High street foodservice chain Pizza Hut is working its way through an aggressive store refurbishment programme in the UK, and at the heart of its new strategy is a transition to open kitchens. FEJ finds out why it has specified new ventilation systems to meet the design and functionality parameters of its production areas.
As every operator in the foodservice industry will know, the working commercial kitchen environment needs to be safe and comfortable for staff productivity to be at its highest. So the deployment of the right catering equipment, particularly when it comes to ventilation, can have a dramatically measurable effect on shaping conditions back-of-house.
One chain that is now seeing the benefits of a renewed emphasis on ventilation within its kitchens is Pizza Hut, which as part of a rebranding of its Express stores format during 2015 has moved to overhaul its existing systems in favour of newer technology.
With the expansion of the chain’s Express takeaway franchises increasing to some 40 outlets in the last year alone, the company has had to deal with the challenges that rapid growth can bring. And in terms of the kitchen, this has involved dealing with the over-heating of the production areas during the cooking process, with staff having to work in 35°C to 40°C heat on a daily basis.
Consequently the operator sought the help of Canopy UK, a Peterborough-based specialist in commercial kitchen extraction systems, to improve upon its existing ventilation set-up and make life more comfortable for employees.
“Cooking food produces intense heat, smoke and steam, airborne particles and odours that with long exposure can lead to irritation to the eyes, skin and even respiratory system,” says John Ellingham, director of Canopy UK. “As well as being an uncomfortable working environment that is detrimental to health, poor ventilation and extraction of cooking fumes can affect far more than staff morale, with the result of hot temperatures combined with hot oil often causing carcinogenic pollutants to have adverse effects on the food itself.”
As a major health and safety concern first and foremost, it was therefore in Pizza Hut’s interest to ensure that a quality ventilation system could meet the demands of such an active kitchen. “Our improved air movement systems set the benchmark for the industry as all of our ventilation and extraction systems comply with the statutory air flow ratings,” continues Ellingham. “We were delighted that Pizza Hut chose our expertise to enhance their stores during their re-design as we know the hurdles that large commercial kitchens face when adapting to change.”
With more than 20 years’ experience in the foodservice industry to call upon, Canopy UK was not only able to install new systems, but also ensure the design of the unit matched the aesthetic needs of the chain. This included customising the hood of the ventilation unit to fit in with Pizza Hut’s vibrant new American branding.
The hoods in the Pizza Hut express stores will be clearly visible to customers, so the company was adamant the design flowed through to the kitchen”
In a bid to compete with emerging rival brands and appeal to a younger audience, the revamped stores will now have a comic book theme that incorporates bold colours and pop-art posters, while the Pizza Hut ‘red’ remains consistent throughout the estate, even where the extraction canopy is concerned. With open kitchens at the heart of the new store redesign, Ellingham says the chain has firmly embraced the growing trend of bespoke hoods. “The hoods in the Pizza Hut Express stores will be clearly visible to customers, so the company was adamant the design flowed through to the kitchen,” he says.
“This is yet another brand wanting to create an open plan kitchen for customers to experience, as consumers increasingly want to see their food being cooked and the process that it goes through. All high street restaurants are now adapting to this trend as they know the honesty and clarity it gives only boosts their brand presence on the competitive market. With the popularity in TV chefs continuing, and our need to watch our food being cooked in front of our eyes, to have takeaway stores now also jumping on board just goes to show that the power of this design will not be lost to just the staff in the kitchen.”
The foodservice industry has witnessed some dramatic changes in the last few years, not least the rise in the number of independent operators. This has meant that brands such as Pizza Hut, as well as other prominent names like KFC and even McDonald’s, are now having to offer far more than food.
“They have to offer an experience and be completely clear about their food hygiene,” says Ellingham. “Many small stores don’t often have the budget or understand the benefits of such advanced ventilation systems, so with many outlets now taking on this new practice of open plan kitchens, we could start to see more growth with big brands here in the UK.”
£60m transformation project
Pizza Hut is spending more than £60m upgrading its restaurants as part of a modernisation programme to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Its flagship outlet on the Strand in London was the first restaurant to get a makeover, reopening in the first quarter of this year following a £500,000 revamp that saw an open plan kitchen introduced.
With a new menu, cocktail bar and interior design thrown in for good measure, management at the chain said the project represented a “milestone” for its business in the UK.
The refurbishment of the Strand restaurant precedes similar refurbishments for Pizza Hut’s Marble Arch, Piccadilly and Queensway restaurants and follows a number of successful regional refurbishments during the last 12 months including in Reading where the first Pizza Hut cocktail bar was launched. Trials of the new restaurant format and updated menu have been well received and shown a “substantial” improvement in sales, according to the chain.
Pizza Hut says it has taken great strides in its transformation since 2013; rejuvenating the concept and strengthening its appeal to both young families and millennials. It is thought that around 100 out of 275 restaurants have been refurbished and 50% of the estate is scheduled to be overhauled by the end of the year. Pizza Hut’s UK business is owned by investment group Rutland Partners, which runs the restaurants under franchise from US firm Yum!.