Food service design: After the kitchen is open

Published 4/10/12
By Matthew Elliott 
Partner/Director of Design, Avalon Designs & Consulting, LLC


Construction is complete! Your new kitchen is open and ready to go. The design phase went well, involving all departments’ input. You selected an equipment supplier based on the value of products and services they provide and not the low-cost provider. Employees are excited about getting into their new, improved workflow and better serving the residents. Inspections have been passed with flying colors, and everything sparkles and shines with the promise of great things.So our work is done…right?


Once a new, or newly renovated, kitchen is open for service, then additional work must begin. It is important to take the staff through adequate training on new equipment, which includes the cleaning, expected staff maintenance, and instructions on who to contact for service and questions.Although staff were involved in the design process, it is still important to walk through the workflow and have training time for mock service runs. Now you may say this is all very standard procedure, and ask why a designer is telling you things you probably already know. It is because of what can often happen next.


After operations begin, challenges may arise during actual service. Why would this happen in our new perfect kitchen with the optimal plan for operation and service? We thought of everything, involved everyone, so where did we go wrong? I find communication after service begins is most crucial and most often breaks down. Our work is not done, and we should continue to evaluate and adjust. Below I have listed some of the reasons I have heard for staff not giving feedback on what is “wrong” in a new kitchen. If you look at these statements, what each person says could very well be true. In realizing this I ask, “What can I do as a design professional to help address these concerns?”


  • ·“I have worked here over 10 years, and the old way worked just fine. They have forced me into a new system, and I don’t like it. This could be easily adjusted to make it work right, but they pay other people to do that.”

  • “The kitchen is OK, but doing things the new way is just difficult to get everyone to do. So, our solution is to let people do things their own way during their shift. This keeps everyone happy.”

  • “If I tell them what I really think, it won’t matter and nothing will be done about it.”


First, good staff education on new procedures and standards is paramount to the success of any new design. During this new training phase, staff should be asked to complete the training and implement the new processes as much as possible before any construction begins. This will allow time for them to adjust to changes and give valuable feedback. Bumps in the road are expected, but the focus should be creating a more efficient working environment and thereby improving the resident’s experience.


The design team must be available and accessible after the kitchen is open. This means answering phone calls and e-mails asking questions or addressing concerns. It is the responsibility of all members of a design team to be open to further communication after the kitchen is open. All staff should know feedback is welcome and have a point person assigned to receive and communicate it back to the design team. A timeline for answering any challenges should be established and communicated by the design team back to the staff through the person on point.


It is also important to develop a good relationship between the staff point person, designer, general contractor equipment supplier, and installer(s). I have found many issues can be resolved as “small stuff” with little discussion or debate, if a good rapport is established with respect and cooperation. As a designer, I also prefer to do a punch list walk with the equipment supplier and staff point person. Often, issues can be noticed by these three differing points of view (designer, supplier and installer) that might be overlooked by one person.


No solution or design is ever perfection in stainless steel. We can all better serve the residents by being in a better, continuing relationship after the kitchen is open. The team must keep working together for the future to really be an improvement over the old ways.


Matthew Elliott
Partner/Director of Design
Avalon Designs & Consulting, LLC
Specialists in food service design

for the aging services industry