Choosing the Right Work Tables for Your Restaurant Kitchen
Work tables, are common in virtually all commercial kitchens, from bakeries to institutions, butchers' shops to concession stands. The right setup of work stations, equipment stands, butcher blocks, and dish tables can make all the difference between a kitchen that's optimized for efficiency and one that's fraught with frustrated staff. Each of those work tables serve a distinct purpose in streamlining your operation, and this guide is written to help you decide which tables will work best in the space you have.
Stainless Steel Work Tables
The most basic models are stainless steel work tables. These accommodate many diverse applications, especially those related to food prep. They're often used to extend countertops, fill spaces between cooking equipment, or serve as standalone work stations. They can also hold light countertop equipment like toasters, food warmers, and dispensers. They are almost always 36 inches high, to match the standard working height of kitchen countertops.
The primary difference in quality, and therefore price, between stainless kitchen worktables is determined by the materials used to build them. Different grades of stainless steel are used, with 304 steel generally being the highest you'll encounter. It is composed with 18-percent chromium and 8-percent nickel, earning the alloy its other name, 18-8 stainless. That high nickel content gives the metal a good resistance to corrosion, making it a great choice for table surfaces that may come in contact with food, especially salty foods and acidic products like fruit and vegetables.
The more economically-priced alternative, 430 stainless, contains less nickel and 17-percent chromium. That composition leaves the steel a little more susceptible to corrosion, so it's not recommended as a choice for table tops that will come into direct contact with food or be used in humid environments like walk-in coolers. Instead, consider 430 stainless work tables for extending your countertops, using them for light dry storage, or as homes for smaller pieces of countertop equipment.
For premium tables, 300 and 400 series steel alloys are also used to make table legs and optional undershelves, but on standard and economy-priced tables, a third material comes into play: galvanized steel. Galvanized steel is protected with a coating of zinc to help it resist corrosion. This type is not quite as durable or easy to clean as stainless steel, but that's rarely a detriment because galvanized steel is used on surfaces that don’t come into contact with food.
One final number to look at when you're considering a stainless steel work table is the gauge of the metal. This figure measures the thickness of the material, with 18, 14, and 16 being the most common. The smaller the number, the thicker the metal, so lower gauges offer more resistance to damage and come at a higher price. Economical models typically have 16- or 18-gauge metal. The premium option is 14-gauge steel, which offers the most resilience to abuse and everyday wear and tear.
Consider whether you need a work table with or without a backsplash. The purpose of that element is to keep food and debris from falling behind the table, helping to keep surrounding floors and walls clean. The most common backsplashes are 1.5 inches tall, but 5- and 10-inch backsplashes can be specified for particularly messy applications.
A variation on the stainless steel work table is the bakers table. Built in the same format but generally with wooden tops, bakers tables are designed to facilitate more hands on prep - the messy kind that bakers use to mix made-from-scratch batters and doughs. The wood work tops provide an ideal surface for mixing, kneading, rolling, and portioning dough. Backsplashes, typically 4 inches high, keep ingredients confined. Unlike standard work tables, bakers table backsplashes usually surround three sides of the work surface.
Bakers tables come in the same standard heights and various lengths as their stainless counterparts, but are available with several unique accessories and add-ons. This includes drawers mounted underneath the work surface for keeping supplies, ingredient bins that can be kept under the table to hold flour and sugar, and overhead ingredient rails that accommodate food pans for holding ingredients.
Equipment stands are very similar to work tables in construction and appearance, but they differ in function. As their name suggests, these pieces are designed to hold equipment that doesn't have its own legs or base to stand on. That includes everything from griddles and broilers to ovens and steamers - heavier equipment that needs the support a countertop can't safely provide.
Equipment stands are lower than work tables, so the equipment they hold will sit at a comfortable working height. The same materials are used to build these tables, with stainless steel being the premium offering and galvanized the economical alternative. Equipment stands almost always have raised edges to provide a secure resting area for equipment so it's less likely to slip or slide off if the stand is jostled.
You'll frequently see equipment stands that include casters. This is so equipment can easily be wheeled around to different parts of the kitchen and stored away when not in use. This is particularly helpful if your menu changes frequently and you find yourself using equipment on a seasonal basis or only during certain times of the week. It's also great for allowing multiple work stations to use a single piece of equipment, like a mixer or slicer. As with work tables, you'll find equipment stands with and without undershelves. Those without can give you space on the floor for storage, while the inclusion of a shelf can give you a health-inspector-approved spot for holding boxes of food.
Another common feature is the inclusion of pan slides built into the base of the equipment stand. This feature is great to have when the stand is used to hold an oven. The pan slides let you stage pans of bread until they're ready to be baked and give you a place to conveniently rest products while they cool.
A well-designed dishroom can save innumerable hours of labor, prevent lost and broken tableware, and cut down on operating costs. There are several dish tables made specifically for the dishroom that can help you maximize the efficiency of that important space. The right setup will keep employees safe and comfortable, and it can also maintain sanitary conditions and improve customer satisfaction when you serve food on clean dishes.
Once your dishes have been bussed and sorted, the scrap sink is generally their next stop, where they're pre-rinsed and prepared to go into the dishwasher or main wash sink. You'll find dish tables with those scrap sinks built-in that include cutouts for mounting faucets. U-shaped dish tables include a sink, a sorting rack, and a space for staging dishracks for the dishmachine. Both of these pieces often include a "lip-in" on one end that's designed to interface smoothly with dishmachines, so dishracks can be slid right in.
Because clean dishes and soiled dishes should never be allowed to touch the same surface, placing a dish table on either side of sinks and dishmachines gives staff a place to rest dishes before and after they're washed and sanitized. Dish tables are available in a number of different sizes and shapes, including straight lines and L-shapes designed for installation in a corner, so you can align them with your dishmachine wherever it's situated.
Other Common Kitchen Work Tables
Butcher Block Work Tables
Butcher block work tables are an indispensable tool for the tradespeople they're named after, but they can also play an important role in establishments other than the butcher shop. These tables' work surfaces can be used as a cutting board for prepping everything from meat to fruits and vegetables, though they should never be used for both raw meats and items that are cooked or served raw. This offers convenience over using individual cutting boards, since the table is stationary and bigger than a typical board. These are available in the same dimensions as stainless steel work tables, but they also come in the classic square butcher block format.
The orientation of the wood used to build these tables plays a role in their functionality. End grain tables are made with pieces of wood stacked on their ends, creating a 'checkerboard' pattern cutting surface. Similarly, edge-grain tables are made with wooden boards stacked on their edges horizontally, creating a striped appearance. Those construction methods provide the greatest durability and boards built with them even have self-healing properties, meaning small nicks in the surface can close up on their own.
Beverage stations are another important category of work tables, designed to create an area for preparing beverages and emptying glasses. They usually include a storage space for keeping glasses and other crucial supplies nearby, making these tables a great foundation for building a server station. A common element to all beverage stations is a sink for emptying and rinsing glasses. Below that you'll find an enclosed cabinet with an open back to accommodate a sink drain and water supply lines.
Most beverage tables include an electrical outlet so you can plug in beverage equipment like coffee brewers and drink dispensers. An urn trough is another common feature, which allows drips and spills from beverage equipment to drain into the sink. Beverage stations are available in a range of sizes, from 48 to 144 inches, and you have the option of left- and right-side sinks.
Wherever you need a simple sink, whether it's for a hand washing station or a prep area, a sink table is an affordable way to get one into your kitchen. These are essentially the same equipment as the stainless steel tables described above, but with built-in sinks. Those models that are designed as a prep sink often feature a shallow bowl for rinsing fruits and vegetables, and many are built with drawers for storing tools and supplies.
A spreader plate amounts to a miniature work table designed to fit between two pieces of larger equipment. That allows you to create a functional working surface out of an otherwise underutilized gap between pieces like ranges and fryers. Spreader plates are available as simple tables that can be used for any number of things, from plating dishes to prepping ingredients. Other spreader plates incorporate cabinet bases for expanding your kitchen's storage capacity, and many with cabinets incorporate gas manifolds to transport gas to equipment on either side.