Nobody Cares How Big the Back of Your House Is

Foodservice design can be an intriguing balancing act as designers look to accommodate the needs of the front and back of the house without compromising either. In this post, Juan Martinez takes a philosophical approach at finding balance in foodservice design.

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Congratulations on the new prototype you just finished!

I am hopeful that you took some advice from my prior post on prototype development. Did you do some benchmarking on the final size of the facility? Well if your back of house is 1 percent of the total square footage and the front of house is 99 percent, then you have the most efficient FOH to BOH ratio in existence. All kidding aside, even if you did not achieve these benchmarks, I hope that you still used that kind of metric as an aspirational goal.
Here is an interesting design question for you to ponder: How do you balance the desire to expand the front of the house to drive revenue while leaving enough space in the back of the house to allow for an effective and efficient work flow?

As an industrial engineer and efficiency expert, I always joke with the brand executives I work with about creating a restaurant with a front of the house to back of the house ratio of 99 percent to 1 percent. After all, customers don't really care about how big the back of the house is. All anyone cares about is that the space, including work stations, allows for the optimum customer and employee journeys.

One school of thought says customers should not see many of the dirty parts that reside in the back of the house, making it important to keep these areas hidden. While partially agreeing with this line of thought, I also believe that if you open up the back of the house and remind the employees they are on stage, the team members will keep their kitchen areas in better order. So start bringing as much as you can from the back of the house to the front of the house. As you do this, think about what is brand appropriate and what is not. Perhaps conduct an exercise where you create a table that lists all back-of-the-house activities and label them as "easy on the consumer's eye" or not. It will surprise you how many activities could come to the front, provided staff execute them in an organized, clean and efficient way.

Here is a wake-up call: If you want to attract Millennials you may not have a choice when it comes to bringing more action from the back to the front of the house. That's because many Millennials cop the general attitude that "seeing is believing" and that applies to the restaurants they patronize. You can think that they may have a mistrusting personality, but I prefer to think they embrace Ronald Reagan's "trust, but verify" approach. Millennials may not represent the be all end all demographic for restaurants, but you can't deny this group is a growing and financially powerful category of customers. It's a balancing act because what you do to appeal to Millennials can't alienate other demographics such as Boomers or Generation X.

So how do you design part of the back of the house into the front? Well, the answer is very complex and includes definitive statements like "it depends". Boy, this sounds like a topic for my next post.

At the end of the day, I would also remind you that whatever design you end up doing you would be wise to incorporate the efficiency principles of industrial engineering. Every square foot that you add to the design will add cost to the initial capital (construction) outlays and to on-going operating expenses, such as keeping a larger space air conditioned, not to mention that the larger the space the more the employees will have to walk, requiring more staff for the same sales.

Think about the following: If your current FOH is 1,500 square feet and the BOH is 1,500 square feet, and you completely superimpose both of these areas over each other, the facility size will end up half the size that you started with. I know, impossible you say, but I challenge you to use these principles as aspirational guides in design. After all brand growth is directly related to the cost of the unit, and a smaller unit is definitely a less expensive one.

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Until next time!

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