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From Floor to Door: Best Practices in Storage Design

Storage. Sure, it may not be the sexiest part of a foodservice operation, but designers say it’s a crucial component for modern kitchen management, especially in the wake of the takeout explosion. Storage areas also tend to be the last thing operators think of when conceptualizing and planning a new facility — a common and unfortunate mistake.

“For a person like myself who works with a lot of architects and interior designers, what always gets forgotten is the adequate amount of space needed for proper storage,” says John Franke, a former chef and founder/president of Franke Culinary Consulting LLC. That includes space for drying pots and pans, as well as storing pots and pans, plateware, silverware, linens, paper goods, chemicals, alcohol, shelf-stable pantry items and, of course, cold storage for ingredients and cooked food. “It became real clear during and post-Covid that we’re needing more space than ever for to-go boxes and paper goods in particular. These things can’t just be shoved into corners and on top of high shelves,” he adds.

Dick Eisenbarth, FCSI, president emeritus, Cini-Little, goes by one rule of thumb when allocating storage space: “Of the back-of-the-house space, about 23% to 25% should be allocated to storage,” he says. “The way I break that down is dry food is 10%, nonfood storage is about 3% to 5%, and refrigerator/freezer storage is 10%.” Of course, more specific dry and cold storage needs, such as less or more freezer space, will vary based on the type of operation and menu.

When designing dry storage areas, “the No. 1 best practice is location,” Eisenbarth says. “You want the storeroom as close to the point of final use as possible.” In other words, don’t stick the storeroom in a corner away from the kitchen, which would require staff to walk extra steps back and forth.

“I’ve seen some storage spaces squeezed in tiny nooks and corners,” Eisenbarth continues. “On one recent project, the building had a radius to it and the cooking battery was positioned into a straight line, so it didn’t follow that radius. The storage room was stuck behind the cooking battery so it was cone-shaped and no one could get in there. What I try to do is have storage spaces be at least 8 feet to 9 feet wide and a minimum of 10 feet long — that allows about 30 inches of shelving on either side and an aisle of 3 feet to 4 feet wide.”

Let’s examine some other best practices when it comes to designing dry and cold storage areas.

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Shelf Selection and Spacing

Proper shelf spacing is Eisenbarth’s No. 2 consideration when designing storage rooms. It’s common to try to build in one long shelf, but that can lead to staff putting too much weight on the shelf, causing it to bow over time. Instead, Eisenbarth recommends shelving that’s no wider than 4 to 5 feet for each section.

The good news, Eisenbarth points out, is that shelving solutions now include many options that are easily adjustable. “This is a good way to maximize wall space vertically,” he says.

Foodservice designer Peg Galie, FCSI, senior associate, S2O Consultants Inc., prefers shelving set on casters for reconfiguration needs. “I don’t like to use continuous shelving where you can build a whole wall of it because if the space changes, you’re locked into that configuration.”

If an operator does want to create a longer shelf, Eisenbarth recommends Z-clipping shelving units to each other to cut down on the number of posts necessary and to prevent two posts sitting side by side and taking up more room than necessary. This configuration also allows for extra flexibility.

Inventory Management

When it comes to organizing product on shelves, Eisenbarth recommends taking as much product out of cases as possible. Doing so means the cases won’t take up as much space — plus, it’s easier for staff to manage inventory and grab what they need quickly without having to break down boxes in a crunch.

Eisenbarth also recommends organizing product by PAR levels [periodic automatic replenishment: e.g., six No. 10 cans of tomatoes because that’s what’s needed for the day]. This makes it easy for staff to see how much product the operation has on hand.

“General kitchen 101 is being careful how many SKUs you have and how often you are ordering those SKUs,” Franke says. “When I create menus, I am careful about that. For example, if only one dish requires granulated garlic, then I will change that recipe to chopped garlic. In the end, that all cuts down on the shelving and storage needed.” Beyond that, he says, everything has to have a designated spot on a shelf in the storage room so nothing is lost or disjointed and it’s easy to see what’s needed.

Cleaning and Chemicals

Ease of cleaning is also important. “I try to set the first shelf at 10 inches above the floor so [staff] can get underneath to clean,” says Eisenbarth, who prefers plastic shelving that’s easy to clean and won’t rust. “For this lower shelf, consider using a heavy-duty dunnage shelf that can be used to hold cases and then set the next shelf a little higher, about three feet from the floor — this helps prevent staff from putting cases on the floor.”

Galie’s preference for shelving units set on casters helps make cleaning easier, too. She also likes to specify shelving that has a solid mat on the bottom. “Some health departments like this because then you don’t have water splashing up onto product or cases on the bottom shelf during mopping,” she says, adding she is not opposed to wire shelving because it offers extra strength. She prefers wire shelving with epoxy coating that’s easier for staff to clean.

When it comes to cleaning supplies, ideally, foodservice operators should store these items in a completely separate area of a storage room away from food products, or even in a locked cabinet in the room, says Eisenbarth. Most health departments require operators segregate cleaning supplies.

Important Extras

“Proper lighting and good air circulation [in storage areas] are very important,” says Eisenbarth. “You need to see what’s in there and have it at the right temperature so it’s easier to work in and there’s no musty smell.” He recommends LED lighting and about the same amount as what’s in the kitchen so it’s easy for staff to conduct inventory checks.

Eisenbarth also makes sure not to put a drain in a dry storage room. Otherwise, “it can dry out and you can get a sewer or gas smell in the space,” he says. “Instead, I recommend broom cleaning, and have the mop and drain outside of the storeroom.”

Be sure to allow enough space to park a cart to use for transporting product to a workstation. “A lot of people forget about that,” Eisenbarth says.

Takeout Supply Storage

In addition to building in ample space in a dry storage room for extra takeout containers and supplies, it’s important to build in space for that on or near the kitchen line as well.

As close to the expediting station or point of final assembly as possible, is where Eisenbarth says he designs in space for to-go needs. “During COVID, we saw people setting a shelving unit at the end of the cooking battery as a last-minute solution, but now it’s important to design this storage as a system and a place to hold a good supply of clamshells and utensils and whatever else is needed for takeout,” he says.

Franke likes to use server stations as a place to build in extra shelving near the cookline. “Think about shelving above, cabinets below, and hooks to hold bags and other supply needs,” he says.

In general, Franke encourages his clients to limit the number of SKUs they have for takeout containers and other supplies. “This helps cut down on all the storage needed for these materials,” he says.

Cold Storage Considerations

Oftentimes, an operation will have separate walk-in coolers for protein and dairy/produce/prepared foods, or at the very least, separate walk-in coolers for raw and prepared foods. “I like to have the freezer set back behind one of the coolers,” says Eisenbarth. That way, staff can transfer product directly from the freezer to the refrigerator for thawing without worrying about leaving the freezer door open and the temperatures dropping. The freezer would essentially be an anterior space connected to one of the walk-in coolers.

The size of freezer depends on frequency of delivery, says Eisenbarth. Due to space constraints common in urban environments, city-based operations might have more frequent deliveries, whereas operations based in more rural areas might have to hold more product at one time.

“I always recommend a blast chiller because it helps cool product in a quicker and much safer way,” says Eisenbarth. This way, employees do not need to set big batches of hot soup in a walk-in cooler, which would ultimately create a temperature drop.

Additional considerations for cold storage include installing cameras to prevent theft and setting drains outside of the door of the refrigerator and freezers to prevent sewer backup that would contaminate food.

b storage CMMcGuire 20220805 0349 HDR PanoTwo pieces of advice from consultants when it comes to efficient storage solutions: Make use of vertical space and consider shelving solutions that allow flexibility in shelf spacing. Photo by Chris Mcguire

Cookline Cold Storage

Unless the operation requires it, Franke promotes reach-in freezers over walk-in freezers as much as possible. “You also run a better operation when you don’t need to freeze things because you’ve prepped too much,” he says.

In smaller kitchens, Franke’s a fan of installing refrigeration all around the prep area, using refrigerated prep tables and worktops with refrigerators for prepped veggies, dressings and more. “There’s a lot of dead space on the line, and that can be filled with warming and cooling drawers and low boy refrigerators under flattops and grills; you just have to make sure these units are not turned off at night, and no one is dumping water all over the floor,” says Franke.

Beer, Wine and Alcohol Storage

Galie, who works on many stadium and arena projects, considers space for kegs in main coolers, using dunnage and specialty keg racks to hold these heavier items. “If we’re doing draft beer and just storing kegs, we’ll use keg racks that allow you to store a couple kegs on the bottom with a shelf above for cases of beer or wine,” she says, adding that her clients are moving away from centralized beer systems with long lines to direct-draft setups that require this type of keg storage.

Safety and ergonomics represent key factors when specifying cold storage, particularly when it comes to kegs. “Certain operators are particular about how their keg racks are set up to support staff — they don’t want the keg up on a shelf that might involve heavy lifting, and some don’t want kegs stored double deep for this reason,” Galie notes.

For alcohol, Galie will strive to create a secure storage room or install a secured space within a dry storage room with a chain-link fence that goes to the ceiling and includes a padlock. “It’s basic, but it works,” she says. “This setup can even work in a walk-in cooler that’s big enough. On a smaller basis, we can specify security cages — they come 48 inches by 60 inches and are also mobile. You can have one at the back of a pantry and when staff is stocking the bar, you roll out the unit, stock the bar and roll it back when done.”

For beverage storage in market setups at stadiums and arenas, Galie likes to specify gravity-fed shelving systems, the same units common in grocery and convenience stores, where the bottles will fall forward when one is removed and can be restocked from the back.

Commissaries and Pallet Storage

Some bigger operations like stadiums and arenas that use commissary kitchens need larger, dedicated storage rooms that can handle pallets and, in some cases, even small forklifts.

For these projects, Galie will specify a combination of pallet racks and mobile shelving units for durability, volume and flexibility. “I ask how many pallets of supplies [the operator] is getting delivered weekly and balance that with how much dried goods, paper products, canned goods and other products they go through on a weekly basis,” she says.

If forklifts are going into the coolers, Galie specifies the walk-in without any raised floors and makes sure there’s enough aisle space to accommodate them. “Bigger stadiums will have the coolers and storerooms with the forklifts adjacent to the loading dock,” she says. There should also be ample room for additional carts and staff to work, as well as ample height for storage of items. “There’s no point of having a pallet rack if the storage area is only eight-feet tall.”

Shelving is one of those things that, when in doubt, adds more because everyone needs it.