• Mike Hughes

The kitchen is OPEN!

The kitchen is OPEN!!!

As a manager…Which kind of kitchen would you rather manage?

A “closed” kitchen or one that is in view of your entire restaurant at all times?

I have worked in and operated both.

In an open kitchen, your guests can see every station and every employee, whom are entrusted to produce the food they are paying top dollar for. This is designed to be a show! It is designed to bring your guests another level of their dining experience.

In closed kitchens, nothing is seen, and the only sounds you hear, are sometimes the playful restaurant banter, all along leaving the guest wondering if there food actually was rung in.

Then there are partially open kitchens…The guest really cant see everything, as it is usually a garage door size opening into the outside expo area, and you can just see the wheel person yelling and bitching about why the fry station is dragging food.

Of the 3, the partially exposed, or semi open kitchen is the toughest to manage. Why?

First of all…The employees in the back of house don’t think they can be heard out front. Of course, that is very false…So shit gets said, in megaphone like volumes that really shouldn’t be heard by the guest. Table 3 really doesn’t need to hear that the expo thinks the grill cooks mother is a “ho”, or how the salad guy spent the night in ER with alcohol poisoning. Next is…Habits…Sometimes a fully open kitchen, has employees that have developed habits that closed or partially open kitchen folks don’t have down pat. It is typically hygiene and behaviors…Touching ones hair and face, and diving right back into making your turkey sandwich…Cleaning as you go (or not) and so on. Then you have guest curiosity…They really want to see the show, but can only catch opening credits…So they are peering and looking around the entrance hoping to see how their food is coming…They only thing they can really see in a partially open kitchen is the dupes lined up for 9 feet, not knowing if theirs is at 4 inches in of 8 feet down the line!

Fully open kitchens are a blast to operate…I mean that! Here is a chance for your team to put on a show! For the most part, your kitchen team has behaviors that have developed over time that are “open kitchen” worthy. Every one of them understands that their jobs are on the line…You rarely see someone picking their nose or scratching their balls in an open concept. The idea is for the guests see a fine tuned, VERY communicative team, all dialed in together to craft great food. Clean kitchens are the standard…Good habits are the rule. FOH and BOH battles NEVER survive in an open concept. You also don’t hear the insults thrown back and forth like you do in semi open or closed kitchens…Sometimes the grill cook may whisper trash talk to the fry guy…But it’s sort of cute. Lastly, if you are a BOH employee with horrible temperament and hygiene, your job has a shelf life.

Closed kitchens!!!! What the guest can’t see, they can’t worry about. Now, there should be zero difference in standards and behaviors from one to the next. However a closed kitchen can sometimes veer off track in regards to how employees treat one another. If the server in section 4 is upset because the sauté guy has commitment issues, then that can surface faster behind closed doors. Also, communication between kitchen staff gets a bit saltier a lot quicker. Cleaning? Uh yeah…Unlike an open kitchen, seeing 3 inches of assorted mess on the floor until one poor guy is delegated to do a line sweep can occur in a closed kitchen, whereas it is rare in an open one. Plus, I can’t even tell you how many times in my career that I have instructed to a FOH employee, that if they really need to blow off steam and vent about the fact that a table sent them back for more ranch 4 times, to do it in the behind the kitchen door!

What about salad bars? Remember them? They are the ultimate in “open concept”. I still actually visit places from time to time where they are alive and well. The trouble with them is broad however.

Besides the fact that a sneeze guard can help give the appearance that there are never germs on a salad bar, there are legitimate reasons to be cautious. You know the ones with 3 kinds of nice bread and a huge chuck of cheddar? That is now in hands of the guest! Who the hell knows where they have they put their hands in the last ½ day! The restaurant will drape a white towel over the bread, and put out a mediocre serrated knife for Billy Bob to start hacking away at, after he spent the afternoon gutting a deer. Or hang out in the men’s room for 20 minutes and watch! Besides either getting your ass kicked or the police called, you will see about 2 out of 5 people zip up and bypass the sinks.… I have witnessed too many hand to salad bar contact to know it is an at your own risk endeavor. Surely when the staff assigned to restocking the bar comes out to tidy things up a bit and refill new product over old product and wipe down the surfaces with a funky kitchen towel, you should feel all better about it, right?

So, what kind of kitchen is your preference? Leave a comment below!


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