Keeping the foodservice equipment marketplace up to date with the latest menu and concept trends.


Creating the Heart of the Kitchen

Speed of service and food quality are dependent on a well-designed cookline.

Photo courtesy of Rippe AssociatesPhoto courtesy of Rippe AssociatesIn any foodservice operation, be it commercial or noncommercial, the cookline typically takes center stage because the station serves as the landing pad for most, if not all, hot food. A meal’s outcome highly depends on the oven, range, fryer and other cooking equipment that helps bring it to optimum temperatures. In other words, the cookline brings to life many center-of-the-plate menu items. For this reason, the design of a cookline, which many consider the engine of the kitchen, plays a critical role in a foodservice program’s success.

“The design depends on the sector and space,” says Matt Schuler, director of culinary development, SCOPOS Hospitality Group, Ephrata, Pa. “With cooklines, whether serving in bulk or a la carte — or both — we have to go back to programming to be sure any function that line needs to achieve is looked at closely.”

The Goal

There are many considerations with cookline designs, but it is necessary to first look at what needs to be achieved. “Cookline design is driven by the menu concept,” says Steve Carlson, president of Rippe Associates, based in Minneapolis.

Equipment  placement is a  primary factor with cookline design: Staff traffic and ergonomics key considerations.  Photo courtesy of Rippe Associates.Equipment placement is a primary factor with cookline design: Staff traffic and ergonomics key considerations. Photo courtesy of Rippe Associates.Matt Anderson, associate principal at Rippe, agrees that building around the concept is key, along with designating the appropriate amount of kitchen space. “The number of seats and turns have to be taken into account as well,” notes Mike Wrase, Rippe’s senior project manager.

Discussing the service style and production helps ensure the proper cookline sizing and that it includes the appropriate equipment. “We look at versatile pieces of equipment that can save space, who is doing what and where, and what type of service — whether bulk or a la carte — will take place,” Schuler says. “There are old-school mentalities we can look at differently and achieve the same results.”

Including multifunctional equipment can not only save space but also increase efficiency. “Efficiency is the goal of a good cookline design,” says Laura Lentz, design principal, Culinary Advisors, Phoenix, Md. “We need to take into account things like pivots, steps, refrigeration location and drop-ins. People working these stations are standing there for a long time and doing the same motion continuously.”

What to Consider

After determining the menu and volume, which experts agree dictate the cookline design, logistics in relation to the cookline’s location become a primary consideration. “It’s making sure placement is conducive to server traffic,” Schuler notes. “It’s important that it’s convenient because if I were to misplace that line 6 feet out of the way, or servers have to take an extra 6 steps to get there, that equates to hundreds of miles a year.”

In some cases, there are not many options with cookline location, yet its placement should be a primary factor with the design. “It’s almost the first thing we locate,” Lentz says. “Storage and the dining room end up as anchors, but once you get the box for an active kitchen area, the cookline is one — if not the — biggest element.”

The segment and space impact many design choices.  Photo courtesy of SCOPOS Hospitality GroupThe segment and space impact many design choices. Photo courtesy of SCOPOS Hospitality GroupEmployee retention is directly related to ergonomics, so having the necessary equipment with only a pivot should be the goal. “As we look at the old-school breakdown of stations, does each one have what it needs in a turn?” Schuler asks. “When looking at the cookline, can you turn and get to the make table or refrigerated drawer or reach-in? A big miss I see a lot is accessibility to a freezer near the fryer for frozen convenience items.”

Other details include tools, accessories and ingredients, such as designating space for pans, tongs, spoons and seasonings. “The nice thing nowadays is that stainless is so customizable, we’re seeing more chains and even one-off restaurants really gear down to what can fit in a small footprint of a station,” Schuler explains.

Best-in-class cookline layouts are about covering the basics, but this is easier said than done. “Cooklines can be tricky; you have to think about control panels and open flames or high heat equipment. We can’t place a fryer by a live flame without 15 to 18 inches of flash against it,” Lentz says. “Organization and how you place equipment is important.”

Flipping control panels and door swings and using heat shields can circumvent some issues. “We also need to be thoughtful in terms of the equipment order and how it’s worked during a shift,” Lentz notes. “That’s why we often see ovens and large cooking cavities at one end of the cookline, because no one wants to work around a large box.”

Menu pairings also impact equipment placement, as well, as this has a direct effect on efficiency and speed of service. For example, a diner with a big breakfast business may require a griddle adjacent to an oven for preparing scrambled eggs and quiche.

In addition to logistics, other factors contribute to determining the appropriate size of a cookline. “When we first discuss design, I will decide that the project can handle a 15-foot cookline; let’s see if we can get all the equipment we need there,” Lentz says. “Or, I may have 5 pieces of cookline equipment that are each 36 inches long, so that determines the space needed. I may put together must-have equipment like a griddle, grill and oven, but may not have room for a pasta cooker and 6-burner range, so I would have to change the line’s location.”

Cooklines are a station where designers tend to have their own preferences and methods. “For me, I tend to put the same five types of equipment on every line,” Lentz notes. “A la carte cooklines include a griddle, range, combi or convection oven, fryer and charbroiler; I’ve never designed a cookline without an oven.”

“Our a la carte kitchens typically include a six-burner range, a flattop grill, a charbroiler, a couple of fryers and a refrigerated base,” says Jill Anderson, senior project manager at Rippe. “The end component may be a convection or combi oven to bake. If we include a salamander, it’s over the griddle or range, depending on the menu.”

Cooklines used for bulk production or institutions may have different requirements. “Elementary schools have smaller cooklines that generally encompass combis, tilt skillets, steam kettles and convection ovens,” says Shelby Wurscher, project manager at Rippe.

Commissaries or larger kitchens may include multiple cooklines to accommodate higher volumes. Some operations may include separate lines for allergen menus. For example, one part of the cookline may be designated for items with gluten and another for gluten-free items. “In that case, we have to think about how cooking tasks will be divided up,” Lentz explains. “A high-end restaurant may use separate cooklines for appetizers and main dishes. Or operations may produce bulk and a la carte items in two separate cooklines.”

Multifunctional equipment, such as combi ovens, has become more the norm than the exception with many designs. “This is because combi ovens are very versatile and can perform multiple tasks throughout the day, such as grilling, searing, air-frying, poaching and even overnight
cooking,” Schuler says.

Because speed and efficiency are paramount with these stations, rapid-cook ovens are becoming more common in the lineup. “We recently designed a food hall cookline with accelerated ovens, which have changed the face of these stations,” Carlson says. “Skilled chefs using ventless cooking [with accelerated ovens] can do multiple menu items and types of cuisines.”

Mandates for all-electric kitchens also impact today’s cooklines. In this case, accommodating the necessary power becomes a factor. Schuler predicts this will lead to more induction cooking equipment on cooklines in the years ahead. “The codes [for all-electric kitchens] are shifting quicker than chefs can think about incorporating induction cooking units,” Lentz notes.

Designers also consider ventilation capabilities, especially with renovations, when designing a cookline. “If we’re doing a renovation and have to keep the existing fan, [then we may be limited], as the exhaust hood dictates the equipment we can use,” Lentz says. “If we’re keeping an existing hood, the cookline can only be so long; we’re limited by the infrastructure and
existing building constraints.”

Do’s & Don’ts

Successful cookline designs start with listening to the operator’s needs and incorporating equipment that can do what’s required.

“Volume will determine whether light, medium or heavy-duty equipment is needed,” Schuler notes. “Because some equipment is not conducive to higher volumes, this needs to be defined at the forefront.”

When choosing equipment for the line, also consider cleaning and maintenance of these items. Having units on casters facilitates easier access to floors, walls and the backside of ovens and fryers, for example. “I’m a huge fan of modular equipment that is easily removable for cleaning, servicing and replacing,” Schuler says.

Lentz notes that it’s important that modular equipment not only fits well on the base but also isn’t located too high up or access will be compromised. “In addition, kitchen display systems and other technology shouldn’t be placed over high equipment [or it will be out of reach],” she notes.

During the design process, designers carefully figure out the exhaust logistics, as this will dictate proper hood placement. “We don’t put equipment with capture issues, like charbroilers, at the end of the line [as the end of the hood won’t be able to keep up with the smoke removal],” Carlson says.

Similarly, the type of equipment a cookline uses will determine the appropriate fire suppression equipment. “I’ve become a fan of universal fire suppression systems,” Lentz says. “We look at how many nozzles are needed, where these have to be directed, etc., and also allowances for universal designs with [fire suppression] systems every 12 inches. This allows operators to flip around
equipment when needed.”

Although there are some restrictions with moving heavy smoke-producing equipment like charbroilers into spaces designed for ovens, having the option to relocate units without reworking the fire suppression system by incorporating universal units is cost-effective.

Operations with wood-fired cooking equipment on the line will have more stringent ventilation and fire suppression requirements. “These units require dedicated ductwork, as there are different codes involved to make sure smoke doesn’t travel,” Carlson notes. Wrase adds that, along with separate exhaust, fans and fire suppression systems, wood storage is another consideration with these ovens.

Utilities and placement go hand in hand, as proper clearance is necessary with cooklines. “Sometimes we can have gas lines that are 18 inches away from the wall and equipment that is 24 inches away from the wall, and that impacts ventilation,” Lentz says. “We need the appropriate clearance behind equipment.”

First and foremost, though, designers should assess client preferences, as well as facility limitations. “We had one project where the operator wanted to go all-electric, but they had a power limit, so we needed to keep under a kilowatt number or it would escalate the costs,” says Zach Swanson, Rippe’s associate project manager.