Choosing Between Restaurant Kitchen Layouts

Choosing Between Restaurant Kitchen Layouts

New restaurant owners or others who are upgrading to a new space or building a new kitchen may have quite a few questions about the best ways to use their resources to set up for day-to-day cooking activities. How do you get the best layout for a new kitchen installation?

This guide will go over some of the basics, including the major elements of restaurant layout, as well as different models that can act as guidelines. We’ll also talk about some of the principles and things to consider when you're approaching this kind of project.

Key Elements of Restaurant Design and Layout

The following elements are the building blocks of a kitchen layout. The typical kitchen needs all of these to function well and needs these areas to be combined and created according to the needs of the people who will be working there.

Storage Stations

When you're approaching storage, think in terms of both cold and dry storage for food, as well as an area for non-food storage, including cleaning supplies, cleaned dishes, glassware, and any disposables or take-out supplies that you'll need to store on a regular basis.

When you've separated all of the non-food storage into neat zones, take a look at your cold and dry storage capacity. Cold storage is usually accomplished with a walk-in refrigerated space where you can keep meat and other perishables neatly organized and labeled. Dry storage involves all of those less perishable food items like beans, rice, flour, and others that can be kept at room temperature. Adequate shelving is important to avoid boxes and containers being stacked on the floor.

Food Prep Stations

Your food preparation areas are also important. Think about where you will position washing sinks for produce and other raw ingredients, along with areas for handling raw meat. Other areas can involve countertop spaces where staff will be cutting, sorting and organizing ingredients for the table.

Cooking Stations

This area is the heart of your kitchen operation, and it's important to put a lot of thought into design.

Typically, the kitchen will center around your collection of ranges, ovens, and other related restaurant equipment. Think about separating or combining grilling and frying spaces, along with spaces for baking or enclosed cooking operations. Many restaurants have additional cooking stations for ‘finishing’ food with a cheese melter, salamander, or some other piece of specific heating equipment.

Service Area

This part of your kitchen is the ‘destination’ to which the finished plates will go.

It's actually a very important part of the restaurant layout and design. If you're operating a self-service buffet, this decision is simpler – you'll want to have a clear space towards the food warmer trays situated in the front of the house, so that staff can easily move back and forth with hot steaming trays of finished food.

On the other hand, if you're operating a traditional à la carte restaurant, you'll need to have a delivery space that's set up for expediting and efficient service. One of the worst things for a busy kitchen is to have finished foods sitting in the delivery area, instead of going directly and immediately to the tables. With that in mind, you'll need adequate space to make the delivery area a prominent part of your kitchen.

Cleaning Area

The cleaning area is a more obscure part of the kitchen. It's not something people might think of right away – but it's also critically important.

One big tip in designing and laying out your cleaning area is to make it an easy drop-off zone that's somewhat set apart from the rest of the kitchen.

Think about people being able to quickly move by the cleaning area and dump all the dirty stuff – not only plates and glasses, but knives and utensils and cookware and pots and pans – and then move back into the active cooking space unencumbered by these extra pieces of baggage.

We've learned that's one of the best tips for designing an excellent kitchen layout: to carefully position areas like cleaning and delivery from areas like food prep and cooking.

Common Restaurant Layout Examples

Now let's talk a little bit about what brave restaurant managers have done before you.

Yes, we have some particular models that people often use when they consider what they want out of the kitchen.

Let's go over these in a bit of detail and you can apply them to your own design and layout plan.

The Assembly Line Model

This is an ideal setup for many service line kitchens where chefs and staff are cranking out identical plates for dozens and dozens of diners.

It's kind of just what it sounds like – in the assembly line, the prep cook and service areas are situated in a straight line, with cleaning, storage and other areas set behind the line, and delivery at the end.

This is advantageous for being able to move food down the line quickly, but accommodating cleaning and other processes can be an issue.

The Island Model

Here, all of the essential stuff is in the middle of the kitchen. Your free motion lane is around the outside. So chefs going in to actively cook will be attacking their work at the center of the kitchen; likewise for people taking food out of a walk-in or sending dirty items to the dishwasher.

The consolidation of the island style model is attractive to some planners.

Zone-Style or Galley Kitchen Layout

Essentially, the zone-style layout keeps each of the parts of the kitchen in its own space, combining them in a relatively open plan.

Some planners talk about the ‘inverted Island’ concept where zone-style models put all of the gear against the walls, and the middle area of the kitchen is an open area for people to navigate. Others talk about a galley style model that is similar where all of the gear may be against one or two walls, again leaving the middle area free. If your staff can navigate that middle area well and move from one station to another, these types of models are great. Otherwise, you might want a different option.

The Open Kitchen

The open kitchen model is very appealing to a lot of diners. Visitors are impressed by a clean and modern open kitchen that works well. The idea is that they can see directly into the area where the food is being prepared and cooked.

For best results, it's advisable to have your food prep and cooking areas more prominent than, say, your cleaning and storage areas. People might see someone take something out of the walk-in, but that shouldn't be the center view. The chefs and prep cooks and staff doing their thing should be on display, and your staff should be up to the challenge.

Fundamental Considerations for Restaurant Layout

Now that you've pondered all of the above layout choices, let's talk about the principles that support these types of kitchen design.

First, there’s space efficiency. No matter what model you use, it's unavoidable – you have to have enough space for the volume of cooking that you're going to do, and enough space around gear and stations for the number of staff that you have to easily move. As soon as people don't have a motion lane of three or more feet in a particular direction, you run into problems.

Flexibility and Modularity

As we mentioned, the principle of efficiency is important, but in order to maintain this as things change, you may need a more flexible kitchen layout. That means selecting portable equipment over fixed installations, being able to move countertops and other infrastructure as needed, and having some built-in extra space that you can expand into as you grow. This involves some preplanning, but it can be worth it for a thriving restaurant.

Sanitation and Safety

Let's talk a little bit about the principle that many feel is most important to restaurant operation. Sanitation and safety is the difference between a stellar kitchen that serves happy diners and a restaurant that's embroiled in ugly scandals regarding dirty food, illness, and contagion.

Put simply, you don't want to be that latter restaurant. Two key provisions help to promote sanitation and safety. One is having correct organization and labeling of all your components. Another is having the best layout, and having sufficient space, so that people can see what they're doing and understand the difference between various kitchen stations.


New technology can also help you as you plan your restaurant layout. For example, some of the things we mentioned above, like salamanders and specific oven heaters, can be stacked on top of more traditional equipment to save space.


Above all, your kitchen layout should stress ergonomics, and that should determine some of your planning, including vertical planning.

State occupational health and safety agencies often talk about ergonomics as important for worker safety. Chefs and line cooks are no exception – with poorly installed equipment, repetitive motion injuries can damage their health and cause the restaurant extreme amounts of cost and liability.


“Keep it simple” is a mantra you might hear in the restaurant business. Of course, you need sufficient sophistication and design in order to accomplish your cooking plans. But when you go back to some of these basic layout designs, simplicity is central. You're making sure that people have the right idea of what is where, and how everything works during extremely busy table service.

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