How to Design a Banquet Kitchen

Smart design elements can maximize efficiency and leverage technology.

Successful club banquet kitchens feature specific components organized to optimize performance and efficiency. And while there is no such thing as the perfect design, chefs must begin by determining which elements will satisfy the most goals.

Executive Chef Jason Hall, CMC, did this after he came to Myers Park Country Club (Charlotte, N.C.) just before it embarked on the final phase of its massive centennial plan, which included gutting and rebuilding all of the club’s kitchens (see “Winning Renovation Recipes”).

“We had blueprints and rough-ins, but there was still a lot of work to do on the design and layout,” says Hall. “Before making any recommendations or plans, I watched how the banquet kitchen operated and did extensive motion studies.”

Five Design Tips from a Master Chef

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Jason Hall, CMC, Executive Chef of Myers Park Country Club (Charlotte, N.C.), offers the following tips on banquet-kitchen design:

Study your cooks first. “Your cooks are in it every day,” says Hall. “They are in need of efficiencies. Watching them will provide you with a lot of answers and a lot of insight.”

Make sure you have ample chilling equipment. “Blast chillers are great for safety and uniformity,” says Hall. “Plus, it gets the food out of your walk-ins, which aren’t designed to bring temps down quickly. This is an important piece of equipment that every chef should explore.”

Be smart about your equipment. “Look at equipment designed for big-batch cookery,” he says. “Combis, for example, allow you to do a lot of different types of cooking within the same unit. The pressure-braising pan is another good one, and probably our favorite new piece of equipment.”

Study the electrical grid. “Make sure you can plug everything in at the same time,” says Hall.

Add more floor drains. “You can never have too many outlets or floor drains,” he says.

Myers Park CC then contracted with a Charlotte-based equipment manufacturer to help design and outfit all of the kitchens in its clubhouse and make them as efficient as possible.

One of the many elements the team deemed critical to the banquet kitchen’s success was better big-batch cookery equipment. The club purchased a pressure braising pan, combi ovens that could accommodate speedrack roll-ins, and a blast chiller that was integrated into a walk-in cooler.

“The layout allows us to quickly cool stocks and soups, for example, before we cryovac them in gallon bags, which can then be pulled as needed,” says Hall.

Myers Park CC also redesigned its banqueting table so that 12 cooks could work simultaneously during a plate-up.

“We chose a table with a flat landscape,” says Hall. “We put the utensils in a cage and turned the steam wells sideways, so everyone could access them from around the unit. We also added drop-down heat lamps all the way down the table.”

Tim Recher, Executive Chef of Army Navy Country Club (Arlington, Va.).

All of these design elements have allowed Myers Park to more than double its production ability.

“We used to do about 200 pounds of braised pork butts a week,” says Hall. “In the old kitchen, it took four hours to braise the butts. Now, in the pressure-braising pan, we can do that same volume in two hours and [also] have it blast-chilled, in the time it took to just braise previously.”

Tim Recher, CEC, CWX, Executive Chef of Army Navy Country Club (Arlington, Va.), moved into his banquet kitchen nearly five years ago after Army Navy CC built a brand new clubhouse from the ground up (see “Military Precision”).

“Our banquet department is huge,” says Recher. “We do about $3.5 million annually in banquets and can handle up to 2,500 guests at a time.”

Army Navy CC’s banquet kitchen is broken into sections. There’s a garde manger space for salads, cheese displays and cold hors d’oeuvres. There’s a bulk hot-prep space with big-batch cookery equipment, such as a steam kettle and a combi oven. Finally, there’s a finishing area with plating tables and hot boxes.

With the kitchen on the third floor alongside much of the banquet space, it was important to add a loading dock on the ground floor to accept deliveries solely for banquets. “Everything ordered by our Banquet Chef, Stephanie Bishop, goes directly to that dock, so it doesn’t cross over with a la carte,” says Recher.

Proper refrigeration has also been important. “We have three dedicated pieces of equipment for finished products,” says Recher. “They accommodate roll-ins, which has made service much simpler for the front of the house.”

Since Army Navy CC opened this kitchen five years ago, banquet business has nearly doubled from what the club anticipated. In response, Recher and Bishop have added a twelve-burner range and more warming pieces.

“More than 50% of our menus are custom, so our banquet kitchen is designed to be versatile and all the equipment can be cross-utilized,” says Recher. “In addition to the equipment we have inside, we have added equipment outside such as smokers and a caja china [a pig roasting box]. We try to embrace technology that allows us to make better food.”

Recher’s best advice for chefs on the verge of a banquet-kitchen design is to talk to other club chefs who have been through it.

“Seeing how other club chefs run their kitchens can be really helpful in improving your own kitchen,” says Recher, who recently visited Hall at Myers Park to get ideas on how to further improve his own operation. “Talk to your cooks who work in the space daily, network with other club chefs, and look for ways to improve efficiencies.”