating.
What are the general costs per square foot for back-of-house construction?
That’s all over the board. It used to be about $150/sq. foot, now it’s running about $250-$300 sq. foot for the kitchen equipment. It depends on how many buyouts or how customized it is. Sometimes you can do a very tight, efficient kitchen, and the cost per square foot goes up because you are putting a lot more equipment in a small space, but it’s a more efficient space, so the cost per square foot isn’t always the best way to figure it out. However, in the end, it’s going to save money because you’re not spending that amount on rent.
- Build-outs, like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, gas, etc., are approximately $200-$300/sq. foot. It depends on what the landlord is providing in the space. Are the utilities already there? Air conditioning? Grease interceptor, adequate electrical and gas? If those are already there, the cost per square foot goes down. If you don’t have any of that in place, the costs can skyrocket, and you can be looking at spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars in bringing utilities in. We must discuss this with the client initially. You have to look at what is already in the space because often, when an agent is showing the site, the prospective tenant may not know what they need to look for. The client needs to understand what they are getting into before they sign the contract, so we often spend a lot of time discussing this with our clients in detail. We want them to spend their money wisely and not spend it on all the stuff that their customers will never see.
- Equipment – can vary widely.
What are you seeing as far as design equipment innovation?
- Space Allocation – Looking at how we can reduce the footprint. Using less square footage while ensuring the design is as efficient as possible.
- Energy savings – Energy Star – usually more for small appliances – those don’t tend to work in larger scale kitchens. Demand exhaust systems (some school districts are using these). These systems can be costly, but they save energy in the long run.
- Environmental considerations – a lot of equipment made today is not built to last. Usually only lasts a couple of years, so must replace regularly – where does all that throw-away equipment go? It goes into our landfills. It’s best to find equipment that can be regularly maintained and repairable- equipment built to last longer. I also advocate for high-temperature dishwashing instead of chemical machines. The chemicals don’t go away, they end up washing down into the sewer systems, and sanitation departments have to then deal with it. It’s better to sanitize with high temperatures. This method saves energy and water in the long run.
- Maintenance – As a designer, you want kitchen equipment and a space that is easy to clean and maintain.
What are you seeing regarding the current state of the equipment supply chain?
It’s what I’m NOT seeing—still seeing very long delays. It’s terrible. We are experiencing not only delays but constant changes in pricing. Manufacturers are giving a 20–40-week lead time for certain refrigerators yet cannot provide the price. Sometimes we need to switch manufacturers mid-stream due to these delays. We are given a delivery timeline. Just before it’s due to arrive, we are told it will take longer than anticipated – but a restaurant is opening, so we have to scramble to find alternatives. Order confirmations used to come in in about two days, but now we’re lucky if we get them back in 2-3 weeks, and then we are told it’s going to be 8-10 weeks, or more to arrive. These supply chain issues are making it very challenging to purchase and plan.
What would you say are some of an operator’s biggest kitchen design mistakes?
Many of them go in under-financed, which is usually the biggest problem. New restauranteurs think it can be done for a specific budget, and then we come in and tell them what is needed. Then they get priced out. So, they start cutting, usually beginning with the biggest cost items. Having staying power is challenging, especially with a new restaurant, with so many cost overruns, delays, and building department delays – which are now taking up to 2 months to approve.
Do you see any trends in kitchen design? Has the pandemic affected how kitchens are being designed?
There is a lot more takeout food. Many customers are rethinking how they’re allocating their space. Most kitchens are now designed with a specific area/station where all the 3rd party delivery drivers (UberEATS, Grub Hub, Doordash, etc.) can pick up takeout food. Fine dining restaurants don’t want drivers waiting in their lobbies alongside customers, so some are designing a side entrance/door. We are factoring that in our kitchen designs now and setting aside that space when creating the layout/design.
Any last thoughts?
It’s important to stress the importance of the “flow of the kitchen.” In the initial design process, we take every menu item and will walk through all the steps it takes to make that item. We may opt to do a time and motion study to evaluate the physical steps necessary to create each menu item. We then draw out a matrix to see if the equipment or kitchen layout needs to be changed to be more efficient. To be mindful of your employees, we take all of that into consideration when we’re designing, trying to ensure it’s a very efficient station for each employee so they can produce and be happy and not unnecessarily worn out at the end of the day. So, it’s all about the kitchen flow, so your team is not backtracking all the time, but everything needed is at their fingertips. I’m old-school and can design a kitchen quickly in one meeting, hand-sketching out the layout, sketch after sketch, going back and forth with the client getting their feedback and thoughts, and in a matter of a couple of hours, can have an optimized and efficient kitchen laid out. The design process is truly a collaborative team effort, going through all these steps to create an efficient kitchen space customized to the client’s specific needs.
Need help in optimizing your kitchen design to make it more efficient? Reach out to Synergy today!