There are many types of restaurants, and each has a different typical kitchen setup. While there are a few overarching categories of kitchens in restaurants, each restaurant is unique and will manage its employees and set up its kitchen in a slightly different way.
Read on to learn about the most common types of restaurants, the pros and cons of their kitchen setups, and how technology can optimize their efficiency.
1. Pay-After Fast Casual
Fast casual restaurants with an assembly-line, pay-at-the-end workflow are one of the most common types of restaurant. These are restaurants like Chipotle or Sweetgreen, where customers see their ingredient options before them and the employees make the order as the customer dictates it in real-time.
At the end of their order, customers will select any packaged drinks or snacks and pay with the cashier. The assembly line employees and cashier are usually assisted by a back-of-house prep team that processes ingredients and restocks the assembly line ingredients as needed.
Sometimes, these restaurants separate in-person and online orders, designating a separate assembly line for any orders not placed in-person. The prep kitchen with the ‘back of house’ employees is usually (but not always) somewhat visible to the customers.
A workflow where orders are made directly in front of the customer as they order helps prevent any mistakes or mix-ups. Customers can see their food as it’s being made, ask for more or less of certain ingredients, and request any mistakes be fixed in real time.
This model is perfect for high-volume, takeout heavy restaurants, as many orders can be completed very accurately in a short amount of time.
Customers must order standing up at the counter, and many may prefer a more sit-down experience.
Assembly line ingredients can also run out quickly if the employees don’t communicate well with the prep cooks, causing delays in the customer experience.
Paying at the end of a single order also discourages customers from purchasing more. If they want another drink or dessert, they may be discouraged by needing to make another order and separate transaction.
Food lockers allow for pick-up orders to be swiftly and contactless-ly handed off. This frees up time for cashiers, cutting down on lines and minimizing multi-tasking during busy rushes.
‘Back of house’ prep employees, however, could benefit from a KDS that paces out prep tasks by order volume and past ingredient use trends.
Individual mobile POS systems could also be used to give to customers that want to continue their order. Their initial order will be input on the POS, and they can take it with them to the table and order anything else they want directly, and either have it brought to their table or ready at the counter.
2. Pay-First Fast Casual
Another popular fast-casual setup, this style of restaurant differs from the first because customers pay at the start. This includes restaurants like Oath Pizza or even McDonalds, where order preparation involves cooking as well as assembly.
Customers place their order with the cashier, and then the order is completed – sometimes right in front of the customer, sometimes in a back kitchen – and handed to the customer.
Depending on the individual restaurant, separate employees may be designated to prep work and restocking tasks, while others focus specifically on order preparation. This is particularly true with places like Oath that focus on singular dishes like pizza, where an assembly line is the quickest workflow.
Most fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus follow this model, with separate cashiers handling lobby and drive-thru orders and sending these orders to the same kitchen.
If you couldn’t tell from its adoption by many fast food restaurants, this setup is great for speed. Each employee has a designated task – usually a portion of an item, like grill or fry or assembly – so they can focus on and improve their individual task.
This optimizes the process, and while it’s not a true assembly line in the same way as the lines of a pay-at-the-end establishment, the series of individual tasks being performed acts as a kind of efficient assembly line.
Since cashiers in this kind of kitchen usually don’t leave the register, they might be disconnected from the back of the house. This makes this setup vulnerable to an influx of orders the kitchen can’t handle, leaving cooks in the weeds and overwhelmed.
This is especially true with multiple ordering locations sending orders to the same kitchen; unless a streamlined order tracking and display system is used, these orders can easily add up.
With speed as a priority and customers unable to see their order being made, these kitchens are also prone to order mix-ups or mistakes.
This type of restaurant can especially benefit from a high-quality KDS that can integrate and prioritize the high volume of orders received.
This KDS can be integrated with quality online ordering software to fully streamline the process and create a reliable, convenient, and easy-to-use experience for both staff and customers.
Cloud POS systems for cashiers are also a great way to increase efficiency and have orders sent directly to the kitchen. With a mobile or customer-facing POS or self-ordering kiosk, customers can even input their orders themselves to help further avoid order errors.
Kiosks will also take some of the burdens of the line off of staff, minimizing employee stress and customer wait times. Customers looking for a quick, contactless experience or wanting detailed nutritional and ingredient information can browse and order through the kiosk, while those who prefer to order face-to-face are still able to without feeling rushed by the line.
3. Small Plates or Tapas
Tapas-style restaurants that serve a variety of small plates or cocktail bars with ‘bites’ menus will typically have a back-of-house kitchen. The employees in these kitchens will work on orders as they receive them, typically spacing them into groups of 2 or 3 plates or sending them out to guests as they’re ready.
For restaurants with different cold, grilled, and fried options, cooks may be assigned individual dishes to prepare in their entirety. Or, if dishes require multiple components with different kinds of preparation, employees will collaborate to finish the dish.
Customers will typically order these small dishes from their server and pay at the end of their meal.
The paced-out, eat-as-it-comes and pay-when-you’re-done nature of these restaurants makes for a typically longer experience that promotes purchasing (especially of drinks).
At its best, the paced-out nature of each table’s meal also means that kitchen staff is less likely to get overwhelmed with a high-volume of entree orders at once.
It can be difficult to pace out meals correctly, especially if servers must time when to send orders to the kitchen.
Because customers order over a more drawn-out period of time, service must be constantly provided. These restaurants are at risk of servers not coming by tables when patrons want to order more, or coming by too often when patrons want to just eat and take their time.
Like most types of restaurants, a quality kitchen display system would help streamline back of house processes and optimize order pacing and coursing.
QR code menus can be placed at every table to allow each guest access to extensive, updated menu information and pictures via their own phone. This allows customers to browse the full restaurant offerings for as long as they wish, without bulky paper menus taking up space and wasting money.
Mobile POS systems at every table would allow customers to order whenever they want and view even more detailed information about each dish on the menu. This provides a more informative and more relaxing experience, instead of customers relying on servers to constantly stop by each table on a busy night or memorize long specials menus.
4. Full-Service Casual Dining
This is the kind of restaurant that most people think of when they picture a typical sit-down restaurant.
Customers are seated at tables and can order appetizers, entrees, and desserts from servers. Servers input this information into a POS and send it to the BOH, where kitchen staff prepares and expos orders, and servers or runners drop them to tables.
Most kitchens in restaurants like these are separated into grill, prep, sauté, fry, and expo stations. Sometimes, there is a separate prep kitchen with a separate staff that processes raw ingredients and stocks them in the kitchen.
When it works well, this setup is a great way to balance taking customer orders and giving them space. Servers stop by to take drink orders and appetizers, take entree orders while the appetizers are being cooked, and any dessert orders at the end.
Unlike a small plates restaurant, there is a more defined structure to the meal and how it is supposed to be paced.
Well-run kitchens are also divided into stations in a way that breaks work into manageable pieces for each employee.
While there may be a defined structure and pacing, you still have to rely on servers to send orders to the kitchen at the right time and with current capacity considered.
Having servers relay information to the POS can also introduce human error and allow mix-ups to occur, meaning lost costs on order remakes.
If reservations are not spaced well, it’s easy for the kitchen staff to be overwhelmed with a sudden influx of entree orders (especially if there’s a large table seated).
A KDS in this type of restaurant could automate and optimize coursing and pacing, leaving no room for error and taking into account current capacity.
Tableside POS systems could also help improve order accuracy, and mobile POS for servers would help them double-check any modifications at the table before they send orders to the kitchen.
5. Fine Dining
Fine dining kitchens typically serve many courses of smaller plates, and they highly emphasize presentation. These dishes usually have a significant amount of garnishing or expo work involved, often completed by a higher-up member of the kitchen staff.
These kitchens also typically have a larger staff and a highly regimented, almost military-style workflow structure. Tasks are highly divided, and kitchen staff moves up through the ranks from prep work to more ‘prestigious’ positions.
These types of kitchens are fairly large, with a separate prep kitchen for ingredient processing and butchery, and possibly a separate baking kitchen for dessert plates. The expo station will typically be the liaison between FOH and BOH, and most dishes will spend considerable time here.
Servers will take orders at the beginning and pace courses appropriately, often providing more tailored and formal service than at a casual sit-down restaurant.
The highly regimented structure of these kitchens is very efficient, and gives employees a clear picture of the tasks they’re responsible for.
The greater degree of personalized service that’s offered also allows for more tailored customer experiences – and upsell opportunities – for attentive servers.
These kitchens are also prone to being in the weeds, especially if many tables are paced by similar coursing structures.
Servers need to communicate constantly with the back-of-house to bring out the plates right when they’re ready, especially with time-sensitive presentational features.
A KDS screen at each kitchen station can help keep every part of the fine dining kitchen running on the same, cohesive track and paced effectively.
Servers will also be able to see time estimates and pacing of their dishes, so they have an idea of when they’ll need to return to the kitchen to bring out dishes.
Bonus: Ghost Kitchens
Ghost kitchens are a newer form of restaurant kitchen that is only that – a kitchen. These kitchens don’t offer any dine-in or sit-down options, and they operate almost exclusively on delivery, though some offer takeout or drive-thru pickup.
This unique concept is definitely future-minded, and its online focus means it can be easily optimized with innovative kitchen display technology. Food lockers and quality online, contactless, and curbside ordering softwares can be used to streamline and optimize the ghost kitchen experience for both delivery drivers and pickup customers alike.
With kiosks, cash recyclers, and automated checkout systems, patrons can have a truly tech-centric experience whether they decide to carry out or opt for delivery. With little to no labor needed, technology is a cost-saving long-term investment for ghost kitchens that are already able to save on real estate costs.
Conclusion: What’s Your Type?
Every type of restaurant has a typical kitchen style, and each has its own pros and cons.
You wouldn’t try to run a fast-food restaurant from a fine-dining kitchen – they’re each optimized for their own purpose, order volumes, and preparation styles.
However, technology can step in to fill the gaps where these kitchens aren’t fully optimized and introduce more efficiency to the processes, all at a fair price point.
Carefully consider the aspects of each type of restaurant kitchen and how you can optimize its functionality before opening a restaurant, and you’ll be well on your way to fast-paced, sustainable restaurant growth.