The Commercial Kitchen — What Goes Where and Why
In our restaurant kitchen, I’ve driven some of my cooks crazy with moving things around, buying different equipment and changing how we operate. To some, it’s maddening to have a table moved six inches. During one discussion with a cook about why I’d made a change, I explained that every step matters. Every inch matters. Every second matters. Every degree in temperature matters. As we grow and learn, we evolve, and sometimes that calls for change.
When you think about purchasing commercial equipment, you first need to think about designing a kitchen. The most important thing to consider is flow. When designing the kitchen at my restaurant, we spent a lot of time with tape measures and painters tape, coming up with a game plan for where tasks would be performed. Where will the food be prepared? Where will servers pick up plated food? Where are the dirty dishes going to be dropped off? Where will trash cans live out of view of diners? Is there enough space for two people to pass by each other on the line to access the sink? Where will the bartenders make cocktails? Every space is different, so before even thinking about equipment, consider the flow.
Bottlenecks in a work space can make production not only frustrating, but possibly hazardous. A shift set back by a dropped rack of glasses or spilled stock, as a result of a collision, could be overwhelming.
Another priority to consider is sinks. Having a good prep sink with a solid work surface attached is very helpful for messy tasks such as butchering, peeling vegetables, draining potatoes, etc. Next are the hand washing sinks: one near the dish station, at least one in the food production area, and one behind the bar. Then a three-bay in the dish room. But wait, there’s still more. You need a mop sink for cleaning and a dump (for cocktail production) behind the bar.
Now that you’ve filled your space with sinks, on to the exhaust/ventilation hood. Do you have one? If you have an existing hood system, great! It’s time to measure how much space is underneath it — you need to be certain your equipment can fit under it. If you don’t have a hood, will you need one? What kind? Bakeries and restaurants need different kinds of ventilation. Figure out what cooking and baking appliances you’ll need, and plan accordingly.
We are almost to the fun part, I promise!
Now think dish machine — you’ll probably need two. One will be for pans and dishes in the kitchen, either a low temp (chemical sanitizing) machine or a high temp (sanitizes with a combination of chemical & temperature) machine. Pros and cons to consider: low temp does not need its own ventilation hood, but has a slower cycle, whereas high temp has a shorter cycle, but will require a hood above it. Choose what fits your location best.
Now for the fun part: Cooking equipment and storage!
As a general rule, I recommend buying used cooking equipment, but not used refrigeration. There is more wiggle room for repairs on heating than cooling units. Coolers also need to go through the proper steps of shutting down/tearing out to make sure that they are preserved correctly. Weather extremes can have adverse effects on refrigeration units, so sometimes you are taking a gamble with used equipment. If you have the funds, buy top brands. I’m not going to name-drop, but there are four or five high-quality brands that can last ten or more years. If you have a limited budget when starting out, buy a cheaper unit but factor in replacing it in five years or so.
I can not sing the praises enough of the pizza-prep cooler. It is a workhorse! These base cabinet style units have sheet tray length depth, “garnish rails” (covered trays) on top for easy access to ingredients, and a wide work space for preparing and plating dishes.
A walk-in cooler is a great tool for a restaurant. It can serve as a receiving zone for ingredients, storage for prepped items, space from which to run a draft beer program — and is a well-insulated space where you can go to scream on a frustrating shift.
For cooking equipment, buy name brands. New is preferred, but at the very least, buy mid-to-high-end quality. Cheap wears out quickly during regular use and is often more difficult to clean. Buy equipment that has service technicians near you to maintain your units.
For an average restaurant I recommend three main pieces: First, a combination unit with two ovens, raised flat top griddle, and four burners with a two-burner warmer plate. This piece can accommodate your cooking methods in an efficient, compact space. Although I love wood-fired grills, I would choose a flat top over a char broiler any day for its diversity of uses. Next, a fryer. I find the larger, free-standing LP powered units are easier to maintain and use than table top electrical units. And last, I nominate a convection oven. Full or half sized, these units are great for prep and functions.
When selecting equipment, do your research and consult with sales representatives about your needs. It is in their best interest to steer you toward a quality piece and avoid getting caught up in warranty work hassles.
I almost forgot: Work tables! Having table space between cooking units is a must in my profession. Tables allow space for mise en place and preparation to be more accessible to cooking areas. Every step counts; not having to turn around for a spatula or cooking ingredients helps streamline production.
In my world, the kitchen is a creative work space for which I am always looking for ways to improve, streamline and evolve.