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Commercial and restaurant kitchen design

Eric Nusbaum, Ph.D. of Wheelwright Consultants spoke about Commercial Kitchen Planning and Design at the 2013 Harvest New England Ag. Marketing Conference & Trade Show in Sturbridge, MA.
Eric Nusbaum, Ph.D. of Wheelwright Consultants spoke about Commercial Kitchen Planning and Design at the 2013 Harvest New England Ag. Marketing Conference & Trade Show in Sturbridge, MA.
Sanne Kure-Jensen

Use careful analysis to confirm a viable market justifies the significant investment in a commercial kitchen. When farm-based food stores, cafes or restaurants bring visitors, they stay longer and spend more money said Eric Nusbaum, Ph.D. of Wheelwright Consultants in Greenfield, MA at his workshop at the 2013 Harvest New England Ag. Marketing Conference & Trade Show. See his business planning and layout recommendations in a past story called “Should you build a commercial kitchen?”

Be sure your business plan included the cost of operational labor. Often laborsaving equipment is cheaper in the end. Be sure you have accurately estimated local market potential, a sound operational plan and a reasonable return on investment (ROI). According to Nusbaum, national average costs of kitchen and bar equipment range from $2,500 and $4,600 per restaurant seat. Purchasing used equipment can help reduce costs in many but not all categories. Be sure used equipment meets current fire and health department codes. Remember that used equipment will not generally have a warranty.

Designing commercial kitchens can be daunting with so many rules and regulations. “This makes farming look easy,” said Nusbaum. He discussed equipment sizing and selection, health department codes and operational basics.

All commercial kitchen equipment must be approved by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). Costs are appreciably higher for commercial equipment. Heavy-duty equipment generally offers greater output and lasts significantly longer than residential equipment.


Residential ranges typically deliver 9,000 to 12,000 BTUs per burner. Commercial ranges can deliver 28,000 BTUs per burner and woks up to 150,000 BTUs. Properly rated commercial hoods are crucial for fire safety. Commercial ranges require fireproof insulation, heat shields or a 6” gap between their sides and any combustible surfaces.


Residential refrigerators are designed to keep food at 35 to 40 degrees F in a room that is 68 to 70 degrees F with doors opened occasionally. Commercial coolers are made to be in kitchens with temperatures up to 95 degrees F. They can be safely be opened every 3 to 5 minutes and cost two to three times the price of a home refrigerator. Temperatures must be monitored and recorded twice daily. Coils and fans need to be cleaned monthly.

Freezer temperatures must be at or below 0 degrees F. Ice cream dipping units should be kept at 10 degrees F. Units need to be defrosted and their coils and fans cleaned monthly.

Commercial kitchen designers should ensure wide doorways to allow for eventual equipment replacements.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Plan to purchase three times the number of dishes and flatware as seats. Smallware (cutting boards, spoons, pots and pans, etc.) will cost $200 to $250 per seat.

Food Safety

Local health departments must approve all food production facilities prior to construction and inspect twice a year thereafter. Wholesale operations are subject to federal regulations and inspections if the products are to be shipped interstate or if the foods contain meat products.

All ingredient and value added foods purchased must be from licensed producers.

All food preparation, cooking, holding, serving and storage surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized before and after food contact or at least every four hours during extended use.

Federal regulations require cooked foods to reach minimum internal temperatures for at least 15 seconds. State and local regulations may be more stringent.

  • Cooked fruits, vegetables and grains held hot for service – 135 degrees F
  • Whole muscle red meat, fish and single servings of eggs – 145 degrees F
  • Ground red meats, fish and single servings of eggs held for service - 155 degrees F
  • Poultry stuffed items, baked pasta, reheated and microwaved foods – 165 degrees F

When foods will be stored after preparation or served cooled, they must be chilled before storage using this two-step process: Reduce temperature to 70 degrees F within two hours (not in refrigerator). Then cool to 40 degrees F in less than four hours.


Regular hand washing and practices to prevent cross contamination must be used at all times. Hair should be tied up or short. Fingernails should be clean and short. Uniforms should be clean. Employees cannot chew gum or tobacco, eat or drink in food preparation areas. Cuts below the elbow must be covered with waterproof bandages. Sick employees are prohibited from preparing or serving food or handling serviceware. (dishes, cups, glassware or flatware)

Food Allergies

Nusbaum said more than 12,000,000 Americans have mild to serious food allergies or sensitivities. Federal laws list these main allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, gluten and soy. Packaging and menus must clearly state these ingredients when present in foods or handled in your commercial kitchen as minute amounts may be harmful. Do not allow chefs to use substitutes in standard recipes. To avoid possible cross-contamination, use separate serving utensils and never move containers or spoons over other dishes. Massachusetts requires each establishment have at least one staff certified in food allergy awareness.

Federal courts have enforced rules requiring menu items with comparable nutrition be available to people with food allergies.

Value Added Products

Product labels must comply with federal and state regulations. Labels must include product name, ingredients in descending order, weight, handling information, perishability and expiration date, name and address of packer, nutritional information, portion size and presence of any food allergens.

Clean up

Stainless steel 3-bowl sinks and fast-cycling sanitizing commercial dishwashers will be needed. Grease traps are sized to your seating capacity. Traps are boxes installed after traditions sink traps with a series of baffles that collect grease. They should be cleaned monthly.

Waste & Pests

Leak-proof, rodent proof and insect-proof containers must be used, emptied and cleaned regularly. Facilities must be constructed and maintained in a way that prevents insects, rodents, birds and other wildlife from entering. Self -losing doors should be installed and maintained at all entries.

Learn More

Learn more at or email Eric Nusbaum, Ph.D. at, call 413-774-2786 or 617-938-8668. You can also write Wheelwright Consultants at 15 Grove St., Greenfield, MA 01301.

For additional resources, email Bonita Oehlke at, write her at the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02114 or call 617-626-1753.

Harvest New England

The Harvest New England Ag. Marketing Conference & Trade Show happens every other year. The 2013 event was held on February 27 and 28 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel in Sturbridge, MA. Learn more about the conference at

The hands-on conference helped agribusiness leaders and staff improve their marketing techniques. Five workshop tracks addressed grower, value added producer, new farmer, farm store manager, farmers market manager and, agricultural service providers. 26 workshops covered traditional marketing, social media, agritourism, financing/pricing, equipment and facilities. Over 80 trade show exhibitors demonstrated equipment, offered their services and shared delicious food samples. Special sessions addressed farmers’ market managers.

A similar story ran in the January, 2014 Eastern, Midwestern and Western editions of Country Folks Grower.

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