The Basics of Restaurant Stations and Commercial Kitchen Layout

by Nigel Hilton

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Building a commercial kitchen takes more than just getting top-quality equipment or hiring enough staff. It involves organizing the different stations in an optimal layout to maximize efficiency and performance. The kitchen floor should be ergonomic, considering the high and incessant traffic that occurs each day. Your layout must have a natural path that allows the staff to go through the room without crashing with each other or bumping into plates and pans.

A typical commercial kitchen has the following stations: cleaning, service, meal cooking, food preparation, and storage. These are the areas you want to keep in mind as you plan your kitchen layout.

Cleaning or Washing

The washing area contains the sinks, drying racks, and other related equipment. Essential in this area are ware washing machines, so you can clean plates by batches and speed up the process. Acquire your ware washing machine as well as your three-compartment sinks from a trusted stainless-steel kitchen equipment fabrication company to ensure quality.

The cleaning area must be near the kitchen entrance to allow servers to drop off the dirty dishes immediately before picking up the new orders. It should be close to the storage area, too; cooks can easily grab clean dishes and cutlery.

Storage

The storage area is divided into three sections: non-food, cold, and dry. The non-food section contains the cleaning supplies and the dishes and cutlery that come from the wash area. Cold storage keeps everything that needs to be frozen or refrigerated. Dry storage is where you keep the non-perishables and other food items.

Remember to separate the cleaning products and chemicals from the consumables, food equipment, dishes, and utensils to avoid cross contamination. Keep these on the bottom most rack or cabinet so that even if they spill, they won’t touch the food items.

The storage area must be near the meal cooking and food preparation stations to make it easier for the chefs to grab ingredients and supplies. It’s also strategic to put the storage near your backdoor, making it easy to receive new stock shipments.

Food Preparation

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This area is where you process the raw ingredients (e.g., break down cuts of beef, chicken, and others) or sort food (e.g., mix salad dressings, chop vegetables). The food prep area has cutting stations, mixing stations, and sinks for rinsing produce. Again, food preparation must be near the storage area to maximize efficiency.

Meal Cooking

From the food prep, the ingredients and supplies move on to the meal cooking station. This is the heart of the kitchen, where the main dishes are cooked, finished, and prepared for serving. The meal cooking area is divided into smaller sections, such as the grilling station, soup station, frying station, desert station, and others.

This should be near the service area, so the servers quickly pick up the new orders.

Service

The service area is the final station in a commercial kitchen. If you have servers, this is where they pick up the dishes to bring to customers. If you’re a buffet-style or self-serve restaurant, the service area is the display where customers go to get food. Either way, this station must be at the front of the kitchen but near the meal cooking station. This shortens the distance between the finished dishes and the waiting customers.

There are three basic design layouts you can consider to optimize the flow of your kitchen.

Restaurant Kitchen Layout Designs

Zone Style Layout

The zone style layout divides the kitchen into blocks, with clearly defined stations. The major equipment are pushed against the walls to leave sufficient space in the middle for communication and movement.

This layout is ideal for restaurants that serve plenty of dishes that don’t need to be cooked, such as salads, smoothies, and burgers. These food items only require assembling and don’t need heavy collaboration among the stations. Each staffer can focus on their tasks without getting in each other’s way.

Assembly Line Layout

Stations are arranged in a line starting from food prep to meal cooking to service. This enables the chefs to send food quickly down the line. On the opposite side of the assembly line are the washing area and the storage room, so it doesn’t interfere with the heavy tasks but are still accessible to the chefs.

This is optimal for places that serve large quantities of the same item, such as cafeterias or fast-food restaurants.

Island Style Layout

The island style layout places the meal cooking station in the center of the room like an island. The ovens, grills, fryers are all in the middle and the prep, serving, and washing stations are on the perimeter of the room. The other large equipment not used for cooking are pushed against the walls to keep an open circular path. The idea is to allow the staffers to move quickly around and have easy access to all the stations. It's a layout that works best for large square kitchens that wants open communication and maximum supervision among staffers.

These layouts can be modified to fit you needs and preference, as well as the size of your kitchen.

Visualize how your normal operations would go and how the tasks will move from one station to another. This will be your basis on how you can optimize your kitchen layout.