What is the most important design element when you build a new restaurant or even remodel? You may have a limited budget, limited time, and limited space. Regardless, there are a few basic buidling blocks you must consider.
Restaurant Kitchen Components
Grills, ranges, fryers and hoods probably come to mind. Maybe frantic employees running around to serve the food quickly. Those may be the case, but the true restaurant kitchen is much more than the equipment and its personnel. A successful kitchen includes specific components organized in a particular pattern to optimize performance and efficiency. Those components are storage, cleaning/washing, food preparation, cooking and service.
The storage area can be separated into non-food storage, cold storage, and dry storage. The non-food storage area can be divided further into a section for disposable products, a section for cleaning supplies, and a section for the clean dishes from your cleaning/washing area. Cold storage is where you keep anything that needs to be refrigerated or frozen, while dry storage includes all non-perishables and other consumables. This area might also contain a receiving area for inventory shipments, shortening the distance new stock has to travel through your restaurant.
Cleaning & Washing
The cleaning and washing section of a commercial kitchen includes sinks, ware washing machines, and drying racks. Three-compartment sinks are necessary for washing utensils, while ware washing machines can quickly clean plates and other serving vessels to keep the kitchen running at full speed. This section of the kitchen should be located near the kitchen entrance so servers can quickly drop off dirty dishes, and near the storage area so chefs can quickly find clean dishes.
The food preparation area has sinks for washing produce, cutting areas and mixing areas. Typically, the food preparation area is split into a section for processing raw foods (breaking down cuts of beef, for example) and a section for sorting foods into batches (chopping vegetables, mixing salad dressings, etc.). Placing this section near your storage area allows cooks to efficiently grab fresh dishes, prepare plates, and move them on to the cooking area quickly.
The meal cooking area makes the rest of the kitchen crowded. This is where main dishes are finished, so here you will have ranges, ovens, exhaust hoods, fryers, griddles, and other cooking equipment. Like the food preparation area, the meal cooking area can be broken down into smaller sections like a baking station, grilling station and frying station. Because meals are finished here, the meal cooking area should be near the front of the kitchen closest to the service area.
The service area is the final section of a commercial kitchen. If you have a serving staff, this is where they will pick up finished dishes to take to customers. If you have a self-serve or buffet-style restaurant, this is where foods will be displayed in warmers for customers to assemble their plates. This area needs to be located at the very front of the kitchen, just after the meal cooking area, to shorten the time and distance between completed meals and customers.
As you can see so far, the most important factor is the efficiency of the space and the speed of cooking and service. How do we design the layout? There are several options, with no perfect formula for commercial kitchen layout. Every foodservice establishment is unique and will operate differently than others, so you have to decide what will help you best meet your kitchen goals. That said, there are several basic kitchen design layouts to consider that succeed in blending solid kitchen design principles and kitchen components effectively.
The island-style layout places the ovens, ranges, fryers, grills, and other principle cooking equipment together in one module at the center of the kitchen, while other sections of the kitchen are placed on the perimeter walls in the proper order to preserve a circular flow (any section can be the “island” depending on what best suits your needs). This layout is open and promotes communication and supervision while leaving plenty of open floor space for easy cleaning. This layout works best in a large kitchen that is square in shape but can certainly be modified to fit other shapes and sizes.
The zone-style layout has the kitchen set up in blocks with the major equipment located along the walls. Again, the sections follow the proper order for increased flow, giving you a dishwashing block, a storage block, a food prep block, etc. This layout can likely be used in all spaces, large or small (with the size of your kitchen and equipment a big factor). Communication and supervision are not difficult in this layout because the center of the space is completely open.
Assembly Line Layout
The assembly line configuration is ideal for kitchens that need to serve large numbers of people quickly, such as cafeterias or hospital facilities. This layout may work better for establishments with a limited menu that serve large quantities of the same foods, such as a sandwich or pizza shop, but it is viable for any type of kitchen. In this layout, kitchen equipment is organized in a line with the food preparation area at one end and the service area at the other, allowing cooks to quickly send food down the line. The cleaning/washing and storage/receiving areas can be located behind the assembly line to keep them out of the way. This configuration allows for supreme efficiency, and keeps the kitchen open for excellent communication and flow. Often, kitchen equipment can be linked together, further eliminating wasted space.
Finally, there are two details that could potentially make or break the kitchen: ergonomic design and health codes.
Adhering to an ergonomic kitchen design layout means carefully placing every piece of the kitchen with comfort and effectiveness in mind. In other words, how do you make your kitchen the most user-friendly? The basic principle of ergonomic design calls for employees to expend the least amount of energy to complete the most tasks in the shortest amount of time. An undercounter freezer, for example, might be placed right beside the deep fryer. This allows the fry cook to retrieve foods and place them in the fryer with little effort. The cook doesn’t even have to take a step. Or, a kitchen may invest in taller prep tables to save chefs from bending over to cook. This cuts down on injury and physical exertion. Ergonomic design even extends to things like equipment selection and lighting. Having the right equipment for the job makes cooking easier and keeps employees happy, while good lighting allows employees to see what they’re doing and do it safely. The one drawback of ergonomic design is monetary. It is not necessarily the cheapest option because it is not always energy-efficient, depending on what types of equipment are placed together.
Keeping Your Kitchen Up to Code
After all of the hard work you put into designing a kitchen, the last thing you want is to be shut down by the health department or suffer major fire damage because you are not up to code. Every state and local area has its own codes, so be familiar with them before you start designing a kitchen. A good place to start is with your state’s department of health. Also, every piece of equipment has guidelines for installation and location, so make sure to read their instruction manuals. If you put in your due diligence, there should be no issues keeping your kitchen up to code.
by Osman Yazgan
OSMAN YAZGAN is the president of ITEK Construction + Consulting, Inc.