A commercial kitchen design is significantly more complicated than what you’ve got in your kitchen at home. Instead of having one or two people working in the kitchen at a time, it needs to be spacious enough for several cooks to move around, while also providing them the surface area to prepare dozens of dishes at once.

If you’re planning to open your own restaurant, coming up with your restaurant kitchen layout can be a challenge. It can be hard to know where to begin — you’ve got to deal with health department regulations, space limitations and efficiency concerns. Restaurant kitchen design forces you to take several factors into account, which can make it overwhelming.

Luckily for you, there’s a process that can make creating your commercial kitchen layout much easier. From space management to aesthetic planning, here’s a method by which you can create the perfect restaurant kitchen design — with some layout examples to along the way.

Getting Started

Planning your layout is complex, but thankfully there are simple steps you can take to get you started on the path toward the ideal configuration.

Learn and Follow Local Health Codes

One of the most important factors in your restaurant kitchen layout is its legality.

Restaurant kitchens are heavily regulated for cleanliness and safety. It can be hard to know exactly which rules you have to follow since the regulations vary by state and even sometimes by locality.

Despite this, there are common rules that practically every restaurant in the U.S. has to follow. Let’s go over some basic rules for keeping your restaurant’s kitchen layout up to code:

  • Store all food at least 6 inches off the ground
  • Keep chemicals and food stored separately from each other
  • Label and date every food container correctly
  • Keep prepared, cooked foods and raw foods separate
  • Organize washing stations into three sections — one for washing, one for rinsing and one for sanitizing
  • Cover utensils in storage to protect them from dust and other contaminants
  • Garbage disposal receptacles need lids or covers

This is not an exhaustive list of food safety requirements. There are dozens, if not hundreds, more you’ll need to know and follow to keep your restaurant safe and avoid being shut down by health inspectors.

To ensure you’re following every rule to the letter, check your locality’s health department requirements for commercial kitchens.

Ask Your Chef

If you’re not experienced in the foodservice industry, it would serve you well to involve somebody who is. Experienced chefs who’ve worked in several commercial kitchens have seen many kitchen design choices that worked well, and perhaps many that haven’t worked so well.

A chef who has worked in a restaurant with a similar concept to the one you’re envisioning can likely give you some of the best advice on what will work for your restaurant’s kitchen.

They’ll know the kind of equipment you’ll need for the food you want to serve, as well as how to arrange this equipment. They’ll also be able to help you set up the space to ensure the best workflow.

Learn the Space You’re Working With

Before you can design your restaurant kitchen layout, you need to know all the ins and outs of the space you’re working with. A small commercial kitchen layout is going to end up looking a lot different than a larger one, and your available space will determine what kind of restaurant equipment you can fit.

Don’t plan on fitting in four commercial ovens if you’re working with less than a thousand square feet of space. Be realistic about what you can and can’t fit in your space. This is where asking an experienced professional, such as a hired consultant or an equipment manufacturer, can come in handy.

Consider Your Concept

Your restaurant idea, including the kind of food you serve, will be one of the biggest factors dictating how you need to use your kitchen space. This is another area where chef input will be most helpful for the design process.

Having an aesthetic flair inside your kitchen to match your restaurant’s front-of-house can make your kitchen more pleasant to work in, whether you want a modern aesthetic, something more rustic, or something in between. However, food production efficiency should be your biggest design priority.

If you’re planning out a breakfast and brunch spot that serves a variety of baked goods, you’ll likely need more ovens to bake everything you’ll be serving. If your restaurant will have a meat-heavy menu, you’ll need plenty of freezer space to store large quantities of raw meat.

Factors to Consider

Once you have decided on the basics and done your research, you’ll need to keep several variables in mind as you envision your business’ layout.

Cleanliness

As we’ve already covered, cleanliness and safety are kings when it comes to creating a commercial kitchen layout. You’ll need to ensure you have space so no cross-contamination occurs.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you need to be consciously aware of cleanliness in your design. Even mistakes as minimal as storing raw food too close to ready-to-eat food can lead to dangerous problems for your restaurant.

Efficiency and Workflow

The way your kitchen is set up will determine its efficiency at preparing and serving food, as well as performing other tasks like throwing away trash and washing dishes. In general, a commercial kitchen design should be divided into stations, each with its own purpose:

  • Cleaning and Washing Area
  • Storage Area
  • Food Prep Area
  • Meal Cooking Area
  • Service Area

The areas are relatively self-explanatory:

  • The cleaning and washing area: Where cooks will clean their utensils, dishwashers will wash and dry dishes, employees will wash their hands, and so on. The storage area will contain freezers, refrigerators, and dry food containers, as well as any stored cleaning solutions and dishes or utensils.
  • The food prep area: Where cooks can wash and cut vegetables, marinate meats, and season ingredients before they’re ready to be cooked. The meal cooking area is where the rest happens — food goes into the oven or the pan, where it’s prepared before being sent to the customer.
  • The service area: The final stop for food in the kitchen, where fully-cooked food is placed until servers bring it out to the customer.

Depending on your restaurant concept, different organizational methods can be beneficial. We’ll go further into some common design layouts later.

Equipment

Your restaurant equipment is what keeps your business alive, and it’s what your kitchen floor plan should be based around. Your equipment will vary depending on your restaurant concept and menu, but the vast majority of kitchens will need these basic pieces of equipment:

These are just the pieces of equipment that will be taking up the most space — you’ll also need the smaller pieces of equipment (pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, and the like) that will require storage space.

This is a lot of equipment to pack into a small kitchen area, which is why it’s imperative to use your kitchen space as efficiently as possible, and ensure you purchase equipment that’s the right size for your needs.

Maintenance

Leaving space for equipment maintenance is essential to keeping your restaurant running smoothly. If your refrigeration system suddenly breaks, the maintenance worker will need space to work if they’re going to get it back up and running quickly. If it’s broken for too long, you run the risk of ruining all of the food stored inside.

If there isn’t space for a maintenance worker to do their job, meaning several feet of open space, you’ll likely end up having to move all your other equipment out of the way, which can hinder your kitchen’s productivity. That, or you’ll just have to replace the refrigerator entirely — a costly investment that you’d probably rather avoid.

Periodic maintenance for expensive appliances ensures minimal breakdowns, but that also means maintenance workers will need access to the appliances more often. The bottom line is that you should plan for maintenance to be able to access your equipment.

Ventilation

Anyone who’s worked in a commercial kitchen (or really, even just walked into one that’s in operation) can tell you that they can get oppressively hot. From the fires burning on the gas stove to the steam tables keeping prepared food hot, there’s no shortage of heat sources in a restaurant’s back-of-house.

This is what makes it important to have a proper ventilation system in your kitchen design. Proper airflow will keep your employees cooler and more comfortable. Working in a kitchen also means dealing with a lot of conflicting smells, and you’ll want to make sure these scents don’t flow into the dining room.

Rep-Air Heating and Cooling recommend incorporating your commercial kitchen’s ventilation system into a central HVAC system to keep things cool and ensure quality airflow throughout your restaurant.

Common Kitchen Layouts

Now that we’ve got the big factors and planning steps laid out, here are some examples of common commercial kitchen layouts, and why they work so well.

The Assembly Line

This layout puts most of the kitchen equipment in a line, allowing food to pass straight from the food prep area to the cooking area to the service area. The cleaning and receiving areas are kept separate, so there’s no disconnect between any part of the food-making process. This works well for high-volume kitchens that need to put out large amounts of food as quickly as possible.

The Island

The island layout puts all of the cooking equipment in the center of the kitchen, with all of the other stations on the perimeter. This layout provides a lot of open space for easy communication between workers, and the large amount of open floor space makes for easier cleaning. This would work well for a restaurant with a large kitchen staff.

Zone Layout

The zone commercial kitchen layout sets up every station in its own block, with large equipment mostly lined up against the walls. Like the assembly line, there is a defined journey from the food prep area to the cooking area to the service area. Like the island layout, there is plenty of open space to encourage collaboration.

Galley

A galley kitchen layout places cooking equipment in just one or two parallel lines along the walls, leaving cooks the corridor in the middle to work. It can be set up to maximize productivity, and its efficient use of space makes the galley a good choice for a small commercial kitchen design. If you’re dealing with limited space, this is likely the kitchen design for you.

Ergonomic Layout

An ergonomic layout simply promotes employees staying in one place — food is stored close to where it’s prepared and cooked, which in turn is close to the service area. This layout is good for quick food preparation, and promotes staff comfort while minimizing any potential accidents.

Open Layout

An open layout kitchen is unique in that it’s placed in full view of diners. Hibachi restaurants represent one version of this layout. Open kitchens have the benefit of providing customers with a sort of entertainment while they wait for their food. With this layout, it’s best to keep the hotter surfaces away from customers, and it may make sense to put a glass partition between customers and the kitchen.

Try Your Best, But Be Willing to Change

If you make sure to consider all of your needs and work with seasoned professionals, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a preliminary kitchen layout plan. The designs shown above are made for efficiency, but you may have to adjust them a bit if you’re working with a kitchen space that’s an odd shape.

You may end up having to try out a few different commercial kitchen layouts before you find one that suits your restaurant’s needs and promotes optimal productivity. That’s okay!

These are common restaurant kitchen layouts, but they’re by no means the only ones that exist. Every restaurant has unique needs and a unique method of getting things done. If you’re experiencing some efficiency issues with your kitchen layout, it wouldn’t hurt to switch it up and give another one a try.