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Getting the Workflow Right is the Toughest Bit When Setting up a Restaurant Kitchen: Saransh Goila, Celebrity Chef

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Saransh Goila, the celebrity chef last associated with Food Food channel, shares the do’s and don’ts of setting up a restaurant kitchen, must-have equipments, trends, and staffing; factors that make for a successful restaurant. He insists that restaurants shouldn’t try to over achieve, but start small, master the art, and then grow.

Q. What is the biggest challenge in setting up as well as managing a restaurant kitchen?

Getting the workflow right is the toughest bit when setting up a kitchen. Workflow is as much about your physical presence as it is about how you set up the stuff. One must set himself on a mark and then put everything a chef will need around it, where he can easily reach out to stuff and not the opposite way round.

Any good organisation needs a good manager and leader. The biggest challenge managers / exec chefs face these days is to retain their staff. The turnover rate of staff is pretty high. So retaining your staff requires a lot of thought, care, and planning.

Q. How much space should the kitchen occupy out of the total restaurant space?

It is ideal to have five square feet of space in your kitchen for every one seat in your restaurant, so if you have a 100-seat restaurant you will need a 500 square foot kitchen approximately. Though depending on the cuisine it can vary, if it’s experimental you need more space.

Q. How much should be invested in setting up a kitchen, what should be the ideal area for different formats?

In QSR’s, I believe 33 percent of the investment and more than half of the space goes into the kitchen if you don’t have a central kitchen. In most cases there is a central kitchen, so the major chunk of investment happens only once. Like you could spend Rs 30 to Rs 50 lakh and design a kitchen that caters to five outlets. So the kitchen cost and space spent on the same in outlets after this is bare minimal. Thus, it totally depends on the model of the restaurant.

For casual and fine dine restaurants, the kitchen is more spaced out and people might spend a lot more on designing and feeding them with modern equipment. A casual/fine dine restaurant kitchen can cost you anywhere from Rs 25 to Rs 50 lakh depending on the number of covers you’re serving and the kind of cuisine you’re preparing. It can be expensive if you need to order equipment from outside the country. As an example, if your overall cost to open a full service restaurant is Rs 2 crore, your kitchen investment will be Rs 40 lakh and the space covered by it in a 1,500 sq.ft. restaurant will be approx. 500 sq.ft.

Q. What are the do’s and don’ts of setting up a restaurant kitchen?

Some of the “must do” things for setting up a restaurant kitchen include, having a fabulous HVAC system and industrial range hood installed to keep the kitchen fresh and ventilated; buying stainless steel equipment, it might be expensive but will benefit in the longer run; planning the space for bulk equipments first, for e.g. a tandoor, in an Indian kitchen takes up a full corner so you must have enough tandoor-based dishes on the menu to support the space it takes up; living in a hot country like India, one should have enough refrigerators and deep freezers to keep the food and meats fresh; Indians love frying things, so buy modern deep fat fryers to increase the number of covers you do and decrease the production time.

On the other hand, what should be avoided while setting up a kitchen is not paying attention to smaller details. Most people make the mistake of aiming for a high-end product without doing so. So things like fire extinguishers, stainless steel equipments and nice floor mats should not be ignored; do not cut down your kitchen cost by buying cheaper equipments; no compromise should be made in the kitchen space to have more seating in the restaurant; avoid buying all possible equipments available in the market, make a checklist of equipments your food will need and then shop. Extra equipment leads to confusion; and last but not the least don’t buy aluminium pans or equipment just because it seems cheap and affordable.

Q. How does the set up and equipment differ for a QSR, fine dine, and casual dining restaurant?

QSR (Quick Service restaurants or Limited service restaurants) have lesser number of dishes but a higher turnover, mostly it’s quantity over quality. So you need equipments that do multiple things and a menu that doesn’t ask for much equipment to begin with which in turn reduces the space of the kitchen needed for a QSR. Also, most of the bigger chains centrally prepare most of the food and then supply to various outlets to reheat or finish off the final method. Microwaves, fryers, and ovens come in really handy for such restaurants. With usually no table service and low price point, people don’t expect a fancy decor but good food.

Fine dine and casual dining come under the full service restaurant category. They need bigger kitchens than QSRs, more attention to detail, space and a bigger inventory. Their main kitchen in most cases is attached to the restaurant (unlike QSRs) and they prepare everything from scratch. The equipment is bigger and more equipped to handle larger menus with finer tools used to produce great quality meals. More investment and manpower is required by such restaurants leading to lesser franchisees and turnover. In such formats, quality rules over quantity and more kitchen space is needed to deliver the same.

Q. What are the key equipments a restaurant must have?

According to me, key equipments required for a restaurateur are deep freezer; industrial range hood; sharp knives (Victorinox); Kitchen Aid, if a lot of baking is required; and stainless steel prep stations, sinks and pans.

Q. What are the various ways to reduce food waste and spoilage in restaurant kitchens?

We live in a generation of smartphones and tabs. Going a bit high tech by giving apps to the chefs to manage their inventories can work wonders. A well-managed menu to prevent food wastage is a must. Use of ingredients at least twice in the menu, or cross usage, avoids spoilage and maintains circulation. It is also very necessary to make someone a dedicated in-charge.

Q. What are the costs involved in setting up a restaurant?

To start a small QSR it takes Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh initially depending on the location plus you need a six month of working capital buffer to be on the safe side. For a casual dining restaurant of 50 – 80 covers you need Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 crore and a fine dine restaurant would easily require at least Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 3 crore plus the buffer of course!

The amount of marketing you do is additional. If you want a jumpstart, you might be throwing away another Rs 10 lakh in building a proper brand and doing events around the same.

Q. Why do you think most of the new restaurants don’t survive beyond a year?

They lack consistency, dedication, and genuine hospitality skills. Most people enter this industry thinking it’s easy liquid cash. I wish only PR, marketing, and brands made good restaurants. Good food and service make great restaurants and that takes time, patience, dedication, great team building and money. The goal has to be clear, it’s not easy money, it’s a lot of hard work and planning, if you’re ready to be a part of Game of Thrones without aiming for the throne, you know you won’t survive. So know your odds and deliver regardless, is the call of the industry now a days. Restaurants shouldn’t try to over achieve, they should start small, master the art, and then grow.

Q. How should an ideal menu look like for a start up?

It should be minimal as it’s always easier to handle and deliver a smaller menu. Smaller menu help you in being consistent everyday, do lesser wastage and help people not be confused on the table.

There is space for all sorts of menus and ideas in today’s India. You can only be a non-vegetarian restaurant and still be sold out, same goes for vegetarian food as well. Though single and healthy food seem to be trending in the upper middle class section, 90 percent of the people still love their dosas and vada pao.

Q. Please elaborate on staffing for a new setup.

Most people start hunting for staff two months before they wish to go live up and running. I’d suggest to hire half of your staff at least 4 – 5 months before the restaurant begins, yes it means additional cost, but it’ll give you a team that will stick with you for a longer time. When people put in their time and sweat in building something from scratch they don’t let go of it easy, it’s psychological.

Figure out the number of shifts you will need to have for each position. Once you know the number of shifts, that number will tell you how many part and full time workers you need.

During the first few weeks have additional staff (on part time basis) to assist your permanent staff. So that initial challenges don’t throw an impact on the experience that customers get. So basically opening staff should be about 20 percent more than your ultimate projections, if needed you can also let go of people whom you don’t seem fit or few might leave as they don’t see themselves fitting in your organisation.

Choose a good mix of experienced and fresh talent, keep the salaries balanced, and maintain a competitive environment.

Q. What are the latest trends in restaurant industry and specifically restaurant kitchens?

Some of the popular trends are as follows:

  • Theme based restaurants are becoming more popular, international cuisines, cafes and microbreweries are gaining ground.
  • Healthy is “In” and though the market for it is niche it sure seems the route for future
  • Indianisation and localisation: Global players are localising their dishes and making them suit the Indian palate
  • Molecular Gastronomy and Plate Presentation: A lot of kitchens are now equipped with fancy equipments to make their food and plate presentation stylish and trendy. Food is the new entertainment so people expect more from the chefs and their kitchens need to be modern enough to deliver the same.