Kitchens need prep space. In your house you have countertops, but in a commercial kitchen that’s just not the case! That’s when we turn to the staple of any commercial kitchen: the stainless-steel work table. You can get them in a number of different sizes and configurations so that with some careful planning, your kitchen prep area will run more efficiently.
Let's start with the obvious. The first thing you need to know is what size table you need. Standard widths of 24, 30, and 36 inches are pretty easy to come by. Same goes for the standard lengths, from 20 to 120 inches, in foot increments. If you need a special size, you'll have to go custom, which costs extra, but can be a worthy investment for certain locations.
When determining size, there are few aspects to look for which will affect the work flow and overall functionality of the space. The first factor to consider is the height of the table. With work tables, the goal is to keep in mind the comfort of employees working at that station. If the table is too short in height, the employee will need to reach down to work which will be uncomfortable whereas a table too tall in height can present its own unique angles causing discomfort. A good rule of thumb is to opt for around 35 inches in height for a comfortable work station. Another factor to consider with size is the area you intend to place the table. For new or recently remodeled restaurants, the prep table will most likely be placed near essential items needed for food preparation such as ovens or small refrigeration units to keep staff productivity concentrated to one area to complete the necessary task. When measuring for a table, you should also consider any accompanying equipment needed for the area as part of the configurations.
Gauge and Type
Strength and longevity are important considerations when shopping for work tables, and since steel strength is measured by gauge, it is important to have a reliable understanding of the concept. The key is to remember that the lower the gauge number, the greater the strength. Let’s take a closer look at gauge and type in closer detail.
The type of stainless steel used in construction determines the steel’s corrosion resistance, meaning a grade with a lower number will be less likely to rust than one with a higher grade. So, a table with a 304 grading is more corrosion resistant than a table with a 430-type grading. This doesn’t mean you should never choose a higher grade type of steel. Many restaurant operators will mix and match types depending on the area to get the right mix of durability for the specific area and savings for the bottom line. Type 430 will work just fine in most instances. However, you might opt for a table made of type 304 if you’ll be using the table in high humidity situations. Type 304 has more nickel in the metal and will be more resistant to rust and corrosion which makes it great for areas with high moisture levels such as dishwashing areas.
While stainless steel type relates to the corrosion resistance of the material, the gauge number is a different factor, and many people confuse the two factors. The gauge number relates to the thickness of the metal. Similar to the grade type, the lower the number, the thicker the steel. While thicker stainless-steel tables will offer more durability, this doesn’t mean every table needs to be the lowest gauge possible to be effective for a business. Economy tables, or budget tables, will be made of an 18 gauge stainless steel. These economy tables will work great for sandwich or salad prep, but are not as strong and more susceptible to dents and dings.
For general use, a 16 gauge work table is the way to go. They can hold most of the heavier countertop equipment with ease and will be more dent resistant than the 18 gauge. A 16 gauge will work for lengths up to 5 feet. Opt for a 14 gauge table if the table is longer or is going to support several pieces of heavy equipment or be used in a heavy-duty operation.
Remember, when considering the gauge and type of a stainless-steel table, the way you intend to use the table and the surrounding environment are the two factors to consider. Don’t feel like you have to get the most extreme of either figure to get a great table that meets your needs.
Work Table Tops
The last table configuration to consider is the tabletop itself. Will you need a flat top or back splash? If you're going to be working on all four sides of the table, you'll need a flat top. This type of table can be a flat top with all edges the same in cut to provide a work space for several people at once.
If you are going to push it against a wall, opt for a backsplash to prevent spills between the table and the wall. Whether you need the 1 ½” backsplash or the higher 4 ½ - 5” option, is really up to you and your operation. For tables pushed against a wall, a front rolled edge on the front of the table can aid in wiping up crumbs while reducing sharp corners in the work space for added safety.
If you plan to line several tables up in a row, look for tables with a square edge on the side. This means they’ll have a 90-degree angle on the sides and match right up to the edge of another table. Other side options would be a rounded, bull-nose edge on all four sides. Those are not ideal for lining up several tables and would be used as standalone work space.
Work Table Accessories
Do you need a prep table undershelf? Prep tables can either come with a galvanized steel undershelf, a stainless-steel undershelf, or no shelf at all (referred to as an “open base”).
Most people opt for the galvanized undershelf. It holds up well against the wear and tear of a busy restaurant and doesn't break the bank.
Of course, you should probably spring for the stainless-steel undershelf to prevent rust and corrosion if you’ll be using your table and undershelf in an area with high humidity.
If you plan to store large items beneath the table or use an under counter refrigeration unit under the table, an open base might be just what you need.
Most tables come standard with plastic, adjustable bullet feet. But what if you want to be able to regularly move your table around? If so, you'll want to opt for the casters. If you order the casters at the same time as the table, the manufacturer will usually send out shorter legs to maintain the height quoted on the spec sheet. If you decide to add them later, you might have to cut the legs down yourself. This can be done, but make sure you cut the top and not the bottom of the leg. This helps you avoid complications when installing the new casters. One final note about casters: make sure at least half of them lock to prevent the table from rolling away on you!
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