When Pret A Manger recently started serving evening meals from its branch at The Strand in London, it marked a deviation in strategy for the British sandwich chain.
Never before in almost 30 years of trading has the group gone down this route, but from 6pm each day its traditional ‘grab and go’ concept is now transformed into a relaxed dinner venue where theatre-goers and other hungry customers can dine in for a meal complete with crockery, plates, a wine list and softer lighting.
It is yet another reminder of the seismic shifts currently taking place in the foodservice sector in the UK, and crucially it has massive implications as far as the kitchen is concerned. By extending the hours of service, the move effectively allows Pret’s kitchens to be productive at a time when they are normally at their quietest.
It is a topic that operators are looking at in increasing detail. While Pret is turning to evening service, other restaurants and food outlets that have traditionally focused on lunch or dinner are introducing breakfast offerings. Some onlookers refer to it as ‘sweating the assets’, others say it is a logical step to maximise investment.
There is undoubtedly an upshot as far as the equipment goes. It might have become a cliché for buyers to seek durability and adaptability from their kit, but in an ‘always on’ market these traits take on added significance.
There is one more issue. If kitchens are forever operational and barely shut, when does the servicing and maintenance get done?
In some respects, the longer the kitchen is open, the more important it is to ensure the kit doesn’t go down. But at the same time, scheduling engineer visits — especially in sites where the working space is limited — becomes complicated.
As operators strive to squeeze more out of their kitchens, even greater attention will need to be paid to the type of catering equipment specified and the policy for servicing it.