Cleaning the Open Kitchen

by Katie Lee

As more restaurants display open kitchens, cleaning those kitchens does require a different approach.

By Matt Morrison

One of the “in” restaurants at the moment in Chicago is located in a large, downtown hotel. According to the hotel’s website, this restaurant is “chic, has a contemporary atmosphere, and stunning panoramic views of downtown Chicago.” And while it has also won accolades for the food served, one of the big reasons it is so popular is because it has, what is called in the restaurant business an “open kitchen.”

An open kitchen is a setup in which the kitchen is fully visible to all customers. According to an article in Time magazine, the open kitchen concept was born in major cities such as New York, where chefs cooked within view of diners, due primarily to space constraints. Since then, TV chefs have become TV celebrities and open kitchens have become a stage set.

“Diners grew obsessed with celebrity chefs and the creative ways fresh and exotic ingredients were being combined. Consumers increasingly came to view the flames and steam and clattering in the kitchen as part of the ‘show’ of dining out,” according to the Time article.1

However, the concept has spread beyond “chic,” cramped restaurants. Many casual and fast food restaurants now have open kitchens as well. According to some observers, this is the result of reports about unsanitary kitchens in these restaurants.

“Expect more restaurants to follow the trend of open kitchens as a sign to customers that they have nothing to hide,” says Eric Giandelone, director of food research at Mintel, a market research firm. “Restaurants need to proactively embrace this new era of openness, not resist it.” 2

Well, if restaurants need to “proactively embrace” this new era of open kitchens, and open kitchens are part of the “show” when dining out, this means they have to be clean and look their best. While there are not many things cleaning professionals can do while the “stars” are on stage in the kitchen, there are many things they can do to make sure this center of attraction is looking its very best.

Making the Kitchen “Cleaning Friendly”

Open kitchen cleaning requires teamwork and the first team involved are the chefs, cooks and kitchen staff. It is their job to make the kitchen “cleaning friendly.” One way this is accomplished is by having the kitchen crew clean up as they go. This is not typically practiced in an enclosed kitchen, one that is not viewed by the public.

Further, the kitchen staff must make sure the following has been implemented before the cleaning crew even walks in the door:

  • All food items are placed in refrigerators, put away or placed in trash containers.
  • Waste containers should be emptied and free of trash liners; often trash cans are included in the nightly cleaning.
  • All equipment, cutlery, cutting boards and cooking utensils used by the kitchen staff must be cleaned and put away.
  • All cooking surfaces must be cleared and cleaned (often this is done by setup cooks).
  • Ensure the cleaning crew has quick and easy access to all soiled areas; this may mean that some work stations may need to be moved, folded, or put away.

Essentially, what we are asking is that the kitchen staff make it as easy as possible for the cleaning workers to perform their duties. Cleaning a commercial kitchen, open or not, is a tough job. These steps make the process a bit easier.

Wall and Floor Cleaning Techniques

The way commercial kitchens are cleaned has evolved over the years. The old methods usually meant a foodservice kitchen was cleaned in many of the same ways a home kitchen was cleaned. That’s no longer feasible.

The problem is that these old methods are time-consuming — which means costly — and not that effective. They are not effective because cleaning workers are often pressured to get the kitchen clean as quickly as possible. So they typically do not “rotate out” cleaning cloths and mops as often as they should, which get soiled very fast. As the cloths and mops are used, they soon start spreading as many of these soils from counter surfaces, floors and walls as they collect.

Because floors and walls are the primary concern when cleaning any foodservice kitchen and very necessary in an open kitchen, a more effective cleaning routine would include the following steps:

Scrape cleaning. A food brush or deck brush should be used to scrape solid matter from walls and floors throughout the kitchen. Do not forget high areas. Remember, the entire open kitchen is a stage set. A degreaser can be used to help facilitate the cleaning process.

Dry cleaning. All debris and solid particles are swept from the floors. At one time, many cleaning professionals used significant amounts of water to remove solid debris. They hosed down the floor. This process is costly, wasteful and does not use water efficiently.3

Wet cleaning. Cleaning solution is applied to floors, walls and other surfaces to be cleaned using an indoor pressure washer, often referred to as a no-touch cleaning system. The worker never touches surfaces that are being cleaned. With this system, cleaning solution is applied to surfaces and then the same areas are high pressure washed to loosen and remove soils. The process uses water much more precisely and efficiently. The moisture and soils are then vacuumed up by the machine. Some systems have wide area squeegees that can be attached to the vacuum hose to high speed the wet vacuuming.

Putting on the Shine

One of the final and most important steps for the cleaning crew is to clean the stainless. Stainless steel is used throughout a commercial kitchen, but in an open kitchen, it is designed to add a little pizzazz, usually with specially installed lighting systems. Some of the most important steps to remember when cleaning stainless steel are the following:

  • Use cleaning solutions designed specifically for cleaning stainless steel; all-purpose cleaners or window cleaners should not be used.
  • It is best to use a clean microfiber cleaning cloth and be gentle; avoid the use of scrapers, brushes or steel wool.
  • Stainless steel usually has a “grain,” or direction to it that you can see. Look for the lines and wipe the surface in the direction of the lines.

Finally, and one of the most important steps in making sure an open kitchen looks its best is not the walls, the floors, or the stainless, but the kitchen staff. Because customers watch them working, the staff must pay particular attention to their personal hygiene, their appearance, the shoes they wear, and the cleanliness of their uniforms. Just as with the celebrity chefs on TV, they are the stars of the show and must look the part.


1 Nothing to Hide: Why Restaurants Embrace the Open Kitchen by Brad Tuttle, Time magazine, August 20, 2012

2 The Seven Trends of 2011, by Jordan Melnick, QSR magazine, January 2011

3 We use water efficiently when we do not overuse it or use water unnecessarily. Hosing down floors to remove debris is an example of using water unnecessarily.


Matt Morrison is communications manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch Cleaning® system.

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