Expert Michael Jones's tips on how to design a safe commercial kitchen

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Setting up a commercial kitchen takes two things: great planning, and plenty of experience.

For many first-time business owners in the hospitality industry, they won’t have either of those things. Rushing ahead to build or renovate a kitchen without help from an expert will undoubtedly cost your business significant money before it even opens to the public.

Always on the lookout for ways we can help would-be business owners succeed, we sat down with a kitchen fit-out expert to ask for the top six tips when it comes to creating a commercial kitchen.

Michael Jones is the owner and operator of Commercial Kitchen Design, based out of Queensland, Australia. Having worked with hundreds of businesses in his time, Michael knows the common mistakes hospitality business owners make, as well as the quick and easy ways to avoid them. However, Michael has also spent much of his life as a chef – meaning that all of his advice comes from someone who knows what works in a practical sense, too.

“A lot of new business owners think that it’s all about finding the cheapest fridge, or the best value equipment,” says Michael, “but ignore how much the setup of a kitchen can cost if not planned correctly.”

He estimates that a mere 25% of budget goes on equipment costs, whilst 75% is eaten up in building and labour costs. Michael points out that it’s hugely important to put in the same time and energy into your planning stages, than it is to buying up on equipment and decor.

Michael has six main areas in a kitchen that he says you should consider when it comes to creating a safe cooking space: floors, walls, ceilings, plumbing, waste, and ventilation.

#1: Floors

Slippery, dirty, or greasy floors are going to be a major hazard for your kitchen staff. You can avoid dangerous floors three ways, says Michael: correct drainage, an anti-slip coating, and food-grade surface.

“Your kitchen should have at the very least five to six drainage points,” says Michael, “and if they don’t already exists, you will have to lift up the flooring, dig trenches, and reseal the floor – which is extremely expensive.”

And that’s not just a design suggestion, either – it’s legislation that you must have a certain amount of drainage in a commercial kitchen setup.

#2: Walls

The walls of your kitchen must be smooth and impervious to stains, says Michael, using easy-to-clean surfaces such as stainless steel, tiling, or washable painted surfaces. You better believe that splashes of food and grease build up will mean cleaning down your kitchen walls on a regular basis.

Storage is another important consideration in your kitchen wall design – but don’t be tempted to lock everything away as you might in a domestic kitchen!

“In commercial kitchens, we avoid cupboards at all costs,” says Michael. “You want to go for open storage that easy to clean, easy to see into, and provides quick access for the equipment.”

He also points out that open cupboards will help you avoid vermin such as rats and cockroaches, who like dark and dry spaces.

#3: Ceilings

Look up – have you ever considered the ceiling of your kitchen? Probably not!

“You want to make sure you have the correct lighting,” says Michael.

“And that includes the housing for the lighting – correct fixtures, correct covering, all to Australian standards including the lux calculation of the lighting. You need correct light housing so they’re easy to keep clean and don’t have cobwebs and insects.”

There are legal commercial standards in regards to lighting for your food prep areas, so make sure you check in with your local council before installing any.

#4: Plumbing

Michael says that any commercial kitchen must have the following points of plumbing: a handbasin, a food prep sink, two dishwashing sinks, a dishwasher, a cleaning sink for your mop, and several floor drainage points.

“All of these points need to be part of the ‘hydraulic plan’ that is submitted to council, along with your building plans,” says Michael. “You can’t have one without the other, and the builders won’t be able to start without both. This is why forward planning is so important!”

If you’re applying for a food service license, you’ll need to have that hydraulic plan ready and prepared, too.

#5: Trade waste facilities

Michael says that a common mistake for new business owners is assuming that their trade waste requirements will be the same as the previous owner. An expensive mistake to make, says Michael.

“Part of your standard plumbing is called ‘trade waste’,” he explains, “it means the correct drainage for food waste such as grease or food products. A lot of people get in to sign a lease without evening checking it has trade waste approval for a food business.”

If you’re signing a lease, says Michael, you need to be checking that trade waste facilities have been put in place for your type of food business. A fish and chip shop, for example, will have a different output and type of trade waste than a standard coffee shop.

#6: Mechanical ventilation

More than just windows or open spaces in your kitchen, you must also factor in mechanical ventilation. Smoke will need to be removed with mechanical air vents that will act as both an air purifier and an exhaust fan.

Just as other parts of your kitchen, the number and location of mechanical fans will depend on the type of cooking you are anticipating.

So who should a small business owner be speaking with, when considering these elements of safe kitchen design?

“Food service consultants like myself will be the most help,” says Michael, “but you could speak to some catering dealers that are bordering on design and shopfitting can do some good plans.”

Given the importance of knowing the most up-to-date local legislation on commercial kitchen fitouts, however, Michael recommends spending the extra money to employ the experts during the planning process. Those who don’t, he explains, may feel like they are saving money in the start – but end up leaking money during the building.

“Some customers will go ahead with what’s on the back of a napkin,” says Michael.

“And the layout of what they want to do is usually OK. They know what they want to cook, and how they’re going to do it – but they overlook all the important issues like the plumbing, the electrical, all the inside type of things.”

At this point, he says, they will have to deal ad hoc with the tradespeople, “sorting it out as you go – which really adds up in wasted time and money.”

From the expert to those just starting out: take your time, plan carefully, and look at everything from your ceilings to your floors when it comes to creating a safe commercial kitchen.

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