Sure you have all of the latest kitchen equipment, but without the right sinks and tables, you're sunk. Here's what you need to know to buy sinks and tables.
Sinks, tables, counters and shelves are not especially glamorous or sexy, but they are essential to every restaurant. Every operation, no matter how small, has at least one work table and sink. As functioning pieces of kitchen equipment, tables and sinks are often overlooked, but so much of everything else that happens in the kitchen depends on these items that it pays to select them carefully.
Having a variety of sinks is essential to every kitchen. Most are made of stainless steel and are bought in different sizes to fit the specific purpose of the unit. In fact, every kitchen should have at least six sinks — each with a different purpose — to meet typical sanitation requirements. The first sink to consider is a mop sink. These sinks can be floor mounted for ease when dumping mop buckets. Typically these units are at least 24" × 24" or larger to accommodate mops and mop buckets. Also, typically you'll want this sink in its own room for sanitation.
Next is your clean-up sink or pot and utensil sink. This unit must consist of three individual sink compartments to meet the requirements of your local health department. The first sink is for soaking and washing with detergents. The second compartment is for fresh water for rinsing and the third sink is for sanitizing. Sink sanitizing can be done using a chemical additive or a special sink heater to maintain water temperature at 180 degrees. Health department inspectors generally say the sinks should be large enough to hold your largest item to be washed. If you're using 18" × 26" sheet pans in your restaurant, the sinks will need to be slightly larger than that dimension.
Another typical requirement is drain boards. They will come in handy on each end of the three sink compartments. Drainboards should be at least as wide as your sinks, twice the width, if you can fit it.
The next required sink type is a general utility sink. This can be the sink used for rinsing produce, for filling water pitchers or any number of other functions. We typically like to see about an 18" × 18" sink built into a worktable, but other configurations will work.
The last sink type is very important to sanitation in every operation — the hand sink. None of the above sinks can double as a hand sink. A hand sink is specifically for washing hands. Every operation will need at least one and maybe more. The general requirement is that a hand sink must be within 20 feet of any food-handling point in your kitchen. Unlike the utility sink, a hand sink cannot be part of another table and must be separated from food processing functions. Also, don't forget that you will need an accessible soap and towel dispenser in close proximity to each hand sink.
Tables and counters
Both are a necessity in every operation. A worktable is a stainless top with legs and structural bracing and perhaps an under shelf. A work counter has the same sort of top as a table, but a box- type base with multiple shelves, cabinets, refrigerated compartments or other features underneath. Counters generally rest on six- or eight-inch-high legs, just high enough to clean under. The worktop of both the counter and table is generally 34” to 36” above the floor. This has been found to be a comfortable working height for standing employees.
Work tables and counters are available in a wide variety of sizes from a large number of manufacturers. Some offer “buy-out” tables that are made and stocked in a variety of standardized sizes. An unusual size or shape requirement can be accommodated by a custom-fabricated piece. It's not always the case that custom fabricated is more expensive than standard items. Cost really depends on the item, so it's best to compare before buying. Often custom equipment can improve kitchen efficiency and help the layout function. Mixing styles of equipment based on specific requirements is often the most beneficial route for the purchaser.
Work table construction is the most important factor in determining the amount of use and abuse an item can stand up to and still function. Most foodservice work tables or counters and their components are made of stainless steel. Thickness of the stainless steel used is a very important factor in how rugged a table will be. Stainless steel thickness is measured by its “gauge,” with a smaller number being a thicker sheet. Welding, bracing and reinforcing of shelves, tops and other components also determine a table's strength.
Work tables and counters for heavy-duty use are usually constructed with 14-gauge stainless steel tops, 16-gauge horizontal shelf surfaces and 18-gauge vertical body and liner parts. Lighter-duty tables, perfectly suitable for many uses, usually have 16-gauge tops. Bracing and reinforcing under the top can be just as important as the top thickness in determining durability. There are all types of bracing and stainless gauges available in buy-out tables.
The type of stainless steel is also important. Not all stainless steel is equally stainless. “300 series” stainless steel, containing a chromium and nickel blend, is more stain resistant than the “400 series” stainless, which is less expensive and more commonly used in light duty and residential applications. Although they look alike, you can always tell the difference because 400-series stainless is magnetic while 300-series is not.
Work tables and counters can be purchased with a variety of options and accessories. Among the most popular are under shelves, sinks and over shelves. Under shelves and over shelves are often handy and will increase kitchen storage space without increasing floor area. Remember to leave out shelving under tables where rolling equipment needs to be stored, and also don't choose over shelves where tall equipment such as coffee urns may be positioned.
Stainless steel drawers are a popular option. Many people find drawers handy for storing small articles and utensils, while others feel drawers are merely a collection spot for junk and dirt. Counter bases can have refrigerated compartments or heated shelves that can be custom-built to the precise size needed. Buy-out undercounter refrigerators and hot cabinets can also be mounted under the work top, sometimes saving money. Other compartments for controls or compressors may be located where needed for easy access.
Ultimately, you must determine the type of work table or sink that is right for you, and the trade-off of cost and value. Most importantly, you must select and arrange units that are best for your specific application. Choosing particular units that meet your operational needs best will ultimately make your establishment work smoothly and help your staff do the best job it can.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at email@example.com or 301-926-8181.