If you're building your new restaurant from scratch, you get to design a commercial kitchen tailored to your needs. The decisions you make here will have lasting consequences for your business, so sweat the details -- and enjoy this opportunity. The restaurant industry publication "Total Food Service" recommends that your kitchen area, including storage, take up approximately 40 percent of your restaurant's floor space. With that in mind, you'll pick a layout scheme that works with both your business model and your creative preferences. The restaurant industry supplier Food Service Warehouse describes four common layouts for commercial kitchens.
The Assembly Line Kitchen
If your restaurant produces a few menu items in fairly large quantities using multiple steps of preparation, the assembly line is the kitchen design you want. This layout minimizes the distances that ingredients and employees have to travel when dishes are prepared, making the whole process faster and keeping your employees from bumping into one another. If you're opening a hamburger restaurant with this layout, for example, your employees will take beef patties from the freezer, move them onto a holding counter, put them on the griddle for cooking, set them aside on another counter to dress them with condiments and buns and wrap them up or serve them. It all goes in a neat, straight line down the kitchen, with each step in the process having its own dedicated workstation.
The Zoned Kitchen
The classic commercial kitchen arrangement is the zoned kitchen. Everything in the kitchen is organized into functional zones. You'll have one or two zones for doing prep work, such as measuring ingredients, kneading dough and washing and chopping vegetables. This zone needs plenty of counter space as well as all the necessary tools and containers. You'll have a zone for cooking, where your ovens, stovetops, grills and other heat sources go. You'll have a zone -- preferably away from the cooking zone -- for refrigeration, ice and all things cold. You'll have a zone for sanitation and dishwashing, a zone for dry storage and a zone for plating completed dishes for pickup by servers. With the zoned kitchen, you can assign employees to work specific zones. There they can stay, concentrating on their tasks rather than getting in one another's way.
The Island Kitchen
The "island" kitchen is a variation on the zoned kitchen. Here a kitchen has two main parts: the perimeter and an island in the middle. Usually the cooking stations go in the middle and everything else goes on the perimeter, although sometimes it's the other way around. This kind of kitchen arrangement allows foods to have easy transit to and from the cooking stage, and you can place workstations on the perimeter adjacent to one another -- in the assembly line style -- for maximal efficiency between the various preparation stages.
The Ergonomic or Artisanal Kitchen
The ergonomic kitchen strives to keep employees comfortable, on the assumption that comfortable employees can be more productive because they won't be hurting themselves and aching all the time. Bending, reaching, lifting, walking, squatting and carrying are all activities that bring a risk of injury, so the more you can do to minimize these activities, the more ergonomic your kitchen will be. Ergonomic designs often require a bigger upfront cost and may be considerably less energy efficient.
Operational efficiency is another aspect of arranging a restaurant kitchen. Because kitchen space is limited, food service company Foodservice Equipment & Supplies suggests you use vertical space by storing utensils, plates and food containers above workstations and below prep counters. Kitchen energy usage constitutes a major cost, so identify and mitigate sources of energy waste: Place refrigerators and ovens next to each other, for example. For maximum efficiency, store prep equipment as close as possible to the workstations where it will be used.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.