Lisa Atkinson contributed to this column; part one of a two-part series:
We get a lot of students who are just in the beginning process of opening a restaurant and they are overwhelmed. Last week, I surprised a client – when I told her to hold off on our starting the HACCP writing process. I told her we had lots of time to write it, but I wanted her to confirm that she had her building permits in place before she started spending money on our services before her plans were approved. There are lots of steps that go into getting a new restaurant from initial concept to opening night. Planning the menu and choosing the decor are exciting tasks, but if you want your restaurant to have good work flow, remain clean and sanitary, and pass inspections, then you should invest some real time, research and effort into your facility design, or hire a good architect to help.
Before you make any changes to a facility, contact your local regulatory authority (usually the city or county building department) to determine whether you need to submit architectural plans to their office for a design review. In general, if you build a new establishment or change an existing food preparation area, the local authority will need to see that it is done in compliance with local and state regulations. The health department can even offer advice on how to best lay out your kitchen to maximize work space and optimize efficiency. This is definitely a time to ask for permission rather than beg for forgiveness.
So, what does a well-designed facility look like? Let’s start with the layout. Think about the way food is prepared and how the establishment works. Ideally, the food storage areas are near the delivery door so that food is stored quickly and with minimal disruption to cooks. If prep tables are near to the storage area and close to cooking facilities, less steps will be taken, which improves work flow. Ensure that there will be minimal need for personnel to cross paths in the kitchen – servers should not need to enter food prep areas to deliver their dirty dishes to the dish area. You should make sure that your design complies with Americans with Disabilities Act. This might mean an ADA-compliant bathroom in the back of house. A well-planned layout avoids contamination and increases efficiency.
When choosing materials, you should select materials that are easy to clean, such as nonabsorbent materials with smooth surfaces. For interior surfaces look for sound-absorbent materials that reflect light and can resist absorption of grease and moisture. Floors, walls, ceilings and doors must be smooth, non-porous, durable and easy to clean. The flooring should be slip resistant and have coving – a curved, sealed edge/base molding between a floor and a wall. Coving stops dirt collecting in crevices which are hard to clean. For lighting in the food prep area, use fluorescent shatterproof overhead lighting with protective covers to avoid physical contamination.
Kitchen equipment should be safe for contact with food, non-absorbent, smooth and corrosion resistant. It should be easy to clean and maintain, with no unnecessary ledges, projections, crevices or grooves. Equipment should be durable and suitable for commercial purposes so that it can stand up to heavy use and repeated cleaning. Equipment also needs to be labelled with a UL or NSF certification mark. The NSF or UL marks on a product shows that it complies with all standard food safety requirements. NSF International (formerly National Sanitation Foundation) and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) frequently inspect products and production facilities to ensure consumer safety.
Stationary equipment must be mounted at least six inches off the floor or sealed to a masonry base. Tabletop equipment that cannot be moved must be at least four inches high off the table. In addition, plan to store food, tableware, prep equipment and utensils on shelves mounted six inches off the floor. Usually, the equipment you intend to use must be detailed on the plans so that it can also be approved.
Now you’ve submitted your plans, what happens next … stay tuned for part two in October.