What is a Central Kitchen? (+How to Operate One)
December 16, 2019
Trends within the restaurant industry are always changing and evolving to keep up with the ever-growing and diversifying consumer-base restaurants aim to please.
One of the most recent trends that has proven to save money and waste in the long-term is central kitchens. Central kitchens not only can cut staff costs, food costs, and equipment and location costs, but they also can also decrease waste.
In addition to the financial and environmental benefits central kitchens offer, they also can provide a more consistent, better operating restaurant brand – as all the food prep occurs in one stable location.
A central kitchen is a common kitchen owned by a single restaurant organization that offers space to store and prepare food for different restaurant branches. Central kitchens can also be rented by smaller restaurant businesses that may not have enough storage or cooking space for large amounts of food, such as food trucks and pop-up restaurants.
Similarly to ghost kitchens and commissary kitchens, central kitchens are being used more and more by restaurants because they offer a convenient location for branches to prepare ingredients in bulk, such as making sauces or soups. Additionally, they come in handy for small restaurant establishments, as central kitchens provide all the perks of having a modern, high-tech kitchen without the long-term commitment of buying their own.
Central kitchens have become a popular trend for restaurants of all types for multiple reasons, ranging from costs, branding, business expansion, and on.
Below lists the most notable perks that central kitchens offer.
A central kitchen is a hub where all restaurant materials are stored, monitored, and prepped. Having all those ingredients (prepped and unprepped) in one place increases efficiency in a variety of ways.
All the supplies are in one spot, it’s easier to track inventory correctly estimate ingredient needs. Think back to a time you ran out of stock or misplaced an ingredient – with a central kitchen, this is much less likely to happen, as you’ll only have to keep track of one location that ingredient could be in.
Central kitchens provide one place where all prep occurs – further automating the prep process in the central kitchen and delivery in the actual restaurant. This allows each employee to better focus on optimizing their production, presentation, or customer service with less worry of another step in the process going wrong.
Not only do central kitchens optimize inventory tracking and allow employees to better optimize their service, but they also offer the use of less manpower with more transparent communication, less transportation costs, better waste management, and allow for the use of centralized tracking and computer systems.
2. Cost Savings
With better efficiency comes more cost savings.
Having all ingredients stored and prepped in one location cuts down buying and delivery costs.
Additionally, while initial buys may cost more for a central kitchen, less equipment and storage space will be needed in the long run.
Buying ingredients and equipment in bulk allows you to continuously save money. Not to mention, with better inventory tracking in central kitchens, less waste from spoiled food will save costs.
The larger the restaurant, the more cost effective a central kitchen is to own – and for those renting space in a central kitchen, it can save initial costs by offering a place to store and prep without making any big-budget buys.
3. Growing Your Restaurant
Alongside bettering inventory and food prep processes and efficiency, central kitchens provide the opportunity for restaurants to expand their markets.
If sauces, soups, and other food prep you might make in bulk are becoming more and more popular, central kitchens already offer an ideal location to create large batches to be packaged and sold in your shop or surrounding grocery stores.
4. Consistency and Branding
With all ingredients prepared in the same location, central kitchens offer better consistency in food taste and quality. Central kitchens provide a stable environment where recipes can be easily replicated with the same equipment by the same staff.
Consistency is key when creating a good image for any brand – especially when owning multiple restaurant branches that customers expect to offer the same food no matter the location.
The consistency central kitchens create allow brands to further develop their identities and authenticity while building a signature flavor that is recognized no matter where it’s served.
5. Additional Income
On top of all the cost-saving benefits, owning a central kitchen comes with additional income opportunities.
For instance, if the central kitchen’s storage isn’t being filled to capacity, the space can be rented out to smaller restaurant establishments. Additionally, if there are off hours where the kitchen is not being used, the space and equipment can be rented out for prep.
Not only this, but packaging food for sale in grocery stores can be another form of income.
These secondary incomes can bring a vast amount of extra money into your business with little-to-no extra effort on your end.
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Central kitchens can be opened for the soul purpose of being a central kitchen meant to act as a hub for restaurant branches or be rented out to smaller establishments. Central kitchens can also be created and expanded after restaurant business growth.
Either way, the process to starting a central kitchen remains the same.
- Business Plan and Budget: Before making any decisions, a business plan and budget should be set to ensure all the following steps are within budget and help better your restaurant business.
- Location: How big and where will your central kitchen be?
- Equipment: What equipment will be needed in your central kitchen?
- Storage: Will the central kitchen have enough storage space?
- Layout: What design will best suit your central kitchen needs?
- Sanitation: What will be the best way to maintain a sanitary kitchen?
- Maintenance: How will the equipment be serviced if needed, and how often will it be checked for proper functioning?
- Orders: How much can the central kitchen store and how will you get the right amount of necessary ingredients on a regular basis?
- Transportation: How will the prepped food and stored ingredients get to your various locations?
- Waste: How will the food be disposed of?
- System Operations and Communication: How will you ensure transparency between branches and the central kitchen and that all processes run smoothly with one another?
- Human Resources: Who will deal with central kitchen staff
- Rent: How will the space be rented out and how much will you charge?
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Operating a central kitchen is different than operating a regular restaurant kitchen. It involves a greater deal of planning, a larger investment, and more specialized equipment.
Additionally, a central kitchen is responsible for more than one restaurant running successfully; therefore, there’s a lot more pressure to ensure it’s operating successfully and all equipment is clean and working properly.
Every restaurant using the central kitchen should be following an operating system to ensure that inventory is always in stock and the collection processes run in a smooth fashion with minimal errors. In order to ensure operations are running smoothly, it’s best to invest in a restaurant POS system for an all-in-one inventory and sales tracker that all restaurants can monitor and report to.
A restaurant POS system is ideal for inventory estimating, tracking, and ordering, identifying inventory and storage space between restaurants using the central kitchen, and offering a single outlet where all restaurants can easily communicate with the central kitchen.
Below are is an example of the various ways central kitchens can be used.
1. Chicago Smoke
A popular central kitchen that is used more by smaller restaurant establishments, such as food trucks and pop-ups is Chicago Smoke.
Chicago Smoke offers rental space and storage rentals, and is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to fit any chef’s needs at all times.
2. Wrap It Up!
Wrap It Up! Is a fast-paced, casual restaurant that sells wraps to its consumers. The London-based food chain decided to alter its production plan and change to using a central kitchen in 2015, which allowed the brand to open nearly double the amount of branches it had already established.
3. La Cocina
La Cocina is a central kitchen that not only rents out space for up to eight businesses at a time, but runs a program to help start new businesses.
The kitchen works to help entrepreneurs get their feet off the ground with reasonable prices, mentorship programs, and media and press to help new businesses’ branding and image.
You now know what a central kitchen is, how it can be used to your benefit, and how to start your own – with examples to inspire you.
This article is meant to give an overview of central kitchens, but in-depth research will be needed to create a kitchen that is perfect for your restaurant needs. Further, reaching out to local central kitchen owners to get their advice on opening a central kitchen of your own may help you to avoid buying too much of one piece of equipment or choosing a layout less easy to operate with.
So, if you think a central kitchen may be right for your growing business, start building that business plan in step one above and considering your budget today.
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