Transparency is a key driver of the growing trend of the “open kitchen” for restaurants of all kinds — from fast food franchises to fine dining and everything in between. Consumers have pushed for more information about the ingredients restaurants are using, where they come from and how they are prepared. The transparency of the open kitchen appeals to customers, signaling to them that those preparing their food have nothing to hide. It helps eliminate any fears associated with food horror stories and urban myths about truly nauseating things that have taken place behind closed kitchen doors.
The open kitchen trend is also a growing form of entertainment — boosted by celebrity chef television shows and an increasing fascination of watching how our food is prepared. The public wants to see what is happening and proud chefs are more than happy to showcase their talent. In the past, the open kitchen design was one of necessity, born from the lack of space traditionally seen in big cities.
For Dominos Pizza, transparency isn’t the only reason for adding display cooking elements to many of their redesigned restaurants. As Dominos takes part in a four-year branding makeover plan, they are simultaneously incorporating a new “Pizza Theater” concept, giving visitors visual access to twirling and tossing dough in the pizza-making process. Having many sight lines into the kitchen at full-service or limited-service restaurants can be important to the consumer’s perception of food quality. The Pizza Theatre concept is an effort to reclaim the chain’s heritage as a pizzeria, with cooking done on site. It should also serve consumers as a reminder of the product’s freshness and wholesomeness.
The Wildflower Café is located in Elmhurst, Illinois. It is part of the 259-bed Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, recently relocated three miles south of its original location of 85 years. The food and nutrition department took the relocation as an opportunity to rebrand their nutrition program and create a more appealing and profitable café that wouldn’t give the impression of a dietary or cafeteria-style facility.
A logo of a wildflower with a stained glass background was developed and featured prominently throughout the café, including on digital menu boards. The new set-up includes multiple display cooking stations, including a deli bar, salad bar, wok station, grill area, brick oven — where pizzas, calzones and breads are baked — and a carving station for carved-to-order meats and other comfort-type foods.
Dave Reeves, director of hospitality services, is very enthusiastic about the new design. He says that the display cookery is one of the highlights of the hospital that attracts customers. Display cooking is used at the wok station, the carving station, in the grill area where sandwiches are assembled to order, and at the deli/salad bar area. The lack of waiting time and food freshness are pleasing the café’s patrons who are really taking to the enhanced aesthetics and seeing the food cooked and prepared right in front of them. According to Reeves, the new design has been even more popular than expected and since its opening, the hospital’s retail operations sales immediately increased.
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