Prep tables are essential pieces of restaurant equipment for any foodservice business. They combine the necessity of a refrigerator with a convenient cutting board so you can quickly and easily assemble your ingredients to create signature dishes. They come in a variety of sizes and styles with a whole host of different internal components. With so many options, finding the perfect unit can be a challenge. That's why we've broken down the most important information you need to know about prep tables when you're shopping.
Sandwich / Salad Tables vs. Pizza Tables
Sandwich and salad prep tables serve different purposes than pizza prep tables, but they're not as different as they sound. Sandwich prep tables come with shallower cutting boards designed for sub and sandwich bread, and most come set up for use with 1/6 size food pans in the top storage area. Pizza prep tables feature a deeper cutting board area with a raised pan rail and a top storage area designed for 1/3 size food pans.
Deciding the proper size of your prep unit is essential for one obvious reason - it needs to fit where you want to put it. We carry prep tables that range in size from compact to colossal, including: 27", 32", 36", 48", 60", 64", 68", 72", and 93". Each size comes with its own benefits. Smaller tables offer a smaller footprint to businesses with limited space with the tradeoff of less overall storage space within the unit, while larger tables are just the opposite - it's harder to find a convenient space for them, but they come with lots of interior room to spare.
Generally, the more demand your business has for sandwiches, the larger you'll want your prep table to be. Another factor that may affect your size consideration is how many ingredients you use when you prepare food. If you're going to hold lots of different ingredients at one time, it would be better to go for a larger table to keep every ingredient you need close at hand. Lastly, some work top units offer both a refrigerator and freezer storage section in the same unit. Check out the dual temperature models we offer to see if having both storage options in one unit is right for you.
Doors and Drawers
The second factor to consider is whether you want a table with drawers, doors, or a combination of both. Regardless of your preference, both types have a pan rail on the top of the unit that is designed to hold food pans. Many units come with a solid lid over the pan rail, while some come with a clear glass lid, making them ideal for operations that prepare made-to-order sandwiches in front of their customers.
Units with doors have a refrigeration cavity very similar to reach-in equipment measured in cubic feet, complete with shelves that can hold a wide variety of foods.
Units with drawers, on the other hand, generally come with less refrigeration space, but each drawer is laid out to hold food pans filled with ingredients, making them easier to access when it's time to swap out empty pans from the top storage area.
Some units come with a combination of doors and drawers, which gives the operator the best of both worlds. Sometimes these combinations are designed to minimize wasted space as well, such as having a small drawer or door above the compressor.
It's important to remember that doors and drawers may complicate the routines of more compact kitchens, depending on where you place the unit. Doors often close automatically, but drawers typically do not. It's more difficult for passing cooks or servers to close drawers when they have their hands full, which can be a distraction in your kitchen. On the other hand, longer doors may not open all the way in more compact areas, which would make drawers a better option. In the end, it's important to consider your product, your space, and the traffic that will be passing through in order to pick the right option.
Just as prep tables have different pan rail configurations, they also come with different work spaces. Some tables have ample pan storage and a simple cutting board on top that extends a few inches beyond the table's edge to provide adequate room for preparing food. Others offer an extended workspace at the price of food pan storage, which can serve as an area to stage countertop appliances like panini grills. Below is an explanation of the most common prep table tops to help you choose the best one for your application!
Standard TopStandard top units generally have 2 rows of food pans and an adequately sized cutting board. They are a great choice for most sandwich or salad preparation areas since they offer refrigerated storage for backup ingredients, a food pan rail for easy access to toppings, and a cutting board that is large enough to accommodate subs and sandwiches.
Mega top units , also known as mighty top units, can typically hold up to 50% more in their pan storage areas than a comparable standard model because they come with an expanded pan rail and a shallower cutting board. For example, Avantco model SCL2-60 can hold up to (16) 1/6 size food pans in two rows of 8, while the SCLM2-60 has 3 rows, bringing the total capacity up to (24) 1/6 size pans. Mega top units are built for the sandwich shop or restaurant that offers a wide range of ingredients and toppings on a daily basis.
Cutting top units are special because they come equipped with an extra-deep cutting board to provide the operator with additional work space. Ideal for large sandwiches, chopped salads, and complicated orders for catering or an event, this type of unit offers you the same pan capacity as a standard unit, but with the added benefit of more cutting board room.
There are three methods used for refrigerating the top food pan section of prep tables: air cooled, cold wall, and a liquid jacket.
Air cooled units are an excellent solution for restaurateurs who are just starting out. Air cooling is standard on sandwich prep tables, and it's coupled with low maintenance and labor costs that make them easy to use without requiring a lot of know-how. On the flip side, their power is more limited than alternative refrigeration methods.
Cold wall models run refrigerant lines through the table's structure to keep the interior cool. They often allow a greater variety of pan and shelf configurations so you can customize your storage options. They also have a greater output potential compared to air cooled units. However, cold wall systems can lead to uneven pan temperatures, which can upset the uniformity of your food once prepared.
Liquid jackets are the newest form of cooling and typically used in pizza prep units, utilizing low-profile internal designs to maximize storage space while consuming low amounts of energy. It's also the best option for keeping your ingredients a uniform temperature. Unfortunately, this refrigeration type is the most expensive of the three, making it viable for only established businesses.
Purchasing a front breathing model is another thing to consider when it comes to maximizing space without taxing the refrigeration system on your prep table. Front breathing units have both the air intake and exhaust vents located on the front of the unit, which means that they can be installed flush against the wall or even built in to existing counters for a more seamless look. A front breathing model has fewer side and back clearance requirements compared to a typical unit.