The making of a post-COVID hotel kitchen

When they open up after the lockdown, the hotels will be completely transformed. Operational efficiency, hygiene, safety and technology adoption will emerge as key drivers of design

Hotel kitchen design, Post-COVID kitchen, Hygiene in kitchen, Kitchen technology, Kitchen design

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a massive transformation in the way the hospitality industry functions. Right from social distancing to contactless dining, the industry is carving out a new normal every single day in a bid to maintain business continuity. Apart from operations, we will see significant changes in the design of the spaces especially that of an area considered the heart and soul of hotel operations: kitchens.

In the Before-COVID (BC) era, the hotel kitchens were designed keeping in mind numerous factors that helped in achieving maximum levels of efficiency and hygiene. In the After-COVID (AC) era, hotels will implement far more stringent measures, especially in standard operations. Operational efficiency, hygiene, safety and technology adoption are likely to emerge as key drivers of the design.

For the industry that has been devastated by the pandemic, adapting to the forthcoming changes is the only way of survival and business recovery. Top consultants from the domain take us through the meaningful changes that will transform the hotel kitchens post-COVID-19.

Hygiene and safety are not a new concept for the hospitality industry. However, the COVID outbreak has forced hotels and restaurants worldwide to further enhance their hygiene and safety protocols. As a part of their hygiene practice, they are now altering their kitchen spaces as per social distancing norms, which, in a way, are giving rise to new concepts.

Cost-effective design

Given the losses borne by the industry, the first step towards business recovery, as suggested by experts, is a cost-effective kitchen design. The need to follow social distancing norms may lead to reduced seating in the dining area, which, in turn, may result in reduced revenue generation for the owners.

However, according to Prateek Gaikwad, Technical Director, Span Asia, the leading suppliers of locally fabricated commercial kitchen equipment, the hoteliers should consider implementing cost-effective solutions rather than spending an oversized budget on redesigning the spaces.

He suggests hotels can eliminate extra equipment, reduce kitchen floor space and enhance better mobility, which will not just help attain better safety and hygiene standards in the kitchen but also reduce the required break-even point for the owners.

The post-COVID era will also see the emergence of turnkey kitchen design solutions. According to Gaikwad, turnkey would soon be in trend and as a result, only one contractor would be appointed to carry out all activities, from design to implementation of all services. This, in a way, will help to reduce the overall project completion time, avoid errors in the implementation stage and drastically reduce the overall cost of the project.

Realign the kitchen

Kitchens are likely to realign sections based on their functionality and social distancing norms. According to hospitality pre-opening and operations consultant Jaideep Gupta, “Implementing a scientific design to space will ensure the least contact between the kitchen functions.”

He suggests that various sections, such as cleaning and washing, receiving, preparation and production and food pick-up need to be clearly defined so that the team does not intrude onto each other’s sections. “While hotels have generally larger areas to play around with, the challenge will be for the restaurants to come up with innovative design as they have much smaller kitchens. This is especially true in the metro cities, where the real estate costs are high and the operators have to squeeze in as much revenue generating area as possible, making their kitchens cramped,” adds Gupta.

A good restaurant designer can tactfully alter and utilise space efficiently through optimum spends. Consultants should not just provide a complete 360-degree service that looks at the design aspect. “They should also put in SOPs for sanitation, kitchen and restaurant processes, and staff training,” adds Gupta.

Vishwanath Pandey, CEO, THI Hospitality Consultants Private Limited, recommends creating considerable distances between workstations in the pre-preparation and preparation areas. “A minimum distance of six feet should be maintained in a bid to practice social distancing.

In case of chefs facing each other in the pre-preparation area too, the alignments of the workstations should be such that they are at a minimum distance of six feet to avoid human interaction.” Gaikwad states that a perfect kitchen design in a post-COVID world will have chefs standing back-to-back rather than facing each other.

According to him, hotels will have to get rid of island kitchens right now. The menus will change, too Pandey believes that the menu structure, too, will change; the 80: 20 rule will come into the picture, wherein 80% of the revenue is derived from 20% of the menu. The menus are likely to get shorter with a large number of people abstaining from dining out in the near future. Also, the restaurant capacities would go down close to 50% due to social distancing. The non-availability of imported ingredients will also force chefs to shorten the menu structure.

Safety Norms for Hotel Kitchens 

Ribson Varghese, Project Manager, HPG Consulting, Bangalore believes making changes in the design will partly solve the problem. He says, instead, that every hotel should focus and invest in mechanisms that elevate and enhance the hygiene and safety standards.

The biggest challenge will be to instil confidence in people when it comes to sanitation policies and programmes. Some of the steps that designers say hotels will have to implement:

Employee hygiene: According to hospitality pre-opening and operations consultant Jaideep Gupta, hotels and restaurants should have a robust entry and exit policy, along with infrastructure for staff and vendors who are allowed into the kitchen. He also proposed a proper cleaning and sanitation routine to be followed and appropriate sanitation points at all stations. Varghese proposes installing a sanitation chamber, which will disinfect the employees entering the hotel. He also suggests a thermal imagining connected to hotel B.M.S for guests and employees, which, in a way, will help them identify symptomatic carriers directly to their centralised server.

Reduced floor space and movement: To encourage social distancing in kitchens, the number of chefs and staff employed should be reduced. The kitchen design should be such that the overall floor space is reduced and movement for each chef is as less as possible.

Washing and sanitising equipment: Prateek Gaikwad, Technical Director, Span Asia emphasises adequate importance should be given to washing and sanitation equipment in the receiving bay to ensure all raw materials such as vegetables are washed before being taken to the stores. Varghese, on the other hand, proposed installation of UV chamber in receiving dock, so that all the sourced materials are sanitised.

Separate dry and wet garbage areas: The most crucial part of any kitchen is the waste disposal area. Care should be taken to separate dry and wet garbage area. Also, there should be a provision of including cold room for wet garbage to prevent contamination.

Use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): Use of PPE such as gloves and caps by chefs and kitchen staff was always a core requirement for safety and hygiene, even in the Pre-COVID era. However, it was not a strict mandate. Post-COVID, the kitchen staff will compulsorily be asked to wear them.

• Kitchen ventilation: A well-designed kitchen exhaust and ventilation system are of utmost importance to ensure the correct temperature is attained in both the zones of kitchen i.e hot and cold. Use of treated fresh air in cold kitchens, use of scrubbers for exhaust and air washers for fresh air, and more focus on hood design with the use of multiple filtration systems will help to eliminate the chances of contamination. Varghese also suggests including a U.V filter in return air A.H.U, which will help in killing the bacteria present in the atmosphere of kitchens.

Good manufacturing practices: By definition, good manufacturing practices are the basic operational and environmental conditions required to cook food safely. This ensures that ingredients, products and packaging materials are handled safely and that food products are processed in a suitable

Clear segregation of hot and cold areas: The two areas have to be segregated and operating at the correct working temperatures.

Refrigeration and cold storage: Dedicated refrigeration should be provided for each kind of cuisine to store the mise-en-place.

Grating, MEP and traps: Use of grating, traps and grease receptors at well-planned locations (the preparation area, soil area, etc.) is extremely crucial to ensure that there is no foul odour lingering in the kitchen and no return flow of water.

Technology plays its part

Hotel kitchens are likely to implement plans that allow chefs to multitask. Technology will have a larger role to play in the kitchen. “Given that contactless dining will be the norm, hotel kitchens will start depending on technology-driven equipment,” says Gaikwad. “Not only will they help to reduce the total number of equipment needed in the kitchen, but will also reduce the number of people required to cook. For example, a Combi oven can replace a minimum of four equipment pieces, even as it provides better consistency, a reduced need for exhaust-fresh air ventilation and, of course, reduced labour.”

Considering a shorter menu withlimited staffing, Pandey contends that there would be self-contained cooking stations with under-the-counter refrigerators to support the preparation area, besides a ventless hood system for live cooking stations.

Space-saving multifunctional, semi-automated machinery with a self-cooking centre will also be in demand. “Usage of equipment such as Combi ovens, Merry Chef digital panels will also find a place in the post-COVID kitchen, given that they allow for minimal human contact. Robotic cooking machinery will be an option to consider, as it would reduce food contact and help chefs implement standardised cooking norms,” avers Pandey.

The hospitality industry, like many other industries, is grappling for answers to never-heard-before concepts such as contactless dining and chefs, given to constant conversations and interactions, maintaining social distancing. Creativity could take a backseat in the immediate future, or may be, the crisis will encourage chefs to become far more imaginative.

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