Design on the Line

By | August 1st, 2006
Silver Spring Country Club more than doubled the area of its original 1950s-era kitchen.

With good planning and an efficient layout, ordinary kitchens can become powerful “culinary command centers.”

 

All too often, the most visible locations of a club or resort get the facelifts, while the private areas that members or guests don’t see go neglected. But a good case can be made for why the back of the house deserves special attention, too.

An outdated kitchen, experts say, sends the signal that management and ownership doesn’t care about employees’ working conditions—and that’s a dangerously contagious attitude.Whether conscious or not, it can affect employee morale and the quality of food and beverage service.

So if you’re overdue for a kitchen renovation, here are some steps for creating a happier, safer—and more productive—space.

Summing It Up


  • Before any kitchen design project begins, getting input from chefs and F&B managers is vital.
  • If the existing space is large enough, a club can save money on the cost of labor and materials by using as much of the existing electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems as possible.
  • How to best arrange the prep lines depends on what menus are being prepared and the volume and timing of activity in the a la carte and banquet sections of service.
  • New-and-improved kitchen equipment can make food preparation more efficient and affordable.

Get Input for Better Output

No matter how perfect a kitchen plan might look on paper, moving ahead on a project without input from those who will spend the most time in it—chefs and F&B managers—is only tempting fate.

Jerry Schreck, Executive Chef at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. and a member of the Club & Resort Business Editorial Advisory Board, suggests it’s especially important to give seasoned chefs who have been at a property for a significant period of time ample authority over the kitchen design process.

“If [chefs] aren’t given that respect, they’re probably going to think they don’t have much of a future at the club,” Schreck notes.

So when Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, Conn., was planning a new kitchen as part of an $8 million renovation to an entire wing of the club, General Manager Bob Sommer’s weekly design meetings with the design consultant also included Chef Eric Stumpf and Club Manager Daniel Sagalski.

“It’s a kitchen designed by people who work in kitchens,” says Sommer, who himself worked in a club kitchen “in another life” while still in college.

Silver Spring’s kitchen is from another era, too. Originally constructed in the 1950s, the space was no longer sufficient to accommodate the needs of a modern facility.

Cog Hill gutted its kitchen, but used much of the same space to cut down on labor and material costs.

“At that time, the club’s business was more seasonal,” Sommer explains. “Throughout the years, the expectations have changed. There were also basic mechanical and size issues.”

Therefore, the staff already knew that the kitchen would have to be enlarged. When the project got underway in September 2005, the plan included a 2,500 sq. ft. kitchen—more than double the original area. While the new kitchen has only been operational since Memorial Day, Sommer is confident there are no design issues. Those weekly meetings, and the resulting plan revisions, made sure of that.

Good planning also worked well for Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Ill., where General Manager Nick Mokelke also made sure to get his co-chefs’ stamps of approval.

“If you don’t have buy-in from the chefs, even if it’s ‘perfect’ it’s not going to be perfect for the chef,” he says.

Cog Hill Co-Chefs Jose Alcantor and Ricardo Marquez are certainly happy with their involvement in the kitchen design process.

“We thank Nick [Mokelke] for listening to us and then following through with the changes,” says Alcantor. “Something that used to take us 20 to 25 minutes now takes us only 10 to 12. That’s a big difference for us—and the customers notice it in the quality of service.”

Cog Hill gutted its kitchen, but used much of the same space to cut down on labor and material costs.

Logical Layouts

Cog Hill’s kitchen had been more or less the same since 1927. And after a complete renovation in the winter of 2004, the kitchen still occupies the same footprint. The design firm selected for the project showed the club how it would save on the cost of labor and materials by using as much of the same space as possible. Plus, when the footprint changes and outside walls are rearranged, a great deal more red tape has to be cut, to conform with local building codes and regulations. So the designer recommended that Cog Hill gut its kitchen completely and start fresh in the same space, using as much of the existing electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems as possible.

Within the working plan, the designer also noted the importance of thinking logically about where equipment should be arranged, to boost efficiency and the flow of traffic in the kitchen. For example, while it’s easier to move a cold line to where a hot line used to be, the opposite is not true, since gas, electricity and ventilation are needed for a hot line. And due to the extensive plumbing required, it is best not to move a dishwashing area unless absolutely necessary.

Next year, The Union League of Philadelphia plans to add a finishing kitchen between its main dining rooms-located in plain view of diners.

Because Cog Hill’s design did not require major structural work, the club was able to completely revamp its kitchen in just six days. A new epoxy floor was installed, and the salad refrigerator was moved from the middle of the floor to an outside wall, where it doesn’t restrict any views.Also, drinks were moved to the end of the kitchen closets, to be closer to the dining areas. Finally, new, more efficient equipment made a world of difference.

The club has a particularly busy winter season, so there was no way a renovation was going to get in the way of its banquet revenue, Mokelke says. With a party booked every weekend in January, the project required careful scheduling and precise execution.

Demolition started after a party on a Sunday afternoon, and much of the work was done after hours.To make things run more smoothly, all of the equipment was on site and prepped for the installers before the work began. By the time of the next event—a wedding on the following Saturday—the kitchen was fully functional.

Running Hot and Cold

It’s 7:30 p.m., and diners from your early seating are lingering over dessert, while a new group is just sitting down to order salads and appetizers. In the kitchen, the cold line is getting hammered—but the only “action” on the hot line is the steam rising from full pans of food.

Next year, The Union League of Philadelphia plans to add a finishing kitchen between its main dining rooms—located in plain view of diners.

This is a typical dilemma for every club, and there are differing theories on how to best set up prep lines in a kitchen to deal with it. What is best for a particular facility depends on what menus are being prepared, the preferences of the kitchen staff, and the volume and timing of activity in the a la carte and banquet sections of service.

Silver Spring Country Club, for instance, has one cold line and one hot line that each accommodate banquet preparation as well as a la carte. For them, it works.

Cog Hill Co-Chefs Jose Alcantor and Ricardo Marquez say their tilt skillet makes food preparation quicker and easier.

But Cog Hill took a different approach. In the past, the club found it nearly impossible to concurrently operate a la carte and banquet operations with single, separate cold and hot lines. So now, it has separate a la carte and banquet lines, each with hot and cold capabilities. This allows chefs to help each other out more. As a result, the overall timing of the service improves, and the members or guests take notice.

This concept of a single prep line for each type of service is something the Union League of Philadelphia will also adopt when it starts its kitchen renovation, as part of a $55 million makeover of its 300,000-sq. ft. clubhouse. The city club, which pulls in over $12 million in annual F&B revenue, will remain open during the entire process, with the bulk of the work done during the slower summer season.

Part of the challenge is to reduce the cavernous Union League kitchen, described as “the size of the Titanic” by General Manager Jeffrey McFadden. “It was built when Irish labor was cheap and you could afford to have 150 people,” he notes.

To make things more manageable and efficient for today’s smaller kitchen staffs, a finishing kitchen will be built in the summer of 2007.

“It will be located upstairs between the club’s two main restaurants and be totally silent, so it can be in clear view of diners without disturbing their dinners,” says McFadden. “The food will be prepped downstairs in the main kitchen and receive its final treatment in the show kitchen.”

The finishing kitchen will handle all F&B operations while the main kitchen is renovated the next year.

Even though the actual work at the Union League is still a few years off, the master plan was completed four years ago. At that time, the design consultant came in to work on the line—as he does for all of his clients. With first-hand experience, he was able to make the following suggestions:

• Place a fridge under the broiler, so proteins can be kept closer to where they will be cooked.

• Transition to a single kitchen line for a la carte service. There will still be a garde manger (“keeping to eat”) station, but cold entrée preparation will be done on the same line as the hot preparation.

• Consolidate the club’s two dishwashing rooms into a single space.

• Instead of using two elevators simultaneously, use one to bring prepped foods upstairs—either to the dining rooms or the finishing kitchen—and the other for removing dirty dishes. This will prevent the risk of cross-contamination.

• Add a combi-oven and a hightemperature, high-resolution broiler.

• Specify quick-connect gas and plumbing lines to speed installation, and add casters to all new equipment.

• Add cold and hot plate storage, and divide the window into hot and cold shelves.

Equipped for Success

The Union League’s designer not only took the club’s layout into consideration, but also the equipment used in the space. Taking advantage of the proliferation of new products is one of the easiest ways to make kitchens more efficient. And even some equipment that isn’t exactly new or cuttingedge has become more affordable.

 

Cog Hill Co-Chefs Jose Alcantor(left) and Ricardo Marquez say their tilt skillet makes food preparation quicker and easier.

Take, for instance, steam-heated griddles. Unlike traditional griddles that have multiple burners under the surface (and therefore varying levels of heat), griddles with pressurized steam will heat more evenly and give chefs more control over the temperature.

Both Cog Hill and Silver Spring added tilt skillets to their new kitchens. At Cog Hill, Alcantor and Marquez agree that making soup or chili—up to 20 gallons at a time—and even corn on the cob is much easier and quicker to prepare with this equipment. The chefs can use the skillet’s large flat surface as a griddle if needed.

Cog Hill also added a self-cleaning fryer, which prolongs the life of the oil and makes maintenance a bit easier.

Combi-ovens, already quite popular in Europe, are now gaining ground in the United States. Yes, the combination convection and steam ovens are expensive, but if you can afford to replace both a steamer oven and a convection oven at the same time, then you can most likely get a single combioven instead. Alcantor and Marquez dread the day theirs might go on the fritz, as they’ve become so accustomed to using it as part of their daily routine.

“It’s so handy and useful for us, we want it to be ready every day,” says Marquez.

Over and Under

Even if there are no plans for a major renovation or adding equipment, there are plenty of simpler things that a club or resort can do to improve its kitchen. For example, the existing concrete floor at Cog Hill was riddled with cracks and had to be painted every year. If too much water was used while cleaning, it would seep through and cause water damage to the next level of the clubhouse. But now, thanks to its new epoxy coating, Cog Hill has a kitchen floor that’s water tight.

“It makes it easier for the staff to do a better job of cleaning,” says Mokelke of the new surface. Slip-and-fall accidents have also been greatly reduced. “Before, there were quite a few accidents, because the paint had worn,” says Marquez.

In addition, a drop ceiling was added. Not only did this bring the lights closer to the prep areas, the lower ceiling reduced the overall airspace in the kitchen. That, combined with new state-of-the-art air handlers, has helped to create a more comfortable kitchen environment. The better lighting has also made it easier to see while cleaning. And a cleaner kitchen is definitely something that members and guests not only notice, but appreciate.

So, if your food and beverage sales are slumping, it might be time to step back and decide if an outdated, inefficient kitchen is to blame. Even if you don’t have room to expand, there are plenty of things you can do to ease congestion, speed service, and boost staff morale and performance. Don’t let complacency get in the way of serving members and guests the best meal possible. C&RB

The following kitchen consultants were consulted in reporting this story: Mike Holtzman – President Profitable Food Facilities mike@profitablefood.com www.profitablefood.com

Ron Kooser – Principal CiniLittle rkooser@cinilittle.com http://www.cinilittle.com/

 

To comment about this story, suggest topics you’d like to see covered in future issues of C&RB, or just ask a question, contact editor@clubandresortbusiness.com

 

What a Chef Wants


Jerry Schreck, Executive Chef at Merion Golf Club, doesn’t need much in his kitchen—just the basics.

“I really need to have a
good grill, a functional convection oven, and enough space [to work in],” he says. “Just give me decent equipment, and I’ll try to create good food.”

But if you ask him what he wants, you’ll get a very different answer.

“One major thing that I’d like to have is an outdoor kitchen,” Schreck says. “Whether it’s in a gazebo, or wherever, I’d like to go out and cook in front of people in the summer. The ability to grill, sauté and do cold [preparations] outside—a nice salad with Ahi tuna on it, for example—would be really great. But it’s very expensive, especially to make it completely sanitary,” he acknowledges.

Whatever the desire, Schreck says, it’s important for chefs to be assertive about what they want when it comes to a kitchen renovation.

“Sometimes chefs can be afraid to assert themselves. But they shouldn’t stand back and wait for someone else to tell them what they need,” he cautions. “[Chefs] should stay involved. The club industry is inconsistent in so many ways, and that’s one of them.”

When faced with a renovation, Schreck would recommend the following:

  • “Leave space for things that you might want to add later. Square footage is the hardest thing to get. Everyone from the golf pro to the front of the house is going to try to get that, so stand your ground.”
  • “If you’re secure in your position, capital budget wish lists are generally approved. Have a plan and look three or four years ahead, rather than just to next week. And be flexible. New products change on an annual basis, and you might see something that you want. A new smoker. A brick oven for pizzas….”
  • “You have to design with your busiest night in mind. Don’t base the design on an average night. Maybe your request will be turned down, but you have to go for it. When you bring in temporary help for a big banquet, you have to give them room to work, without interfering with the a la carte service.”
  • And if forced to decide between storage space or work area, Schreck would choose the latter. “I don’t want to say I need less storage, but that’s a lesser priority. There’s no need to have a lot of money tied up in [stored] beans and olive oil. But it’s nice to be able to store speed racks for prepped food when you’re doing banquets.”In short, Schreck advises, you should maximize your prep areas and fresh-food storage, but cut back on dry storage and freezer space by streamlining your inventory, and only keep on hand what you actually need in the short term. —JLS
Divide and Conquer


Areas of the property where food and drink is served to members and guests when they’re away from the main clubhouse can also benefit from a rethinking of traditional approaches to preparation and storage. Here are a couple of tips for your “satellite” locations:

  • Beverage Carts. Try keeping beverage cart inventory in a simple cage in either a basement or cart storage area. In that cage, you just need to have a bottle refrigerator that can hold enough inventory for a day. This keeps the main walk-in cooler space free for the kitchen staff, and minimizes unnecessary traffic in the kitchen.
  • Keg Cooler. Try also moving this to the basement or another place where delivery will be easier and out of the way. Your distributor or another bar design expert can help install lines to carry the beer from the keg cooler—an 8’ x 8’ walk-in should do it—to the bartop taps. —JLS

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