Commercial Kitchen Design Standards
Be it the restaurant business or any other commercial food establishment, the guiding principles are simple and straightforward:
1) Provide a unique and ideally, an unmatchable customer experience and
2) Make the business profitable and eventually a thriving one.
The degree to which each of the above principles matter depends on the type of food business: is it a fine dining experience or a fast food with quick turnarounds? While the primary principles are crisp and within everyone’s line of sight, to achieve them requires a consideration of a complex set of issues. The regulatory framework within which a restaurant operates; the availability of suitable vendors within business proximity and basic maintenance activities on their premises; the involvement of all critical staff in management’s key decisions; appreciating the value of both front-end restaurant interface with final customer (revenue-generating area) and back-end kitchen operations, which retain the customer and management philosophy on what they consider as a dining experience for a customer and so on.
Interestingly all of the above have a significant bearing on a commercial kitchen design.
At the outset, it is important to mention that, in the design process, it is best to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Each kitchen design is unique based on a multitude of factors from menu/cuisine; single vis-à-vis multiple cuisine servicing; volume of business; future projections; staff strength; space availability; requirements of the kitchen staff amongst a whole host of other factors.
Specifically, we attempt to present a comprehensive view of commercial kitchen design standards, within the operating context of a food establishment. For the sake of convenience, we take the example of a fine-dining restaurant. Taking a step back to some of the complex set of issues mentioned earlier, research reveals to us that commercial kitchen design may not only be critical to get the best quality product on the customer’s plate within the stipulated time. Diners seek an overall dining experience – be it enjoying a view of how their food is prepared, watching the dexterity with which the chef works the product or even appreciating the efforts restaurants make at maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in the whole process, including staff’s personal hygiene, which they can view say through an open kitchen design concept. This one example clearly highlights the increasing importance of commercial kitchen design in the whole scheme of the restaurant business. While an open kitchen may be suitable for only certain types of dining experiences, we reckon whatever the commercial kitchen design concept, its value in:
1) enhancing end-consumer experience;
2) meeting regulatory standards;
3) ensuring safety of staff;
4) creating a positive public image and
5) optimizing profits by cutting down avoidable and often incurred expenses; just cannot be disputed or undermined nor can the commercial kitchen be relegated to only “back-end operations” anymore.
The time, energy and investment in a commercial kitchen design is an absolute must, as most experts in the industry reveal. The consensus is that, while the kitchen should meet present needs, there has to be critical planning to prepare for future projections of rise in demand and changing consumer tastes leading to menu alterations. Changes in menu could also be a result of changes in the selling proposition and therefore it becomes imperative to build a certain degree of flexibility into the whole commercial kitchen design. Be it restaurants in leading hotel chains such as Hyatt and ITC; independent restaurant chains or reputed stand-alone restaurants, certain basic standards are adhered to, based on statutory requirements, their own management philosophy and in many cases following global standards on design concepts.
Standards – The Challenges
Before we embark on the standards, it is worthy to make a mention of some of the challenges in the restaurant business in laying down and following standards, either self-dictated or statutory-related.
The revamp in the statutory requirements in India, through the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011 has certainly made the requirements for food safety, hygiene and related aspects, stringent. The Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) is the primary body overlooking the whole process of standard setting and adherence by businesses.
There is a heavier penalty for lapses in adhering to standards, thus making food businesses very cautious about how they produce, store and service their food to consumers. Internal and external audits are mandatory. In establishments, conscious about their responsibility towards consumer health and their own image, we see daily checks by a hygiene manager, who takes equipment and hygiene swabs and samples of food items. In case of an external audit, as is very often the case, if it is not a surprise inspection, the kitchen can project a reality far from the truth, which defeats the purpose of the audit.
As far as the regulations are concerned, we see several undefined areas, with an absence of a scientific approach. There are no specific indications on minimum space that should be provided for each staff within the kitchen; no suggestions on specific equipment and authorized vendors to address ventilation; ducting; HVAC; how to handle disposal of fats, grease and oil through equipment is not addressed and barely any mention of eco-friendly measures recommended in the kitchen, be it products used or specifics on energy efficiency. This is where we see the need for businesses to compulsorily rope in specialists and experts to guide them on various aspects of the kitchen design, over and above what the statutory body expects.
The chef’s role in defining the kitchen design is critical, but in some establishments, we see a technical team carrying through the installations, with little input from the chef. Further, restaurant space is almost always a priority vis-à-vis kitchen operations space. As a result, the limited space available to the chefs to run the show, in some cases with a design that has already been chalked out, makes the operations difficult to run. We see innovative ways of handling this space constraint, by renting out space outside the main premises to carry out ancillary activities and in some cases outsourcing preparation of raw materials but this arrangement requires careful monitoring for adherence of food storage and safety norms.
FSSAI and its Role – Standards in India for Commercial Kitchen Design
The Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has laid down Food Safety and Standards Regulations in 2011, which specifically requires all restaurants and food establishments in general, to obtain a food license, classified as an essential permit. This license gives the consumer the required assurance that the restaurant follows all basic norms with regard to maintaining food hygiene and safety. To obtain the license, the approving authority reviews the kitchen layout plan (so that it meets the specifications in the back-end design laid down by the authority); the food safety management plan; water testing report from an ISI approved facility; no-objection-certificates from municipal corporations or local bodies with regard to fire and building safety and specifications being met; list of food category; types of equipment to be used in the kitchen amongst several others. Almost all of the documents mentioned, require a thorough assessment and establishment of a kitchen design. The requirements laid down by FSSAI therefore can act as a rough template to ensure that the commercial kitchen design is safe while meeting its business objectives. The standards used in designing the commercial kitchen can in essence be a prudent combination of FSSAI requirements and self-defined standards as per the restaurant management.
FSSAI articulates in sufficient detail the expectations from the kitchen operations, where the highest level of hygiene, sanitation and cleanliness has to be maintained. Some examples include:
1. Ensuring the source and standard of raw material used are of optimal quality
2. Any article of food in the premises should not be exposed and should be satisfactorily separated from areas such as urinal, sullage, drain, place of storage of waste matter
3. Regular cleaning and maintenance of machine and equipment
4. Ensuring testing of chemical and microbiological contaminants in food products in accordance with regulations. Risk assessment to be conducted through own/NABL accredited/FSSA notified laboratories once in six months
5. Maintenance of required temperature for products throughout the supply chain (from place of procurement till it reaches the end consumer)
The FSSAI also urges all food service operators to ensure continuous improvement in their handling, processing, manufacturing, storing and distributing operations within the business preventing at all stages the possibility of cross-contamination, rodent infestation and so on. This includes adhering to India HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) standards (can be viewed on foodregulatory.fssai.gov.in).
Specific mention is made on adequate space for manufacturing and storing; adequate lighting and ventilation; floors, walls and ceilings should be of smooth surface and amenable to cleaning; placement of equipment away from the walls to enable inspection; well-planned drainage system; elaborate hygiene requirements for kitchen staff; openings to outside environment should be well-screened to prevent insects and pests from entering and chemicals used for cleaning to be stored away from main preparation areas amongst several other critical aspects. The guidelines issued pertain to specifications with regard to:
1. Location and Surroundings of the food service business
2. Layout and design
3. Equipment and containers used to store food
4. Facilities – water (potable and non-potable) and washing instructions during preparation and cleaning
5. Ice and steam
6. Drainage and waste disposal
7. Personnel facilities and toilets
8. Air quality and ventilation
10. Procurement of raw materials, their smooth passage through the layout and storing
11. Food processing, preparation, packaging, distribution and service – including temperature requirements
12. Management and supervision – necessity of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
13. Food testing facilities
14. Audit, documentation and records
15. Sanitation and maintenance of establishment and personal hygiene of staff
16. Product information and consumer awareness – guidance on labels
17. Training of staff
Detailed information on standards laid down by FSSAI can be viewed on fssai.gov.in.
Commercial Kitchen Design Standards
While statutory requirements are paramount, on the level of practical everyday kitchen operations as well, investing in a well thought out kitchen design is imperative. Improper work flow in the kitchen, can severely hamper turnarounds; jeopardize staff safety and make the operations inefficient and chaotic, leading to severe quality lapses, accidents and breakages. It can also dramatically impact the ability to carry out cleaning activities; over-investment of resources in pest management when it could have been addressed at a design stage and cross-contamination due to non-availability of adequate sinks or improper location of various facilities within the kitchen, to name only a few potential risks.
We give an overview of the some of the best practices followed in the industry locally and globally, with respect to commercial kitchen design standards which can serve as a guide to designing one. The kitchen functions optimally when the work flow is smooth. The work flow can be executed through different kinds of kitchen configurations:
a) Island Configuration – with a central island and counter space running across the four boundaries surrounding the island. While cooking can be carried out at the center and relevant equipment fitted for that purpose in the island; preparation and daily store needs can be placed in the counters, along with other equipment and washing sinks.
b) Open Configuration – ideally suitable for certain types of businesses such as fast foods, this design places some or all of the back-end-operations in public view, providing a view of preparation and an assurance to consumers on kitchen and staff hygiene and cleanliness.
c) Ergonomic Configuration – This design entails the least possible movement for the staff in carrying out their essential activities, thereby driving efficiency and saving time.
d) Assembly Line Configuration – is configured according to the sequence of activities to be performed to get the final product to the consumer. This is considered highly suitable for servicing large quantities of the same food product, say burgers and sandwiches.
e) Zoning Configuration – Each activity in the kitchen has a designated area. For example: cooking area; preparation area; service counter; storage area (dry, cold, crockery and janitorial); wash area (dishes and pots/pans/utensils); laundry room; personal changing rooms; waste disposal area/room. Each zone, contains all the equipment and supplies required to conduct the activities.
When we commence the whole process of designing a commercial kitchen, it is advisable to define the menu at the outset, as that would be the primary driver in decisions pertaining to equipment and materials purchase. What is the space available to run the kitchen operations is the next relevant point, followed by the local laws and regulations (which have been stated earlier)? This should be followed up by the final decision on an appropriate configuration to enable a smooth work flow.
The kitchen design should encourage a work flow that minimizes the risk of cross-contamination. The ideal progression would be from delivery of raw materials; storage; food preparation; cooking; service to the customer; return of dishes and cleaning and storage of the cleaned utensils and dishes. A clear demarcation and location of these workspaces, with minimal need to cross-over would achieve the highest efficiency with safety and hygiene standards being met. Within each of these areas certain key parameters need to be considered.
The spatial planning commences from where the raw materials/goods from authorized vendors will be received, checked/weighed, recorded and stored. Storage of raw materials, ingredients and all food items would follow FIFO (First in First Out) and FEFO (First Expire First Out). The storage space itself will be determined by the total space available, the menu, volume of business and factors such as separate compartments or rooms for dry stores, cold stores, fresh fruit and vegetables, packaging material, cooking utensils/crockery stores, clothing and personal belongings of staff, waste oil storage, hazardous materials and substances and so on.
The primary preparation and cooking areas come next. One of the best practices is to segregate preparation into meat, poultry, fish, vegetable and dessert preparation. A sink should ideally be available for each of these preparation areas. The preparation area should be placed separate from the cooking area. In a fine-dining restaurant the pick-ups would happen near the cooking area, where a specially designated pick-up point should be arranged independently for chilled (placed in refrigerated cabinets) and warm/hot temperature food items. The service staff should have access only to pick-up points and drop-off points for dishes, with zero contact with other work areas in the kitchen. Ideally a double access way, for entry and exit into and from the kitchen for pick-up and another for drop-off of returned dishes is ideal.
Which brings us to the dishwashing area, where a large drop off area is critical. The area would include sinks with grease traps; pre-rinse hose attached to another sink to scrape off food; racking systems for different types of plates, dishes, utensils. All of the cleaned items should be placed at a considerable distance from the janitorial room/cabinet containing cleaning chemicals, equipment and stores and the waste collection room/area. Similarly, staff changing rooms, toilets, back-door exit points should be at a considerable distance from the cooking, preparation, clean utensils and food store areas.
Food Safety and Handling is a critical component of the kitchen operations. Ready access to temperature devices; maintaining the cold stores at the required temperatures; clear identification of raw products, semi-finished and finished products requiring different temperatures for optimal quality is of the highest importance. This would ensure minimal danger of toxins/infections and guarantee microbiological safety of the food. This component of kitchen operations also includes staff hygiene and protocol in washing hands, using colour-coded kitchen utensils and cutlery for vegetarian and meat preparations. Staff health conditions are to be closely monitored to prevent spread of infections.
Water Supply and Drainage
While we have already touched upon the statutory requirements, the importance of non-contamination cannot be over-emphasized. Water is used in abundance in the operations be it for cooking, making ice, drinking or for cleaning and sanitizing the premises and for fire hydrants.
The drainage system can function optimally only if it is not clogged with solid wastes; when harsh chemicals such as disinfectants and sanitizers don’t enter the drainage system and when grease, fats and oils are not poured down the drain. All of the above prevent natural aerobic bacteria from carrying out the cleaning activity in the drainage network. Following standard waste disposal protocol including proper segregation at source and prudent use of food wastes for energy generation or as compost; recycling materials and sending only the bare minimum to the landfill can all help in meeting kitchen design standards as well fulfil our commitment to the environment. All of this forms a critical part of the kitchen design process.
Equipment, Fittings and Surfaces
Standards specify the use of equipment and fixtures which are non-porous (stainless steel); placing the equipment in a way that enables regular cleaning, sanitizing and maintenance activities and that the equipment should be smooth surfaced, without cracks and crevices that might harbour pests and other insects. Ideally stainless steel for equipment and plastic laminate for food preparation are recommended. Iron, mild steel and timber are best avoided. Walls, floors and touch surfaces similarly should be of a finish that enables cleaning with a spray, paper towels and other cleaning materials. Standard floor materials and colours suitable for kitchen premises are pertinent points to consider. As are appropriate lighting, reducing the risk of glare and hampering operations in the kitchen. Ensuring even distribution of light, keeping in mind required luminance levels (lux) and emergency lighting systems are other areas of focus. Including natural light in the kitchen is highly recommended, though it is well-recognized that artificial lighting will be the main source. Recessed light fittings or surface mounted are recommended as suspended lights generally gather dust. All equipment and lighting systems should be energy efficient; options for green power should be explored; regular maintenance and cleaning of equipment should be undertaken for optimal energy transfer; energy audits and tracking staff energy usage are all useful ways to be environmentally friendly. The minimum prescribed height for the ceiling, accounting for ducting, cooking and storage areas, is to be borne in mind, in the design process as well.
Sinks should be able to accommodate the largest vessel required to be cleaned and provide water at the required temperatures for washing and sanitizing operations. In this regard, the staff needs to keep track of the wash and rinse temperatures. The management should cover this through training and include it in the signages in the kitchen area. All wash basins should be positioned in a way that doesn’t allow water to spill over to surrounding areas causing bacteria to spread.
Prevention of pests is one of the biggest challenges and the design process should take into account factors such as: installing rodent proof strips at entrance doors, self-closing devices on doors, covering vents with mesh; sealing strips to be used on joints; ensure all openings are tightly fitting and installing fly screens; periodical inspection and repair of cracks and crevices and finally ensuring gradation of flooring to avoid water puddles in kitchen areas.
The above suggestions clearly indicate that most, if not all of these can be executed to perfection only if incorporated into the basic kitchen design, rather than an inclusion, when a problem presents itself in actual kitchen operations. Adherence to standard design principles can prevent escalating costs.
Waste Disposal System
The kitchen design must have a detailed plan with respect to waste disposal. Designated colour-coded bins at specific work areas; regular off-loading into the main waste disposal area, situated either behind or outside the kitchen is essential. Segregation at source is of paramount importance – food wastes (preparation and cooking waste and returned dishes waste); fat, oils and grease; recyclable waste and other wastes are the main categories. Back-end vendor tie-ups are important to ensure quick disposal of waste material so that it does not contaminate the kitchen premises. The main waste storage area, for final handover to vendor or further action, should be completely demarcated and ideally far from the clean utensils, cooking, preparation and store areas.
Ventilation is a critical area to maintain the right temperature in the premises, achieving the optimal air balance. While the fumes, smoke, grease and steam are released into the outside atmosphere; it needs to be compensated with fresh and clean air. This can be achieved through natural ventilation – windows, vents and skylight (with vents necessarily being screened to prevent insects from contaminating the air or food). The other option is to use exhaust systems consisting of exhaust hoods and fans; make-up air units and rooftop HVAC, working in a complementary way. The essence of the who process is to maintain an effective air flow pattern within the kitchen. While air replacement through mechanical means, is a great option, its placement away from the exhaust outlet and the surroundings from where it is drawing in the air become important factors.
Signages are important for any food business. Apart from the essential licenses being on display, emergency, hygiene (personal and kitchen), equipment and cleaning chemicals signages are all mandatory for any business and should be displayed in the appropriate places. Fire Safety is a major consideration for such a business, with constant vigilance, regular employee training, availability of emergency evacuation plan, placement of fire extinguishers in main thoroughfare and regular maintenance and servicing of extinguishers being an absolute must. The design of any commercial kitchen should certainly take care of safe and convenient movement around the work areas, allow for safe exit from the workplace and safe access to any area, this includes unobstructed exit routes in case of emergencies.
A projection into the future, can be a very useful device to ascertain an ideal commercial kitchen design for your business. Such an exercise would reveal to us that instead of opting for standard equipment, fitted into pre-designated areas by a technical team, not involved in the kitchen daily operations, it is far more advisable to get the people on the job to give their suggestions. These people would include the head chef and the main supervisors in the kitchen operations. The best approach would be to create a design team consisting of the core kitchen staff, the technical team, architects, key management staff and so on. Specialists in kitchen design are essential to guide a business on best practices apart from bringing in their experience, working with scores of clients. Putting together a neat template of a design based on legal requirements and standards determined by management philosophy and cuisine is the best way to approach a commercial kitchen design!