Sinks, worktables or counters are the workhorses of any kitchen. Here's what you need to know to buy them.
Tables and sinks are often overlooked, but so much of everything else in the kitchen depends on these items, so it pays to select them carefully.
Every kitchen should have at least six sinks to meet typical sanitation requirements. The first sink to consider is the mop sink. These sinks can be floor mounted for ease of use with mop buckets. They are usually 24" × 24" or 36" × 36" to accommodate mops and mop buckets. This sink often has its own room for sanitation.
Next is a 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 for fresh water for rinsing and the third for sanitizing. Sink sanitizing can be done by a chemical additive or by using a special sink heater to raise and maintain water temperature at 180 degrees. Most often, operators opt for the chemical sanitizer, usually a diluted quaternary ammonium product.
Health department inspectors generally say sinks should be large enough to hold your largest item to be washed. Another typical requirement is drainboards at each end of the three compartments. Drainboards should be at least as wide as sinks and twice the width if possible.
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. A hand sink must be a separate purpose-built sink. Every operation needs at least one hand sink; generally one must must be within 20 feet of any food handling point in the kitchen. Unlike the utility sink, a hand sink cannot be part of another table and must be separated from food processing functions. Also, you'll need an accessible soap and towel dispenser near each hand sink.
Tables & Counters
Tables and counters are constructed differently and have different functions. 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. The worktops of both are generally 34" to 36" above the floor.
Construction is the most important factor in determining the amount of use and abuse an item can withstand. Most foodservice worktables or counters and their components are made of stainless steel, and the thickness of that steel used determines 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. Worktables 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.
Worktables and counters can be purchased with a variety of options and accessories, including under-shelves, sinks and over-shelves. Under- and over-shelves are often handy and increase kitchen storage space without increasing floor area. Don't buy shelving under tables where rolling equipment is stored, and don't buy over-shelves where tall equipment, such as coffee urns, may be positioned.
Drawers are also popular. Many people find drawers handy for storing small articles and utensils. Counter bases can have refrigerated compartments or heated shelves that can be custom built into the counter to the precise size needed. Buy-out under-counter refrigerators and hot cabinets can also be mounted under the worktop to save money. Other compartments for controls or compressors for items in the counter may be located where needed for easy access.
Dan Bendall (301-233-5226 ) is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities.