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Ergonomics Matter

When designing cooklines, be sure to take ergonomics into consideration.

Ergonomics maximize production efficiency, employee morale and safety; cooks working each station need easy access to the products and tools needed to do their jobs.

“You don’t want line chefs having to take multiple steps between where they’re gathering ingredients and where they’re cooking them,” says Leif Billings, regional director, Northeast, for Chicago-based Next Step Design. “A tighter line, ideally with refrigerated drawers for preportioned proteins, is much more efficient and easier on the employees.”

Aisle width is another critical consideration. Very high-volume operations require wide cookline aisles to accommodate more staff and carts used to transport food into roll-in combi ovens. And, in many jurisdictions, ADA requirements and/or building codes dictate minimum aisle widths. But in most traditional commercial kitchens, tighter is better — ideally no more than 36 to 38 inches between the edge of the cookline and the edge of the cold line or pass behind it.

In the past several years, the ergonomics of kitchen and cookline design has become a stronger focus, says Michael Scheiman, vice president of development and design at Myers Restaurant Supply in Santa Rosa, Calif. It’s a direct result of continually increasing labor costs, and the imperative for operators to provide the best and safest working conditions possible.

“If cooks are calling off of work because they had a really hard night and their back and knees are killing them, it’s a big problem,” Scheiman says. “No operator can afford that. The more you minimize the amount of bending and twisting cooks need to do, the better. Ideally, they should be able to just pivot or reach below to get what they need.”

Where code requirements call for wider aisles, Scheiman says he’s often able to negotiate 42-inch aisles by including space at the end of the line where a wheelchair could turn around. Better yet, he says, is to always design cooklines with both ends open to ensure accessibility and better traffic circulation.

In any case, both designers counsel operators to keep the French culinary mantra of mise en place in mind when designing cooklines. “Everything in its place,” Scheiman insists. “When you’re out on the line, you need to have everything organized and in the exact place you need it so you don’t have to think about where things are. When you turn around, it needs to make sense to your body where the grill or the charbroiler is going to be as it relates to the mise en place you have in front of you.”

Want more? Read Functional by Design: Restaurant Cooklines.