The Whole Kitchen Caboodle

by Katie Lee

The importance of proper shelving and organization in a restaurant space, and tips and techniques for making your commercial kitchen an efficient workspace.

By Joe Schodowski

In restaurants, commercial kitchens and other public food storage and preparation areas, proper organization behind the scenes can be a difference-maker in ensuring not only a safe and efficient workplace, but also a positive customer experience that leads to repeat business. Achieving that type of order can be a daunting task, however.

The right organizational infrastructure must address a number of different priorities. Employees need to be able to move through the kitchen in a logical manner to work efficiently and avoid delays, certain foods need to be stored at specific temperatures, and others must be kept separate to avoid cross-contamination for customers with food allergies. Poor storage design can impact the functionality of a commercial kitchen, and improper cataloguing in the freezer can lead to expired food that has to be thrown out. Fortunately, proper organization and storage can help make sure these potential issues are kept at bay.

Canned Food RackWhether opening a new restaurant or upgrading an existing foodservice operation, restaurateurs, manager and other decision-makers would be wise to familiarize themselves with the right organizational equipment, as well as the innovative designs, tips and best practices they can use to maximize space, safety and efficiency.

Priorities and Efficiencies

The right equipment and design/layout, which takes into account cleanliness, health and hygiene, as well as efficiency and accessibility, are critically important pieces of the puzzle both for food storage and restaurant kitchen organization and operation. The right storage system should make it possible for restaurant employees to quickly and easily get their hands on the right ingredients at the right time. In the high-pressure, controlled-chaos environment of a busy kitchen, small efficiencies of space and access can make an enormous difference to food quality, prep and cooking time, and, ultimately, the overall customer experience.

Off the Shelf

The first, and perhaps most important, issue is ensuring that your restaurant/commercial kitchen is utilizing the right shelving and storage fixtures. All products should be NSF-certified for food storage and preparation. You might also need very different shelving solutions for areas that routinely get splashed with water or accumulate condensation, in which case rust-proof or water-resistant storage/shelving should be used, for example.

Other shelving and storage characteristics to consider include:

Strength and Durability

The durability and weight-bearing properties of shelving are especially important in commercial food storage. The load capacity of a shelving unit might seem fairly straightforward, but when you are storing liquids, for example, product can get very heavy very quickly. A large pot of soup and some salad dressing containers can put a significant strain on a shelf. As more plastic and composite shelving becomes popular, the maximum weight that can be safely stored on a given shelf becomes even more important.

Durability is also an issue. When investing in a shelving/storage solution, try to have a long term perspective, and consider what type of warranty you are comfortable with. Warranties can vary from a few years to a lifetime.

Mobility and Flexibility

Mobility and flexibility are enormously important in commercial food storage and preparation. Many restaurants change their menus regularly. Those changes, along with seasonal variability in terms of both ingredients and the number of diners you are catering to on a daily basis can have a dramatic impact on the type and volume of the food that needs to be stored. For those reasons, the ability to modify or adapt your storage and shelving layout as circumstances change can be enormously valuable, and selecting shelving products with the right degree of modularity and interchangeability should be a priority.

Environmental / Temperature Tolerance

The unique demands of a commercial kitchen can place some correspondingly dramatic strains on your storage and shelving infrastructure. A wheeled cart might go from the sub-zero environment of a walk-in freezer to the 100-plus-degree heat of the grill area — and back again — in the course of an evening. Make sure that your storage and shelving is capable of withstanding such a wide range of temperatures.

Washable ShelvesMaintenance and Cleanliness

Cleanliness and food safety are obviously key priorities for any restaurant, and choosing storage and shelving that is easy to maintain and keep clean is therefore critical. Shelving specifically designed for the restaurant industry often includes convenient features such as removable plastic panels that can be taken off and washed, and even run through the dishwasher. You may also want to consider shelving that has been treated with Microban coating or has some other form of antimicrobial/bacteria-resistant properties.

Design Considerations

The layout and design of your restaurant kitchen shelving and storage infrastructure can make an enormous difference in the safety, efficiency and utility of the space. While industry regulations mostly apply more commonly to food preparation areas and not specifically to food storage, it makes sense to store common allergy-inducing foods, like shellfish and nuts, in specially designated areas and in a manner that eliminates concerns about cross-contamination.

Functional efficiency is also a high priority for any working kitchen. Shelving solutions in and around workstations should store ingredients in a way that makes them easily accessible to line cooks and other kitchen workers. Ideally, everything should be within arms reach, which is often only possible if shelving is designed with space utilization and workspace efficiency in mind. That might mean shelves built into a table or work surface, making full use of vertical space, or using mobile storage units that can be positioned precisely where (and when) they are needed.

Specially designed shelving units can make a dramatic difference. Pentagon shelves in the corners of a walk-in freezer, for example, can add a tremendous amount of usable shelf space in an area that is among the most expensive places to store food. Mobile aisle systems with wheeled shelves on tracks that can be pushed together and moved to the side can deliver space savings of up to 60% over comparable non-mobile shelving units.

Ultimately, the right layout, design and storage and shelving materials can help a busy restaurant operate safely and efficiently, saving time and money, and ensuring that both the quality of the food and the overall dining experience are truly exceptional.


— Joe Schodowski serves as CEO of Shelving, Inc., a second-generation family-owned provider of shelving and storage solutions for businesses in a variety of industries. Visit for more information.

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