What Is a Commissary Kitchen?Last updated on 6/29/2021
Commissaries are rentable commercial kitchens where foodservice operators can prepare and store their food. Many commissary kitchens provide food trucks and mobile vendors with overnight parking and equipment storage. While rentable commercial kitchens often provide additional services for food trucks, they’re used by a variety of off premise dining operations.
How Do Commissary Kitchens Work?
The owner of a commissary creates a commercial kitchen that adheres to local health and safety regulations and pays for required permits. Premiseless dining businesses such as food trucks, ghost kitchens, and caterers rent and/or lease the commissary from its owner. Occasionally, restaurants, bakeries, and social clubs rent out their up-to-code kitchen spaces as commissaries for extra income.
Commissary owners convert commercial kitchen space into a rentable service, a business model you will often hear referred to as KaaS (kitchen as a service). Just like any tenant/landlord relationship, the tenant expects certain kitchen supplies and amenities from their landlord, who expects their tenants to abide by the rules and code requirements of their space.
Who Uses Commissary Kitchens?
- Food Trucks
- Ghost Kitchens
- Restaurants (as digital makelines for takeaway/delivery orders)
- Concession Stands
- Pop-up Restaurants
Types of Rentable Commercial Kitchens
We break down the four main types of rentable commercial kitchens, so you can find one that matches your needs and price point:
- Shared Commercial Kitchen – The owner rents their commissary kitchen to multiple food trucks, caterers, and pop-up chefs at once. They typically assign renters to storage spaces and time slots when they can use the kitchen. Renters both share the space and the fees, making this an affordable option.
- Private Commercial Kitchen – Private commissary kitchens are the most expensive option because you take on the whole lease yourself. However, you’ll have exclusive access to a space that only contains the equipment and ingredients you need. Private commissaries are ideal for popular virtual restaurants that need commercial kitchen space during normal business hours. A mobile vending concept with multiple vehicles may need a private commissary to create a central hub.
- Renting a Restaurant’s Kitchen – Another option is to rent a restaurant’s kitchen. If you rent a restaurant’s kitchen during their off hours, you will have the entire space to yourself without paying for a private commissary. Since most restaurants have consistent schedules, you’ll know exactly when you can use the kitchen. Some restaurants are integrating virtual franchising opportunities and preparing a ghost kitchen’s menu alongside their own. Renting a restaurant kitchen may not be an option for food trucks since they likely won’t provide parking.
- Non-Traditional Commercial Kitchens – Churches, social clubs, schools, and retirement communities all have up-to-code kitchens with commercial-grade equipment, and they may rent out their space. These non-traditional locations are a great way to save on rent while gaining access to an appliance-stocked commercial kitchen. However, non-traditional commercial kitchens won’t offer as many amenities and niche cooking tools as a standard commissary kitchen, and they are harder to find.
How Much Does It Cost to Rent a Commercial Kitchen?
Depending on the type of commissary you’re renting and its location, it costs between $15-$40 dollars an hour to rent a commercial kitchen. Renting by the hour is often the least cost-effective option for your foodservice business.
It’s usually cheaper to rent kitchen space based on how many times a month or week you will use it. Average monthly commissary rates range between $250-$750 a month. If you operate in a city like Manhattan or L.A. where real estate and parking go at a premium, expect to pay between $1000-$1250 a month.
- Hourly Commercial Kitchen Rental Cost = $15-$40
- Monthly Commercial Kitchen Rental Cost = $250-$1250
- Non-Traditional Commercial Kitchen Rental Cost = How much a private business will charge you to use their commercial kitchen varies case-by-case. Check average commissary rates in your area before negotiating a price.
Always consider the future and outline how much revenue you will make per month. If you are outgrowing the space, it may be time to build your own commercial kitchen.
Are Food Trucks Required to Use a Commissary?
For food trucks, commissaries aren’t just a convenient option, they’re often required by local laws. Most cities don’t allow food trucks to sell residentially prepared food, forcing operators to use a commercial kitchen to prep their meal ingredients. If you aren't operating in a food truck friendly city, you may not be allowed to cook in your vehicle and must use a commissary for all your cooking needs.
If you live in a city that requires food trucks to park at a commissary overnight, you’ll lose the opportunity to use most non-traditional commissary kitchens. Check with your local laws and ordinances to find food truck commissary requirements near you.
Food Truck Commissary Benefits
Some local laws force food truck operators to use commissary kitchens, but many operators choose to use them even if they aren’t required. Here are a few additional benefits of using a commissary kitchen:
- Increased Space – With more space comes more room for equipment. Most food trucks can only fit a few pieces of equipment in the kitchen, but commissary kitchens provide access to a variety of kitchen appliances and gadgets.
- Centralized Location – If you have multiple food trucks or carts, a commissary kitchen can provide a central location to prep your food and divide it for each truck. Look for a commissary kitchen near your customers and/or close to highways and main roads.
- Amenities – Some commissary kitchens will provide special amenities for your food truck, such as water and grease disposal, which are essential for meeting health code regulations.
- Equipment – Food trucks have limited space, but commissary kitchens have access to a variety of commercial equipment pieces. If your food truck needs specialized tools like waffle makers, smokers, or woks, make sure the kitchen has what you need before signing a contract.
- Parking – Commissary kitchens that offer overnight parking are valuable, especially in cities that require it. If the kitchen offers parking, check to see if it’s covered or open and how secure it is.
- Storage – No matter how well you layout your food truck, you’ll have limited space. Before you decide on a commissary, ask how much storage space you get, including refrigerated space. This is especially critical when looking for a shared kitchen because they split the storage space among several parties.
- Compliance – Some cities require food trucks to prepare their food and/or park their food truck overnight at a commissary kitchen. Most major cities have laws and regulations for food trucks, so check with your local ordinances to comply with the rules in your area.
- Additional Benefits – Some commissary kitchens have a mechanic on-hand to perform truck maintenance, which is great if you’re not skilled with tools. Others might have a manager who can help you fill out the forms to get your truck inspected and up to code. Commissary kitchens can also provide vital networking opportunities for getting hired for parties and events.
Pros and Cons of Commissary Kitchens
If you’re new to the foodservice industry, have an off-premise dining business, or want a separate kitchen space to prepare your restaurant’s delivery orders, commissary kitchens are a viable solution for your needs. We break down the pros and cons of renting a commercial kitchen below.
- Fully Equipped – Commissary kitchens come fully equipped, reducing upfront costs.
- Less Maintenance – The responsibility of up-keeping licenses and appliances falls on the commissary owner.
- Short-Term Savings – Renting a commissary kitchen is cheaper in the short term than building your own up-to-code commercial kitchen space.
- Long-Term Costs – While commissary kitchens offer short-term savings, they may not be a worthwhile long-term investment. Commissary kitchen rates depend on the location, but costs typically range between $15-$35 an hour, and rents may increase with time.
- Remote Locations – Many commissary kitchens are outside city centers where real estate is cheaper, and they can provide a larger space. While this reduces rental costs, it also increases your gas expenses and adds commuting time.
- Scheduling Conflicts – If you share a commissary with other businesses, you’ll have to rework your schedule to provide everyone with equal access.
How to Rent a Commercial Kitchen
If you’re required to rent a commissary to conduct your business, or decide it is the most convenient and affordable option, follow the steps below to find and secure the right commissary kitchen for your needs.
- Make a list of the equipment/storage space you require – Not every commissary space offers the same pieces of equipment. If you know you need specialized tools to create your menu, have a list of items to vet potential commissaries against.
- Find commissaries in your area – Several online resources offer databases of commissary kitchens which you can filter for cities or states. You can also reach out to non-traditional commercial kitchens like community centers to see if they would let you rent their commercial kitchen for less.
- Availability – Once you’ve formed a list of commercial kitchens in your area, check their time slot availability and see if it meets your needs.
- Vet your options – As you examine your remaining options, be sure to check the following: health and safety inspection ratings, if they include cleaning facilities, if they require insurance/what kind of insurance, and note any additional benefits the commercial kitchen offers such as a mechanic, classes, or marketing assistance.
- Contract signing – We recommend having a legal professional review the contract before signing a commissary contract.
Commissary kitchens rose in popularity to accommodate the surge of food truck entrepreneurs since 2008 when the modern food truck craze began. Commercial kitchens serve as hubs for a variety of businesses ranging from ghost kitchens to concession stands. Use our guide to determine whether you should rent a commercial kitchen, and how to find the best commissary kitchen for your business.