What will kitchen design look like post COVID-19?

Recently our MD, Mike Coldicott, has been asked many times how Tricon Foodservice Consultants think COVID-19 will impact kitchen design moving forward. Here are his thoughts…

There is much interest and discussion about how restaurants will adapt post coronavirus ranging from social distancing of tables, to disposable or tablet menus, or the death of the help yourself buffet/show kitchen, which is all relevant and important but what about the engine room of any restaurant operation; the kitchen. How is that going to change?

In recent weeks we have been asked by many of our clients, from all over the globe, how Coronavirus will impact their kitchen design and what should they be doing to ensure they are adopting best practice. The simple answer is, that at this immediate moment in time, we don’t know what the long-term implications are, but arguably this is a wake up call to revisit our approach and address what have been falling standards over a considerable period of time of hygiene in kitchens as a result of poor design.

Chefs and operators get it; hygiene standards are paramount in any kitchen operation and largely influence the reputation and quality of what is delivered to the table front-of-house. Most have rigorous operational policies in place to ensure high standards are maintained, but what if the kitchen design and infrastructure compromises the ability to achieve and deliver best practice? Are you exposing your diners/guests to increased potential for catching viruses?

Inevitably, Coronavirus will challenge us all to focus on how we can improve our kitchen layouts, design of new developments and even refurbishments of old. There has, for many years, been a focus to reduce back-of-house space to maximise “bums on seats” space front-of-house and reduce development/capex costs, but what if this is compromising best practice hygiene standards? Can you put a price on good hygiene if it is impacting on your diner experience and reputation?

Many new establishments, particularly larger developments such as hotels, corporate restaurants, stadia and conferencing, have started to look at what they can do to improve the situation, and in parallel we are helping them to identify what can be done to achieve this.

In future there may well be much greater focus placed on air quality in kitchens as we know that these hot, humid spaces are great environments for air-borne bacteria and viruses to propagate. We may well be looking at Hepa filtering systems, humidity control systems and UV air and surface sanitisers to ensure that our kitchen spaces do not provide environments to encourage bacterial growth.

There will also, inevitably, be greater focus on staff hygiene. Will we be seeing the introduction of thermographic temperature monitoring at point of arrival into every kitchen, logging and rejecting, as appropriate, staff arriving with a temperature? Will we see a replication of what the food manufacturing industry has been doing for many years, with hygiene locks at the entrance and exit of all large kitchens with increased provision of hand wash basins, alkaline hand sanitiser in place of soap and water, and electrostatic UV shoe mat sanitisers alongside glove and hairnet dispensers? It may all sound a bit draconian but by addressing hygiene at the entrance, all other kitchen practices immediately become improved.

The fabric of the building and the selection of materials in a kitchen environment may also change. I predict we will see a lot less glazed kitchen wall tiles and a lot more antibacterial sheet wall cladding systems, along with similar resin floor products, removing the age-old problem of unhygienic grouted joints.

We should also look to reducing the touch points in kitchens to offset the potential for bacterial transfer. Doors should become automatic, lighting should be sensor, not switch, controlled, and cooking equipment should be developed that is voice-activated or cooking programmes that can be loaded from a chef’s office remotely to minimise touch points.

As one of the primary interfaces between back and front-of-house, platewash/potwash areas will come under scrutiny and we may see a return to full-thermal sterilisation of plateware and cutlery and the outlawing of sink washing systems which cannot guarantee sterilisation.

Perhaps the new normal will become mobile UV air and surface sanitisers that are wheeled into specific high risk areas, such as butchery/poultry prep, patisserie, garde manger prep areas and cooking production spaces, at the end of each day and left overnight to purge the areas of any bacteria or airborne viruses. Or even monthly fog system spray sanitiser protocols, operated by external companies, alongside kitchen deep-clean programmes.

In practice, a lot of this in the fullness of time will get ignored as development costs escalate and owners look to get a quick return on their investment. The industry will need to look to the support of local authorities/municipalities to put in place legislation that demands these high standards, on the basis of the care and welfare for diners across the globe, if standards are truly to be maintained and improved.

Tricon Foodservice Consultants Ltd is a specialist F&B kitchen design consultancy practice operating globally from offices in London and Dubai. It supports the hospitality industry across all sectors providing practical F&B kitchen design solutions to its clients projects.