Commercial Kitchen Design: The Ultimate How-To Guide

Commercial kitchens used for business must follow health and safety codes.

Commercial kitchen design is determined by two things. The first is defining the purpose of your kitchen, whether it's to cater to a business venture or for personal use only. The second is making sure you're in compliance with your state and local health department laws and rules when the kitchen is being used for a business.

Plan Your Commercial Kitchen Design

You need to plan your kitchen before you start any construction or remodeling. Sit down and write out all the things for which you wish to use your kitchen. If you're opening a business, will you be working with a limited menu of items or will you be a full-service kitchen? These are important questions because the answers will determine what kind of equipment you'll need to purchase.

Select Your Kitchen Equipment

Once you've decided on the kind of kitchen you're creating, you need to select the equipment. Use the guidelines provided to you by the health department and make sure you adhere to those requirements.

Make a list of the necessary equipment and research vendors to get the best price and service for the product. Also be certain you really need those items on your list. Resist getting caught up in the excitement of creating your kitchen and overspending.

Ask yourself if that top of the line high-tech piece of equipment is necessary to get your food cooked and served. If it isn't, depending on how strict your budget is, you may need to step down to the next model that costs a little less. Top of the line equipment typically means faster and better cooking and baking times. It's a personal choice based on need and budget.

Make sure you have the correct connections for your appliances such as water, gas and electric.

Create a Functional Floor Plan

This is the most important stage of creating your commercial kitchen. Take time to think this process through. Imagine yourself in the space every day. Think about how you work and need to move about the room. Consider which pieces of equipment you need close to each other. Focus on the details and small things that make a work area functional, efficient and easy.

Create a food preparation area away from cooking area.

Preparation Area

Work tables and holding stations considerations will determine the size and placement of this important area in your kitchen.

  • Work tables are often made of stainless steel in order to meet health code requirements for sanitation and cleaning regulations. This is where the chefs will work to chop, slice, peel, cut and prepare foods to be cooked. These are typically located in the center of the kitchen away from the actual cooking area to keep kitchen traffic flowing properly.
  • Holding stations include refrigerators and heating drawers and cabinets. They are usually placed in corners to be out of the way of kitchen activity. They are arranged in an assembly line layout with the refrigerator(s) being first since this is where most of the food is stored. The food will then be prepared, cooked and, finally, returned to the assembly line in the holding station's heated cabinets or drawers until time to serve.

Cooking Area

Choosing your stove and cooking range is a personal decision, but it will be governed by design, function and health codes. Gas is the favorite choice of professional chefs because the heat is directly controlled by the flame and provides a faster heating process. Whatever style you choose, make sure the stove has the proper ventilation and that placement will not interrupt the work going on in the kitchen.

Food Service Area

Plating up space for your delicious creations is an important area. Don't underestimate how much space you actually need to accommodate this activity.

Washing Up Area

You will want to locate this area as close as possible to the dining room so dirty dishes can be cleared away quickly and placed in the dishwasher. Clean, unloaded dishes can then go directly from the dishwasher to the tables in the restaurant or into the cabinets of your home.

Other Design Elements and Considerations


Commercial Kitchen

You'll want adequate air flow in the cooking area as well as the area where you'll be washing and cleaning up since a kitchen emits gas, heat and steam. Some ventilation systems are wall- or ceiling-mounted while others are designed for installation within an island. Spend extra time understanding the grease filters available for your chosen system.


Safety and health regulations will narrow your choices for styles and types of flooring. Sheet vinyl is a popular option because it contains no seams for bacteria to grow and can be quickly mopped and dried. For a home, hardwood is another popular choice and with modern finishes, it is easy to mop. Rubber flooring is a good non-slip floor choice.

Cabinets and Countertops

Refer back to your original list of needs and function and your kitchen layout when choosing both of these. Stainless steel countertops and sinks are typical requirements of the health department for commercial kitchens. You'll want to double check your local codes.

Allow for ample storage but don't go overboard and create so much storage you feel compelled to fill it with utensils, pots and pans you'll never use. Balance is the key to a successful design.


Good lighting is imperative to your work station and overall kitchen design. Without proper lighting, accidents and mistakes can happen. Spend time selecting the lighting for your new kitchen.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are vital equipment and are required by health and safety codes. These will be inspected on a regular basis as well, including the evaluation for your sanitation grade.

Where to Buy Elements of Your Commercial Kitchen

Commercial Kitchen

Appliances, cabinets and counters for commercial kitchens are typically larger than those used in most homes, so you may not find what you're looking for at your typical dealer. Check these suppliers for the components you need.

A City Discount

A City Discount offers everything you need for your commercial kitchen, from ovens and vents to tables and work surfaces. They offer both new and used equipment, which is important; commercial appliances and features can often cost twice what a residential item will, so consider something gently used to save money.


CKitchen offers commercial equipment and kitchen appliances. They carry rolling work tables that can help you save space, as well as all the appliances and equipment you'll need to make your kitchen a success.

Short Order

Short Order offers professional restaurant equipment, tables, appliances and cabinets at competitive prices. They carry everything for kitchens, bars and specialty areas as well.

Food Service Warehouse

If you're working with a designer or a builder, consider looking at Food Service Warehouse for your equipment, appliances and counters. They offer wholesale pricing and professional discounts.

Commercial Kitchen Building Codes

Before you begin to design a commercial kitchen, pay a visit to your town hall. Not only do residential kitchens have building codes and regulations for space and safety to follow, commercial kitchens have them as well. In fact, commercial kitchens may be governed by even more building codes, simply because food is prepared there for others to eat.

Building codes will vary from state to state, and from town to town in some areas, so always check before you begin. A few examples of the codes you may encounter include:

  • Keeping a minimum of 1200mm of clearance in front of storage areas
  • Equipment that can either be completely moved for cleaning, or built right into the walls so there is nowhere for mice or vermin to hide
  • Lights that are recessed or surface-mounted onto the ceiling to avoid collecting dust, which could contaminate food
  • Flooring with no seams, or joints that have been filled with epoxy grout to avoid absorbing food and bacteria

Work With a Designer

With so many codes, spatial planning and special equipment to keep track of, hiring a designer who specializes in commercial kitchens can be tremendously helpful. To find a designer in your area, start by contacting the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). They can put you in touch with qualified and certified designers in your area who know the codes you need to pass. The NKBA can also help you plan out your kitchen yourself with the use of their free materials, planners and inspiration gallery. Unless you only plan to cook for yourself, however, make sure you at least run any plans past a certified designer first to ensure you pass all the relevant codes.

Don't Forget Color and Style

Now that you have the required essentials selected, you need to focus on color and style for your new commercial kitchen design. These components will need to come last after you select the type of cabinets and flooring that are allowed by code, but they can still carry a lot of weight behind them in how your kitchen presents to the world.

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Commercial Kitchen Design: The Ultimate How-To Guide