Principles of Commercial Kitchen Design

Principles of Commercial Kitchen Design

Classic wisdom tells you to have a place for everything and everything in its place. That means tidy up, be organized, and put things where they belong. That’s great advice for everyone, but restaurant owners and executive chefs should pay special attention. Nothing hamstrings a restaurant like an inefficient kitchen, so taking the time to organize is essential. That doesn’t just mean putting spoons back in the right drawer or pans on the right shelf, either. Those are good places to start, but the true secret to an efficient commercial kitchen is appropriate planning and design.

What’s Appropriate for You?


Good question. To answer it, you need to consider the purpose of your establishment. What are you passionate about and what are you trying to do? Are you a burger joint looking to pump out meals as quickly as possible? Perhaps you are a 5-star restaurant specializing in classical Parisian cuisine? What about a college or university dining hall trying to feed thousands of students every day? Whatever the answer, your kitchen needs will be unique. The success of your establishment depends on the success of your kitchen, so consider this question carefully before moving on. The last thing you want is having to prepare an elegant duck confit on a shabby hotplate because you didn't take the time to think about the purpose of your kitchen.

Kitchen Design Principles

You've decided what the purpose of your kitchen is, so where do you start? The first step is to familiarize yourself with these commercial kitchen design ideas. Regardless of what type of foodservice establishment you have, there are several objectives for designing a kitchen properly. According to the Certified Food Service Professionals handbook, your kitchen needs to maximize:

  • Flexibility and Modularity
  • Simplicity
  • Flow of Materials and Personnel
  • Ease of Sanitation
  • Ease of Supervision
  • Space Efficiency

Flexibility and Modularity

A commercial kitchen is a dynamic place, so its layout should be able to accommodate change. Maybe you redesigned the menu and added new dishes, or hired a new executive chef that operates differently than the last. Whatever the case, the ability to mold and shape your kitchen is essential. This might take the shape of multi-use workstations or movable equipment. Remember that an adaptable kitchen is a successful kitchen.


Kitchens are prone to clutter and clutter leads to confusion and poor sanitation that negatively effect a foodservice operation. To maximize space and effectiveness, consider designing a kitchen with simplicity in mind. Locating server stations near the kitchen, for example, limits trips through the dining room, while modular or drop-in equipment eliminates some corners and edges and unnecessary shelving. Further, selecting the proper equipment with only necessary accessories will save you space and money.

Flow of Materials and Personnel

A kitchen is a busy place, but it doesn't have to be a chaotic place. A kitchen designed around the flow of materials and personnel will have a logical layout in which no employees or materials backtrack through the space. In other words, the kitchen will operate in some type of circular pattern. The refrigerated and dry storage areas should be near the receiving area, for example, but the waste disposal and warewashing areas should be separate from the food preparation and meal cooking areas. Completed meals will exit the kitchen on one side and soiled dishes will enter the kitchen on the other. Adhering to this principle not only keeps the kitchen clean and food safe, but eliminates confusion and ensures a well-organized and orderly system.

Flow of Materials and Personnel

Ease of Sanitation

Next to cooking, you spend the most time cleaning the kitchen. You might even spend more time cleaning the kitchen. If that is the case, a commercial kitchen optimized for easy sanitation is a must. A great way to start is by reducing the number of legs on your equipment either by wall-mounting pieces or attaching casters to make equipment movable. Another option is to use finishes that are easy to clean like tile floors, wire shelving units, and stainless steel tables. Most important, however, are food safety and sanitation codes that every foodservice establishment must uphold. There must be hand washing stations in every area where food is prepared, for example, but they must be cleaned regularly and not used for storage. The same can be said for waste disposal areas. Be sure to study the codes in your location to make sure your kitchen complies.

Ease of Supervision

The executive chef has a lot to handle when it comes to managing the kitchen. He or she finishes dishes, designs menus, orders supplies, monitors food quality, and ensures that equipment is working properly, in addition to a thousand other duties. Then he or she has to worry about supervising the kitchen staff! To make things easier on your chef, consider designing your kitchen for easy supervision. An open kitchen with few or no walls or partitions allows for increased vision, easier movement, and better communication. This way, your executive chef can spend less time babysitting and focus on other responsibilities to make your establishment operate more efficiently. Ease of supervision is especially important for correctional facilities to ensure safety.

Space Efficiency

Operating a kitchen is rough on the wallet. Real estate costs a pretty penny, maintenance is expensive, and cooking equipment isn't cheap, not to mention there are staff paychecks to handle. Taken together, those factors put a high premium on square footage. Therefore, consider carefully the exact needs of your kitchen and try to limit bulky equipment. Some pieces, like a range, are necessary, but if you're not baking dough every day, maybe pass on the the 40 qt. floor mixer. Be warned, though, it is easy to take space efficiency too far to the extreme. A kitchen that is too small, or lacking necessary equipment due to space concerns will severely hinder production.

For other commercial kitchen resources check out the links below:

Front of House vs. Back of House

Restaurant Management: How to Open a Restaurant

Restaurant Labor Laws