Reader Asks: How do I Set Up My Restaurant Kitchen

Basics of Commercial Kitchen Design

••• Melodi2

Dear Lorri,

I am getting ready to open my very first restaurant and I am having trouble deciding what to buy for restaurant equipment and where to put it. The restaurant is located in a former clothing store, so we (my business partner and I) have had to install all new plumbing and electrical outlets to accommodate the kitchen. The space looked really big until we started measuring for a gas range and the dishwasher. Now I am feeling a little (well, a lot) panicked about the general layout. I mean, once it's in, it's in - we can't redesign it after we are opened. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Janelle B.

Hey Janelle,

It's good that you aren't rushing into buying big, new, shiny (and expensive) commercial equipment for your restaurant. taking to the time to decide what you really need (versus what you really would like to have) will save you precious start-up capital. And considering the layout of your kitchen it will also save you headaches in the futures.

Three things to consider when planning a commercial kitchen are:

  •  The size of the actual kitchen (which you've already discovered shrinks dramatically when you start adding in equipment)
  • Your restaurant menu. Do you have a wide variety of items on your menu that require different kitchen stations, such as grill, pizza oven, gas range for sautéing, fryolators for deep frying, and so on.
  • Your budget. This more than anything will influence what you buy. The good news about restaurant kitchen equipment is that you can buy good quality used pieces for pennies on the dollar. Other items you can lease, to save more money during the start-up phase of your restaurant.

I've worked in large and spacious restaurant kitchens and small cramped spaces (think a walk-in closet turned into a kitchen) and a few in between. While large and spacious is definitely nice, a tiny kitchen can still be just as effective for feeding large crowds - if it has a good layout and the menu is matched to the layout. Don't get me wrong - a small kitchen does not mean you have to have a small menu. The walk-in closet menu had nearly 100 items on it. However, they were all prepared at three main stations  - a range, a grill and a fryer. Salads and soup were kept in the wait station area to free up space. Read more about the link between a restaurant kitchen and its menu.

As I mentioned above, you can find gently used commercial equipment at restaurant supply stores, auctions or restaurants that have closed up shop. Along with big pieces of equipment, you can often purchase tables, chairs, linens and tableware gently used as well. Leasing is another option for restaurant equipment. Certain items like ice machines, don't have a particularly long lifespan and so it may be a better option to pay a small monthly fee and know that the maintenance and upkeep of the machine is taken care of.

Check these articles for more about buying and leasing restaurant equipment:

Remember, a kitchen is the heart of your restaurant, where your menu comes to life. It’s where food is prepared, cooked and plated. It is also where the dirty dishes are brought, where food is stored and where all your utensils, dishes and cooking equipment are housed. Unlike home, where it’s just you and your family, a restaurant kitchen has dozens of people in and out of it on any given shift, so it’s important to be well designed and organized.  Good luck with your new restaurant!