Key Disciplines in Commercial Kitchen Planning

Key Disciplines in Commercial Kitchen Planning

Commercial kitchen planning may seem a daunting task even to professional caterers, as it involves many disciplines:

  • Menu
  • Numbers to be catered for
  • Type of service
  • Duration of operation
  • Area and space available
  • Number of people engaged in food production
  • Any restrictions on services, i.e. power, gas, water, drainage and ventilation extraction points
  • Budget available
  • Health and safety requirements
  • Efficiency

All commercial kitchens, large or small, should be safe and practical environments that promote safe food handling and ease the burden of the operators. Kitchens should be designed in a way that avoids risks such as cross-contamination between different food types, collision of operatives and the risk of external contaminants entering the kitchen. A kitchen should be designed to ensure the efficiency of food production. This process begins with receiving and sorting the deliveries of food goods.


Ingredients need to be stored appropriately, in a dry goods store and/or refrigerated or frozen conditions. The ingredients are then taken from storage to allow the preparation of the final product to commence. Food in its uncooked state may contain contaminants such as bacteria and soil and consequently, it is essential that different food types are separated to avoid contamination.


Safe food preparation is fundamental to avoiding cross-contamination of different food types; this is largely achieved by providing different work surfaces and preparation equipment for different foods.

When the food has been prepared, it is either cooked, re-stored for future cooking or is served uncooked. In any form it should not contain contaminants that may harm the consumer. Appropriate temperatures at each stage of preparation are pivotal to the safe production of food.


The cooking of food is the main function of the kitchen. Cooking appliances vary widely both in the cooking processes they can perform and in what quantities. Most kitchens will require the following cooking processes to be performed:

  • Boiling
  • Steaming
  • Roasting
  • Frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling

When the food has been cooked it is often portioned before being served. This may require additional and separate work surfaces from the ones used to prepare the food. The finished cooked or uncooked food is then made available for serving.


Any food must be kept at safe temperatures during the period of service. Safe service temperatures are often achieved by providing ‘service counters’ that are either heated and / or refrigerated.

Washing Up

When food has been distributed and consumed, the washing of plates, trays and cutlery needs to be completed. This needs to be done in an area away from food preparation and cooking areas to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

Food Waste

Food waste should not come into contact with any cooking or food preparation areas. Food waste should be stored outside the kitchen in a safe and secure area.

Guidance Notes – Dry Storage

A separate ventilated room should be provided with metal shelving to provide sufficient storage of dry goods. Size will depend upon size of operation, menu and frequency of dry goods deliveries. The location should be close to the kitchen’s goods entrance in order to avoid kitchen contamination by delivery drivers. A ‘goods receiving’ bench is often provided outside the store to allow staff to decant the delivered food before storage.

Guidance Notes – Staff Changing

A staff changing room should be provided to allow staff to change from their outside clothes into their catering uniform before entering the kitchen. It should be located near to the kitchen entrance to avoid contamination of the kitchen by outside clothing. A separate toilet is generally included in this area which should be dedicated for catering staff only. Adequate hand wash facilities and lockers should be available. Further hand wash facilities should be provided as close as possible outside the changing area to allow further hand washing before commencement of food handling by catering staff.

Guidance Notes – Office

If possible a separate area or room should be provided for the catering manager to perform administrative duties away from food production areas.

Guidance Notes – Refrigerated and Frozen Storage

Refrigeration is the only part of a kitchen that needs to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Refrigerated and frozen storage comes in various types. Cabinets are probably the most common and come in various sizes but are mostly single or double door. For larger establishments walk-in refrigerated or frozen cold stores are available. Other types of cold stores include undercounter or refrigerated counters which allows food preparation to be performed easily whilst under the appropriate conditions. Where possible, refrigerated and frozen storage should be located close to the kitchen goods entrance but near enough to food preparation areas to allow easy access. In larger kitchens there may be a need to have additional refrigerated facilities, close to and forming part of, food preparation areas.

Sustainable and efficient refrigeration is increasingly important and manufacturers everywhere are striving to increase their product’s efficiency.

When we select refrigeration options, we think about frequency of deliveries as this dictates what storage is required. High risk food such as uncooked meat should, wherever possible, be stored separately from dairy products and other food that is not going to be cooked

Guidance Notes – Food Preparation Surfaces

There should be multiple food preparation surfaces to allow food preparation to be performed safely without the risk of different foodstuffs contaminating each other. The same rule applies to preparation sinks, i.e. different sinks should be used for vegetable preparation that will be cooked, salad items that will not be cooked, and higher risk food groups such as meat and fish. In smaller kitchens ‘general’ food preparation areas are created which require the same surfaces and sinks to be used for different foodstuffs. In these cases different food are to be prepared at different times, the surfaces and bowls must be sanitised between each preparation period. Different coloured cutting boards are also used for different food types.

Stainless steel is the most commonly used material for surfaces and sink bowls. Stainless steel is probably the worst name it could have been given as it will show every mark and every food deposit on its surface – but that is the point – operators and food inspectors can easily tell if it’s clean and well maintained. Stainless steel is extremely durable: it won’t crack, split or harbour bacteria if cleaned and dried; it won’t absorb moisture and is not affected by extreme temperatures. Stainless steel surfaces and sinks are manufactured to meet individual requirements both in terms of size and application. Stainless steel comes in various types and thicknesses so it is important to select the correct type for each intended application.

Guidance Notes – Food Preparation Machinery

As the name suggests, food preparation machinery are appliances used by kitchen staff to aid and speed up food preparation. The main classifications of food machinery are as follows:

  • Food mixers used for whipping, mixing ingredients together and dough mixing. The smallest commercial size available is 5 litre capacity with largest generally available being 60 litre.
  • Vegetable preparation machines. These include smaller machines that can perform a variety of cutting tasks including, slicing and dicing of vegetables, grating, and other vegetable cutting including julien and chipping.
  • Potato and vegetable peelers. These are used when fresh vegetables need to be prepared within the catering operation. As the name suggests they remove the peel or skin from potatoes and other vegetables. Sizes vary but range in size from 3kg to 25kg capacity.
  • Food slicers. These are machines that slice food quickly and accurately. They typically comprise of a rotating blade between 200 mm and 350 mm diameter (with safety guard) that quickly slices food uniformly when mounted within the movable food cradle.

Guidance Notes – Prime Cooking Equipment

Careful selection of prime cooking equipment is of paramount importance for all catering operations. There are hundreds to choose from, all with differing attributes, quality and cost. Where do you begin?

Firstly decide what you want to cook and how do you want it cooked?

How much you need to cook?

Over what period of time you will be cooking?

Finally, determine whether you will be cooking different meal services at the same time.

Now consider what cooking medium you require, i.e. gas or electric and then whether it is a medium or heavy duty application. The selection of the correct cooking equipment is probably the most complex of kitchen design. The main classifications of appliances and their functions are as follows:

  • Cooking range, gas or electric, with oven beneath, several burners on top providing boiling and other hob cooking
  • Boiling table, gas or electric, without oven under
  • Convection oven range, gas or electric, with fan assisted oven under
  • Forced air convection oven range, gas or electric, forced air convection oven under
  • Induction range with oven under
  • Induction boiling table without oven under
  • General purpose oven, gas or electric, freestanding
  • Fan assisted oven, gas heated, freestanding
  • Forced air convection oven, gas or electric, freestanding
  • Atmospheric steaming ovens, gas or electric, freestanding
  • Pressure steamers, electric, freestanding
  • Combination ovens, gas or electric, providing forced air convection oven cooking, convection steaming, or a combination of both steaming and forced air convection cooking
  • Grill or Salamander, for toasting or grilling, gas or electric
  • Griddle, gas or electric
  • Deep fat fryer, gas or electric, freestanding or bench mounted
  • Chargrill, for inside barbecue cooking, gas or electric
  • Bratt pan, freestanding, gas or electric, for larger volume boiling, braising, or shallow frying
  • Boiling pan, gas, electric, or steam heated, for large volume boiling
  • Microwave, electric for small volume rapid cooking or re-heating
  • Microwave convection oven, electric, for small volume but very rapid prime cooking

Please remember appliance types listed are available in a huge variety of sizes, outputs and budgets.

Guidance Notes – Food Service Counters and Display

Counter options include branded merchandising units for drinks and snacks, multi-use counters with hot, cold or ambient sections and dedicated units such as salad bars. Layout and counter length is often geared to the till system and type of payment; in staff catering or schools a cashless system can provide a rapid throughput.

Many counter systems waste huge amounts of heat, giving more heat out to the atmosphere than into food. Gantry lights in an all-day operation, for example, can emit 12 kW per hour each, but caterers like to have them on all the time as it signals ‘we are open’. An energy saving alternative is turning off the gantry when not required and switching on additional fluorescent lights behind the counter, which replicate the ‘open’ signal without wasting heat.

Many counters use hot, cold and ambient ‘drop-in’ units, which are built into the counter by fabricators. The key to energy efficiency and maximising food quality here is to choose well-insulated, well-built units from reputable makers.

Guidance Notes – Warewashing

When deciding on a warewashing system, choosing the correct dishwasher is essential. A dishwasher is not just a ‘plug and play’ appliance it is a ‘system’ and probably the hardest working appliance within the kitchen. This is one area where it is definitely worthwhile optimising your spend and buying the best equipment you can afford. The increased wash quality and reliability will pay you dividends.

Dishwash systems don’t just comprise of the dishwasher; they comprise of specialised pre-wash and post-wash tabling and storage racking for washed items.

Other ware-washing systems are available including sterilising sinks.

In any system it is important that as much residual food is removed from the item before washing and that the final clean rinse temperature kills any remaining bacteria.

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