The science of kitchen ergonomics is founded on principles that aim to thoughtfully design a workspace and streamline the workflow—with the aim of encouraging efficiency, providing comfort, and increasing operations productivity. Its elements balance the movement all around the kitchen.
Ergonomics is concerned with the study of human characteristics and functions called anthropometrics and how it relates to design. It allows for a kitchen staff to complete a task with as minimal steps, bending, reaching, and walking as possible. In order for any restaurant to operate smoothly and to improve on utility costs, production, and staff efficiency, the layout and ergonomics of the kitchen are taken into account.
These small alterations can save time and effort and avoid annoyance, strain, pointless movements, and inconvenience. Ergonomics aims at creating work faster and more pleasant while improving the interface right between the human body and all the things to interact with to get each work done. Aside from this, it eliminates unnecessary risks that can potentially cause an accident.
Develop a flexible interior plan
Having a thoughtfully laid-out kitchen so you don’t have to run a race track to cook meals is ideal. At the same time, it is essential to utilize every square footage of available space without sacrificing workflow and speed. The dispatch area must connect to the food storage area first, then it should lead to the preparation and cooking areas. These should then connect to the serving area. Always remember to keep travel distances short, keep dining and kitchen spaces segregated, ensure to not have crossover circulation paths, and create a layout that perfectly regulates foot traffic with less effort.
Modular and flexible planning allows users more adaptability to their environment. Since the restaurant industry is a dynamic business, adjustable floor plans should also adapt as work circumstances shift. Keep future renovations and various serving styles in mind when designing a layout.
A general rule of thumb is to allow five square feet of kitchen space for every seat in the restaurant, so a 50-seat restaurant needs at least a 250-square-foot kitchen. Consider also the estimated number of staff who need access to the kitchen.
Available space and shape are also an important consideration whether you are building from the ground up or setting up your commercial kitchen in an existing building. A general rule of thumb is to allow five square feet of kitchen space for every seat in the restaurant, so a 50-seat restaurant needs at least a 250-square-foot kitchen.
Consider also the estimated number of staff who needs kitchen access. If your kitchen is multistory, a service lift is ideal but can be costly too but you can use quick-connect hidden passageways as alternative service routes. Window position should also be planned carefully, but take note that it shouldn’t be placed near gas burners so that it will not blow out a flame.
Apply the kitchen work triangle principle
This theory stemmed from industries developing a method, known as “Time and Motion Studies,” for measuring job completion and efficiency during the early part of the 20th century. In the 1940s, a study of kitchen use proposed that it should be organized around the sink, fridge, and stove in close proximity but with enough space around each of the “three corners” that one can carry out tasks.
The three work center points also refer to the cold, humid, and hot areas. Although this was developed in a time before modern appliances were invented, most kitchen layouts are still based around the triangle—food storage, preparation, and cooking needs should be placed in a most efficient distance to minimize traffic through a work zone.
In the 1940s, a study of kitchen use proposed that it should be organized around the sink, fridge, and stove in close proximity but with enough space around each of the “three corners” that one can carry out tasks.
Being the most researched and applied ergonomic principle in design, the Kitchen Work Triangle continues to be the core structure of most kitchen layouts. However, it can still expand and reconfigure according to the requirements of chefs and cooks. Kitchen Work Triangle reduces injuries, stress levels, and fatigue on the body because it optimizes one’s workflow and rationalizes the right distances.
Find the right equipment, ventilation, and lighting
There are five main areas of activity in a kitchen to consider: washing, cooking, prepping, utensils, and storage. Ease of use is what counts when choosing the correct appliances and installations. Lack of natural light or sunlight lamps in the workplace can cause eye strain and can make staff tired easily. Kitchen light should be about 160 lux. Food prep, cooking, and washing areas need around 240 lux. Desert presentation or cake decoration requires 400 to 800 lux. Four hundred lux is the illuminate equivalent of a sunrise or sunset on a clear day.
In an energy-efficient kitchen setup, refrigeration and cooking equipment are kept as far as possible while still being practical. All cooking equipment, with the exception of the microwave, should be strategically placed to maximize the task lighting and ventilation hood. It is integral that ranges, char-broilers, griddles, and fryers have a dedicated kitchen hood or are placed under a centralized larger one as they generate the most heat.
Keep fryers separate from other pieces of cooking equipment and isolate your simmering liquids since they have less heat or effluent. For restaurants with solid fuel cooking appliances that also expose one to dangerous flames and substances with carbon monoxide gas, appropriate ventilation and air circulation plans have to be in place.
Create enough space to ensure smooth workflow
The style and complexity of cooking methods will influence how much space is needed. The area that is most important is the space between hip and shoulder height as anything stored at this height is within reach. It is also good practice to place appliances and kitchen furniture at distance apart to allow free movement while working. The space between two counters should be at least four feet. Allotting the right space is vital to save time and to maintain a smooth-running kitchen especially during peak periods.
Sinks should be placed near the chef’s or staff’s workstations to avoid collision and chaos, but hand washing should be separated from food washing. Placing the compartment sinks near the kitchen entrance allows servers to quickly drop off dirty dishes but it should also be near the storage area to give access to chefs to clean plates.
Master the art of tidying and storing
It is important to have a systematic and orderly kitchen to make staff feel more in control. Considering the practicality and service-oriented nature of the kitchen, it is a necessity to discard things and ingredients that are past their prime. Start by organizing by category like implements for eating, cooking utensils, and food, not by location. Only invest in the equipment or tools that you need. Stack things vertically to save space.
Portable storage units are also recommended to make circulation easy for the staff. Storage area can be split into three parts: non-food storage, dry storage, and colds storage. Cookware and crockery should have dedicated storage either in the pantry or shelves. Store ingredients or items in clear containers so you can already see what is inside.
For the kitchen layout, it is important to keep items close to where they are most used. Do not store food in cupboards that are affected by heat from burners and ovens. Herbs, spices, and cooking oils cannot be placed too near the stove as heat damages these items. As much as possible, keep work surfaces clear and put nothing on the counters or around the sink and stove top because these are oil- and water-splash zones.
Create a space where staff can focus on ease of cleaning and storing as much as on ease of use. Weight is rarely a consideration, but it should be. Store heavy items between hip and shoulder height to avoid overstretching. The lightest items can be placed in the least accessible cabinets—those above the head or below the knee.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 16 No. 1