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A central kitchen is a commercial kitchen space owned by multi-location restaurants or hospitality groups. These spaces are used to create meal components or entire dishes that are then distributed to their different locations. This is usually done to save on staff costs, as well as food costs.

According to the Hospitality Review, as much as 10 percent can be saved in mass purchasing for a central kitchen compared to buying for each individual restaurant. If you’re curious about the benefits of a central kitchen and what it takes to open and operate one, we’ve broken down the basics.

What is a Central Kitchen?

A central kitchen – also known as a commissary kitchen – is an internal facility that supplies restaurant branches under a single business with ingredients or items that will be used or sold at each location. Owners of central kitchens can also rent out their space to emerging businesses, food trucks, mobile food carts, and smaller restaurants that don’t have space to store and prep large quantities of food.

Since more and more restaurant groups are choosing to make more of their components in-house, such as breads or sauces, central kitchens have become popular. The model allows restaurant groups to produce products in-house at one facility, then distribute them to their locations. They are also beneficial for the simple storage of produce and supplies and for food processing which may involve cooking, freezing, and delivering foods to several locations over a large geographic area.

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Benefits of Owning a Central Kitchen

Business expansion

While you’ll use your central kitchen to provide items for your restaurants, it also gives your business the opportunity to expand to new markets such as the food retail and wholesale business. Do customers rave about your tomato sauce and often ask for the recipe? You can use the space and resources of a central kitchen to jar and sell it at local markets.

Consistency

Since everything is produced in the same place, at the same time, using the same equipment, businesses can guarantee a more consistent and taste and quality across their locations. The more you make in-house, the less you risk receiving items that don’t meet your standards.

Brand development

While your chefs are busy in your restaurant, you can work on menu development off-site. Central kitchens allow you to create a signature brand and flavor that is unique to your restaurants.

Efficiency

Central kitchens are more efficient because they allow you to automate your production process, human resource procedures, and delivery operations. Since many of the dishes’ essential components are prepared in the central kitchen, your restaurant staff can focus on precision and better customer service.

Extra Income

If you find that you’re not using your central kitchen for big chunks of the day, you can rent it out to food trucks, other restaurants, or food entrepreneurs.

modern kitchen and busy chefs of hotel

How to Start a Central Kitchen

There are two ways to start your own central kitchen:

  1. Prior to opening your restaurant, you can decide to create a central kitchen model, including your central kitchen in your business plan.
  2. After you open your restaurant and begin to expand, you can develop your signature products by starting a central kitchen.

Opening a central kitchen will require involvement from all areas of your staff:

  1. Purchasing process: What kind of purchasing process would you like to create between your locations and your central kitchen?
  2. Equipment: What equipment will you need, and how much will it cost?
  3. Maintenance: How will you maintain your facilities?
  4. Storage: Where will you store your products before you ship them out?
  5. Delivery: What are the transportation logistics of your delivery process?
  6. Human Resources: Who will handle the hiring and logistics of your central kitchen staff?
  7. Layout: How will you design your central kitchen for greatest efficiency, organization, and cleanliness?
  8. Communications: What system will you use to ensure clear, transparent, and direct communication between your branches and central kitchen?
  9. Food management: How will you manage food waste, leakage, and theft?
  10. Operations: How will you design your operations to run effectively?

How to Manage a Central Kitchen

If you choose to open a central kitchen, you will find there are a lot of logistics and organization involved. It’s crucial to ensure that your central kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine, receiving ingredients on time, producing goods efficiently, and keeping a high standard of quality and cleanliness.

All of your restaurant locations should have a simple and efficient way to purchase goods from your central kitchen so that mistakes are not made and locations never run out of supplies.

In order to run your central kitchen operations smoothly, it’s truly best to invest in a POS system that integrates each restaurant’s operations with the central kitchen. This way you can:

  • Streamline the ordering processing between each branch and the central kitchen, eliminating any mistakes, confusion or mishaps.
  • Manage inventory both in your central kitchen and each branch so you’re notified when stocks are running low.
  • Make sure that you are creating food at maximum efficiency so that you can keep food costs low.
  • Keep an eye on your central kitchen and your restaurant operations from anywhere.
  • Create a centralized system where each branch can communicate easily and transparently with the central kitchen.
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Written by   |  
Holly Everett is a five-year restaurant industry veteran turned small business marketing specialist. After working at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island throughout college, she entered the world of marketing where she led B2B marketing initiatives at companies focusing on growing small businesses. At Upserve, she integrates her passion for the restaurant industry and knowledge of the needs of small business owners to help make restaurants wildly successful.