Foodservice Equipment Reports


Sensitive economic times require flexibility, and Tempe, Ariz.-based Tilted Kilt is meeting the challenge these days with a new three-in-one prototype package that’s proving quite popular with franchisees.

Tilted Kilt, a sports bar/restaurant concept founded in 2003, has always done well, in part because of a smart match of male sports-fan patrons and short-kilted servers. But that’s just the surface. It takes management, too, along with service and kitchen results. In 2005, Ron Lynch acquired the company and quickly began franchising in ’06. Growth and average unit volumes, healthy all along, have accelerated since then, and the new prototype approach appears to be one of the reasons. At least 40 new Tilted Kilts are slated to open their doors this year, nearly double the 23 openings in ’11.

Same, But Not Same

Created with conversions in mind, the restaurant/pub chain’s new prototype features layouts for small, medium and large kitchens paired with corresponding small, medium and large bars. The goal is to make the best match for existing footprints, expected traffic, and so on.

Designing the three sizes of the proto stemmed from an epiphany of sorts. Two Kilts, opened within a month of each other at the end of 2010, each had dramatically different opening trajectories. The question was why.

The first of the two openings, a former Bennigan’s in Killeen, Texas, underwent conversion using Tilted Kilt’s longstanding preferred kitchen and bar layout. The franchisee moved hoods and hookups as needed to match the plan. The pub opened on schedule with no problems.

The second conversion, a former Cheeseburger in Paradise in Columbus, Ohio, not so much, as Borat might say. “To save money for the franchisee, we juggled our equipment to match the existing line so as not to change hoods. The fryers were on the right instead of the middle. The saute station was on the right instead of the left, and so on,” says New Pub Development Director Rich Berns, a 27-year industry vet who’s been with Kilt five years in several capacities from ops and training to supply chain and construction.

Both kitchens have proved capable of cranking out $4,000 hours in food sales at peak times. But the Columbus store’s kitchen layout requires more effort.

“We can still produce our product, but the Columbus kitchen’s less efficient than the kitchen at the Killeen store,” Berns says. The lesson? “We learned we had to keep our line consistent to maximize output. Now when we get a set of plans, our architect drops the prototype kitchen and bar into the space, and the franchisee has to make [whatever] changes to fit our layouts.”

Meeting The Need

The three-size kitchen and bar design was an in-house project created by Berns along with Franchise Services Director Justin Lemos, Training and Bar Director John Stevenson and Executive Chef Curly Casteneda. The team worked with architectural firm Big Red Rooster, also based in Tempe, and Atlanta-based TriMark for equipment specs. The team began working on designs in January ’11 and finished six months later.

The Kilt’s earlier prototype was 6,400 sq. ft. with 180 seats. “As we moved up in size, the original kitchen cookline couldn’t keep up with demand,” Berns says. “That’s when we realized we needed to be more flexible, and to design kitchens and bars based on seating”

And thus began the evolution. “From an investment standpoint, matching kitchen size to number of seats just makes sense,” Berns adds. “The cookie-cutter approach didn’t work for us.

“We save money by reusing existing components where possible—hoods, walk-ins, sinks, bathrooms. But the kitchen and bar are a block we will drop into every site based on seating,” Berns says.

Kilt conversion candidates tend to be in the 6,000-sq.-ft. to 8,000- sq.-ft. range with seating for more than 200. A typical 7,000-sq.-ft. unit with 225 seats averages about $3 million a year in revenue. Berns figures at least 1,500 sq. ft. in the kitchen for a location in this size range. “We can squeeze into a 1,000-sq.-ft. kitchen if we need to,” he adds, but it isn’t the goal.  The cookline typically is at least 27’ long.

Kilt carefully considers locations, of course, and even with the flexibility of the prototype packages, there <i>are<i> deal breakers. Conversion costs and parking are key. “We avoid places that are too old and would require a complete gutting,” Berns says. As for parking, here’s a big difference from industry standards: Kilts need to have at least <i>two<i/> parking spaces per 100 sq. ft. of dining space to accommodate the many guests who arrive solo in their cars. By contrast, most municipalities require only one spot per 100 sq. ft. of dining area.

Shock And Awe

A recent tour of the cavernous 320-seat Tilted Kilt in Roselle, Ill., culminated in some shock and awe when we discovered a relatively modest-sized kitchen, with a cookline of just 29’, powering the whole place.  This “medium”-sized Kilt kitchen was cranking out up to $4,000/hr. in food sales with an average ticket time of seven to 10 mins. Obviously the layout and relatively straightforward menu were working.

“We serve pub food. It’s basically comfort food—burgers, fries, mashed potatoes, lasagna,” Berns says. “It’s easy to make. Much of it can be made in advance in large batches, and it requires little specialized cooking.” Also helping speed throughput are pre-portioned condiments, vegetables and sides.

The floor plan shown here is for the “large” (and most-deployed) cookline, which is 32’ long. Total equipment package for this large version ranges from $275,000 to $300,000.

On the floor plan shown, moving from right to left, action starts with an undercounter freezer supporting a six-burner range. A wall-mounted cheesemelter sits above the range within easy reach; storage space is below. Next in line is a three-drawer bun warmer with a panini grill above it. Then comes a bank of five or six two-well fryers. A step to the right brings you to a second three-drawer bun warmer topped by a fry-dump station. After that comes the griddle and charbroiler stations—each measuring 5’ wide. A second cheesemelter is mounted above the pair. The cookline ends with the infrared/convection microwave.

On the opposite side facing the expo window, you’ll find two cold prep tables, an undercounter freezer and refrigerator with work space above, a three-well hot food server, a third cold prep table and another warming drawer topped by a microwave.

Interestingly, the small and medium versions really are clearly related. The medium-sized kitchen features a 29’ cookline (3’ shorter than the large) and a $250,000 equipment package. To reduce the line length, “We’d drop a foot out of the charbroiler and griddle, making them each 4’ wide,” Berns explains. “And we’d eliminate one of the bun warmers and move the panini grill to the front line.”

The small kitchen, at 26½’, would operate with 3’-long charbroilers and griddles, a four-burner stove and would lack the freezer at the end of the line.

Of the three sizes, the large kitchen is by far the preferred model, used in about 70% of locations. “It has the best yield—capable of producing up to $6,000/hr. in food sales,” Berns says.

The liquid heart of all Kilt restaurants lies in the tap room, where a complicated arrangement of up to 32 different beer kegs and supply lines sends the golden elixir on an underground route to the bar up front.


Because its conversion format makes volume equipment deals out of the question, Tilted Kilt allows franchisees to spec individual equipment items as long as they meet the company’s capacity and output metrics. Fryers must meet Energy Star standards.

“True, my life would be easier if we had a hard spec on everything,” Berns says with a laugh. “We suggest brands for the most part, but manufacturers and models are less critical than the unit’s capacity and capabilities. Also, we may be using existing equipment at the conversion site that’s still in good shape.”

There is, however, at least one item on the cooking equipment list that is required across the board—the fast infrared-convection microwave oven. “This unit allows us to cook made-to-order flatbread pizzas in less than three minutes,” Berns says.

Labor-Saving Fryer Filtration

One other must-have is a system that saves on labor costs while boosting oil longevity. Tilted Kilt two years ago moved to an innovative fryer-oil filtering and refilling system.

The automatic system, supplied and maintained by a Mendota Heights, Minn.-based company called Restaurant Technologies Inc., features two 81”-high holding tanks—one holding 1,400 lbs. of fresh oil, the other a heated unit holding 1,200 lbs. of waste oil. The automated arrangement delivers fresh shortening to the fryers via tubes in the ceiling and returns used oil back to the main holding tank.

To extend oil life, oil is filtered at least twice daily within each fryer vat via an automated system triggered by flipping a switch. And to ensure that the most-used fryer vats always have the freshest shortening, oil in each fryer is rotated down the line. The highest volume vats are reserved for fries, followed by vats for appetizers (onion rings, mozzarella sticks, etc.), then proteins (wings, chicken tenders, etc.) and finally seafood.

“The system saves us about $8,000 a year per pub in terms of cost of oil, labor and utilities (i.e. opening and closing of the back door, storage, cleaning, washing the oil transport cart, etc.),” Berns says.

Front-of-House Tweak

The main front-of-house change to the Kilt’s new prototype lies in its flooring. “All new Kilts will have floors of polished concrete instead of epoxy,” Berns says. Concrete floors are not only easier to maintain, but they’re also about 50% cheaper than epoxy, from $8 per foot down to $4 per foot.

“They look just as nice once they’re stained and polished to a high gloss,” Berns says. The color variations in the staining process only add to the charm. “We’re a pub, not a doctor’s office,” Berns laughs.

Another cost-saving move is the switch to a vinyl “wood” product for the Kilt’s many wood accents.

Aside from that, Tilted Kilt’s front-of-house design remains pretty much unchanged from the original, which has the advantage of keeping the brand impression consistent in the visible areas. No matter where you go, you’ll find cheerful Kilt servers sporting their signature bare-midriff plaid outfits and white knee socks, as well as saucy limericks on lime-green walls and a seemingly endless supply of beer. It all works, and the system is growing. 





SIZE: 8,000 sq. ft.


EQUIPMENT PACKAGE: $275,000-$300,000

AVG. UNIT VOLUME: $3 million/year

PLANS: 40 openings in 2012

ARCHITECT: Big Red Rooster, Tempe, Ariz.



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