Who doesn’t enjoy a grilled item for breakfast, lunch or dinner? Grill stations were the basis of the original "Made-to-Order" concepts and continue to be popular, high-volume and customer-satisfying outlets in today’s onsite serveries. But are all grill stations the same?
For those of us in the design profession, the short answer is no. The right grill station design for any given venue depends on the scope of the project, the client’s individual operating criteria, whether it is an existing footprint or new construction, to name just a few factors.
In this article we will look at three different grill station examples: one with an expanded front line and multiple cooking points; a comprehensive cooking suite geared to both production and culinary education; and a cooking suite tailored to quickly prepare to-order and cooked-to-par items. In each case, for three distinctly different clients, the intent was to create a “destination” within the servery and a highly satisfied and loyal clientele.
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Station Highlights: This venue integrates two types of grills (chargrill and flat grill) with a wok on a front line "Chef's Stage" to create a high level of excitement and action. It is located in a facility that serves 10-12,000 customers a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a quarter of them from this station alone. A recent renovation upgraded our mid-90s design with a more contemporary look and enabled the facility to handle the increased volume and wider menu variety there now.
Station Specifics: In this design, the grills are but one component of a food station focused on freshly prepared items. Given the daily volume and the amount of cooking performed at this station, handling almost one quarter of total customers, staff must have ready access to ingredients. The key is to have enough refrigerated space within easy reach of the grill masters and stocked for the entire meal period to avoid trips to the main kitchen that take time and manpower and cause traffic congestion points.
Undercounter refrigerators hold restock or bulk items while refrigerated counter pans provide handy storage. The refrigerated pans are located to the side of both the Grill and Charbroiler and are placed in the customer service area.
The highly visible ingredient space provides added merchandising emphasis for meat, poultry, and other fresh ingredients used by all of the stations in the venue. The original refrigerated counter pans were replaced by deeper pans, adding about 25 percent more capacity as well as greater energy and temperature-holding efficiency.
You can view a full screen pdf of the floor schematic for this station here (Schematic No.1)
The Wok area has bulk refrigerated ingredients just behind the cooking area, and is flanked by hot pans containing sides and sauces. The proximity of ingredients allows for an improved workflow and enables the facility to handle increased production capacity at peak periods.
Among other menu offerings are daily rotations of Quesadillas, Grilled Veggie and Cheese and sub sandwiches; a wide variety of stir fries and breakfast items; and offerings such as Lemon Grilled Chicken, Asian Salmon, Steaks, Chops, Grilled Arctic Char and Grilled Salmon with Sautéed Escarole.
Stanford University East Campus:
Arrillaga Family Dining Commons
Station Highlights: Stanford University’s grill station at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons is part of a large, multi-purpose exhibition-cooking suite. It is the focal point of a new servery which also serves as the centerpiece of the hall's “Culinary Studio" for exhibition/teaching/demonstrations at other times.
This is where students, faculty and staff learn under the curriculum established by Stanford Dining’s culinary team in its strategic partnership with the Culinary Institute of America. The venue hosts cooking classes, guest speakers and frequent demonstrations by celebrity chefs and displays these activities to students via video cameras in and around the culinary studio.
Station Specifics: The cooking suite was designed by Stanford Dining's Eric Montell, executive director, and Gary Arthur, director of operations, in collaboration with Cini-Little's Nahum Goldberg. Last year, the design won the Montague Suite Dreams Design Contest in the Institutional category.
The front counter features display cases on the left for serving food and a high top seating section on the right that encourages students and staff to interact over meals. The station is staffed with 1-3 people depending on requirements. It also is used to prepare food to order for the Training Table during dinner.
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When items are cooked to order, customers queue up at the studio, place orders and wait for them to be prepared. During late night service, students place orders at the cashier stand near the entrance and are given a number that is displayed at tableside, with staff delivering food when it is ready.
The front of the cooking suite is a high volume sauté station with two types of gas-fired range tops. One has open burners; the other is French top style, with a heavy plate over the burner used to boil water, saute in pans, simmer stocks and as a holding area.
The back side of the suite features a fryer station with direct oil disposal piping, a griddle and a charbroiler, where larger quantities of product are cooked. The suite also has an integral bain marie, coolers and freezers for storage.
To view a pdf of the floor schematic and equipment list, click here: (Schematic No.2)
Menu items featured include a wide variety of international specialty items that represent the diversity of the student body. Daily specials include such offerings as grilled skirt steak, salmon or tilapia, barbecue chicken, lamb chops, squash and eggplant.
Campbell’s Soup Company, Camden, NJ
Station Highlights: This compact cooking suite was part of new construction at the Campbell's Soup corporate headquarters facility (site population of 1,600). It was designed to appeal to both those in a hurry, looking for ready-to-go items, as well as those looking for cooked-to-order specialty foods. The grill station is very popular, attracting 25% of all lunch customers, and is the primary cooking station at breakfast.
Station Specifics: This design puts a high visibility accent on the front counter, where a large display case attractively merchandises raw ingredients like steaks and special seafood for made-to-order service. To the customer's left, heated shelves merchandise ready-to-go items such as wrapped hot sandwiches, which the cooks keep at very low par levels to ensure freshness.
To the right of the ingredient case is a dual purpose cold well that serves both as a supply of "fixins" customers can select for grilled items and to hold additional ingredients used by the chef. On the backside it has convertible hot and cold wells that can also hold heated sauces the chef might use during service.
The back portion of the heated shelves is used to hold breakfast meats and potatoes added to egg or pancake orders, and at lunch, steamed vegetables, baked potatoes and other sides.
The cooking suite allows room for a high volume of cooked-to-order items and a broad menu. A four foot griddle top is in full view of the customer, as is the charbroiler. Its split top ensures there is no transfer of flavors between meat and seafood items.
The griddle on the back side of the suite is used for cooking vegetarian items at lunch; for backup production during peak periods; and extensively for catering production. All these features combine to provide a high throughput cooking suite.
To view a pdf of the floor schematic, click here: (Schematic No.3)
One of the client's goals was to emphasize healthful dining choices. Fried foods are not encouraged or displayed; there is only one fryer, on the backside of the cooking suite. French fry orders have been significantly reduced from the previous set up, which had multiple fryers on the front cooking line.
Backup storage equipment ensures that demand and quantity of product are balanced throughout meal periods.
Because of the extensive equipment in this station, it requires a high level of exhaust; and since it is an island station, careful balancing of the air handling system was critical to ensure proper capture of the grease-laden exhaust vapors.
Menu items that are specials at this station include Grilled Jail Island Salmon with V-8 Fusion infused Peach Mango Sauce, special Gourmet Burgers, such as Gorgonzola Stuffed Angus Beef Burger, and fresh cut New York Strip Steaks with various compound butters.
The entire headquarters campus achieved LEED Silver certification. The café supports this effort with reusable take-out containers, produce sourced entirely from local purveyors, a recycling program, use of china for eat-in customers, and many other features.
Theodore Farrand is president and COO of Cini-Little, an international hospitality consulting firm. You can reach Ted at [email protected].