Most people's kitchens carefully tread the line between form and function, and commercial kitchens are no different. The kitchen is the living, breathing heart of a restaurant — the place that holds its most valuable equipment, where its food is made, and where its personnel work to create its dishes. It's much more than just ovens, grills, and sinks. It's a well-oiled machine, fine-tuned for optimal safety and efficiency.
Designing and setting up a commercial kitchen is no minor endeavor. There are a lot of factors to consider, including:
DEVELOPING THE MENU AND CONSULTING THE CHEFS
Make a list of all of the items on the menu, the ingredients of each, and the process and equipment needed to prepare them. Get the chefs involved, too — they'll be an invaluable resource when it comes to designing a layout that helps, rather than hinders, their workflow. With the knowledge of how each menu item needs to be prepared and input from the chefs, it'll be much easier to create an efficient, balanced kitchen.
CHOOSING A LAYOUT
A kitchen's layout determines its workflow, and some are better suited to certain restaurants than others. Large kitchens with a lot of floor space may best be served by an island-style layout, which places cooking equipment in the center of the kitchen to maintain a circular flow around the perimeter. Some may prefer a zone-style layout, in which every area of the kitchen has its own "zone" set up along the walls, leaving the center floor space open. Kitchens that need to prep a limited number of dishes quickly may benefit the most from an assembly line-style layout, in which equipment is organized in a line that lets chefs pass food from one end to the other during preparation.
AVOIDING ONE-TRICK PONIES
Once you know what your chefs need in order to bring your menu to life, and you have an idea of the best layout to use, it's time to consider how to make the most of the space. That means figuring out which pieces of equipment can pull double duty, which are non-negotiable, and which can get the ax. Does your kitchen need a food processor and a blender, or can one do the work of both? Counter and floor space are at a premium in commercial kitchen design, so measure every appliance and fixture and don't waste a single inch.
IRONING OUT THE DETAILS
Before moving out of the planning stage, there are a number of other details to consider. You have your menu, your layout, and the list of equipment you need, but there's still a few more questions that need answering:
HOW FLEXIBLE IS YOUR MENU?
Are you going to provide a set menu, or will you have alternating daily specials? If your menu changes frequently, mobile equipment that allows for greater kitchen flexibility may be the way to go.
HOW SHOULD YOU DIVIDE UP STORAGE?
Food storage consists of perishables and non-perishables. Non-food storage consists of cleaning supplies, disposable products, dishes, and utensils. Consider the most efficient way to split up your storage spaces, so dishes and utensils won't be subject to contamination, and your staff can easily access the things they need.
HOW CAN YOU MAXIMIZE CLEANLINESS?
Not having enough space to wash and dry dishes is a surefire way to back up a kitchen. Consider how many dishes the restaurant is likely to generate on its busiest day, how fast a dishwasher can work, and how much space will be needed to adequately wash and dry all of those dishes in a timely fashion.
Indoor air quality is another important consideration. Are there enough range hoods? Will the kitchen need extra fans and air purifiers to keep things cool and odor-free? Can you standardize air filtration, so you only need to buy and inventory one kind of filter?
HOW ENERGY-EFFICIENT IS YOUR DESIGN?
For many kitchens, the lion's share of their operating costs lie in their energy bills. It takes a lot of power to keep everything running, and the wrong layout can dramatically increase that need. For example, setting up cold storage at the opposite end from cooking equipment can help reduce the number of energy refrigerators have to consume to maintain their temperature.
HOW ERGONOMIC IS YOUR EQUIPMENT?
Cooking is a repetitive task, and injuries are common. Are your prep tables high enough to keep chefs from having to bend over? Did you plan for ergonomic mats? Look at your layout, and determine where you can best place equipment to save your employees from repetitive stress.
FOLLOWING THE LAW
Health codes and Health and Safety regulations might seem complex and arcane, but they are the way they are for a reason. Before finalizing your commercial kitchen design, learn your area's rules and regulations for commercial kitchens. Is the sink too close to the prep table? Are there enough vents? Does the layout meet fire safety standards? It's much easier to correct deficiencies at the planning stage rather than later on, so iron out any kinks now.
A lot of factors go into good commercial kitchen design, but the effort is worth it. Kitchens are chaotic by nature, but the right layout, equipment, and attention to detail can help keep yours running as smoothly as possible.