With the race for operational efficiency and cost savings at its peak, operators need to establish surroundings that include the right equipment in the right place. A worktable represents one item that can be the most effective with proper planning.

As a product category, worktables can include a variety of other items, such as equipment stands, sink tables, baker’s tables, butcher block worktables and restaurant worktables. Applications include dough prep, cutting, slicing, packaging and just about any type of prep that occurs in the back of house.

Commercial worktables are one of the first pieces of equipment a foodservice operator requires. These tables help create areas that allow for accurate and efficient placement of food items. Be it for a catering service, a restaurant or the grocerant in a supermarket, these tables prove to be invaluable. Not only do the worktables allow chefs to cut meat, vegetables, fruits or any other produce item but they also serve as additional storage space for food items. In other words, worktables can help keep commercial kitchens organized, efficient and lean.

Worktables come in many different styles. These can vary in size, durability and design, depending on the utility. Since tables typically come in contact with food, they usually feature stainless-steel construction for easier cleaning and sanitizing.

The gauge of the steel sheets depends on the type of operation that will use it. For example, heavy-duty 14-gauge worktables are durable enough to accommodate large equipment, such as tabletop mixers, dough rollers for pasta, and slicers that may move or rock during use. Operators can use the 16-gauge tables for lighter-duty prep, such as hand dicing and slicing, rather than for automated equipment.

A standard worktable has a flat top with four legs. The tables vary in length, width and height, depending on the size of the food prep area. The length of the table can range from 24 inches to 144 inches, while the width of the table usually ranges from 18 inches to 48 inches. The standard height usually measures 36 inches. Customers may also wish to customize the size of the table to better accommodate staff.

Operators can choose from many different add-ins and options. Some of the options that can be built in are backsplashes, drawers, table-mounted shelves, undershelves, wheels on the legs of the table, built-in hand sinks, and poly-top or wood-top surfaces. Tables with laminated tops are geared for working with dough.

Pot racks are another option. They can be integral to the unit, and an operator can elect to suspend a pot rack from the ceiling or bolt it to the undershelf to hold pots, baskets and other accessories.

Some manufacturers now have the ability to incorporate a cooking station into their worktables, a concept similar to worktables with sinks. Including a cooking station can reduce wasted motion by eliminating the need to walk from the table to the cooking station and also help increase kitchen efficiency.

Purchasing Considerations

When choosing a worktable, start by understanding how staff will use it. “This ensures operators design it with the right ergonomics and work practices in mind,” says Juan Martinez, principal at Profitality, based in Miami. “This helps drive efficiency and functionality.”

When using the worktables for prep, operators can configure the units to fit into a cooler, freezer or dry-goods area for logistical purposes. Also, when configuring a station that includes a worktable, utilize as much vertical space as possible to help maximize the footprint.

A well-designed worktable not only helps ensure more consistent results, but it also can help lower labor costs. “When you look in an airplane, the cockpit pilot doesn’t move; it’s the same idea with a worktable, whether it’s used for prep or production,” says Martinez. “The physical ergonomics of the individuals utilizing it are important when looking at the design.”

For example, a 5-foot, 4-inch-tall employee will have a different line of sight and reach than a 6-foot-tall employee.

When designing a workstation, consider other pieces of equipment that may be placed on the worktable or in conjunction to it. This may include a microwave, slicer or dough sheeter. Accessibility is a key factor when using the table to hold other equipment. “Operators need to think about where it is integrated and situated,” says Martinez. “This is because these workstations tend to have a lot of components.”

Also, workstations don’t just include a stainless-steel table. They may also incorporate toasters, refrigeration, heating spaces and packaging areas. It’s important to pay close attention to detail when designing these all-inclusive spaces. “If workstations are not designed correctly, any aspect of production can fail,” says Martinez. “When designing these areas, operators also need to think about how many employees will be working at one time.”

The totality of the station needs to be assessed. Will it be visible from the dining room? Where is it in relation to other kitchen equipment? Is vertical space being used to the fullest? Is it flexible to grow with the business and prep needs? A well-designed workstation with a table as a key component will help drive the operation’s efficiency.

Cleaning & Maintenance

On the surface, worktables may seem simplistic and that they don’t require much attention for upkeep. This is not necessarily the case. Prep tables are one of the most frequently used and abused pieces of equipment in the kitchen. For this reason, take extra care in cleaning and maintaining these units.

In terms of equipment failure, a worktable’s hinges and gaskets may need replacing. Although this typically gets relegated to the bottom of operator to-do lists, it needs to be addressed, or it can compromise the table’s integrity.

Operators should regularly make several maintenance checks on worktables. These tasks could be further broken down to monthly, weekly, daily, etc. Prep tables have many nooks and crannies where food can become trapped and bacteria may build up. Proper and thorough cleaning is essential, keeping in mind that harsher chemicals may damage the unit’s surfaces.

“A damp soapy cloth is ideal to use to clean the unit’s interior and exterior,” says Steve Long, service technician at K&D Factory Service Inc., Altoona, Pa. “Lids and door gaskets should be kept clean and inspected for wear and tear since a failing gasket can cause moisture buildup.”

For this reason, door and drawer gaskets should be cleaned regularly. This will help the gasket material remain flexible and improve its ability to seal.

Worktables are often in tight locations and have many accessories added on. So, unlike some equipment, to service them properly requires eliminating many obstacles.