How to Set up a Small Commercial Kitchen in 3 Easy Steps

How to Set up a Small Commercial Kitchen in 3 Easy Steps

Freezers and fryers and fire suppression... oh my!

There are so many things to think about when you're starting a food service venture. And getting your kitchen set up properly is critical for success. It doesn't have to be difficult to set up a commercial kitchen. In fact, it's as easy as 1... 2... 3!

Here's our guide for how to set up a small commercial kitchen in 3 easy steps.

Step 1: Develop a Menu That You Love

The menu dictates everything in your restaurant. Develop a menu that's made up of food that you love! When developing a menu, keep your commercial kitchen setup in mind, too.

Very small restaurant kitchens, by design, cannot accommodate larger menus the way that bigger commercial kitchens can. So consider creating a pared-down menu if your kitchen will be small.

With that in mind, it’s time to begin menu planning. Start by creating a menu theme. You want your food to set you apart from the competition in your area. Jot down a few words that describe what you plan to achieve with this menu.

Bring in your head chef to help you with this process. They'll have ideas for kitchen setup based on prior experience.

Another reason to keep your list of menu options as short as possible is that too many menu items confuse customers. Restaurant goers like it when they can pick their meal in two minutes or less.

Also, consider pricing when you develop your menu. Prices dictate what ingredients you use and how you set up the kitchen to cook those ingredients.

Step 2: How to Build a Commercial Kitchen

Yes, it would be nice if your kitchen was big and bright and full of useful square footage. But setting up a full-service commercial kitchen in a small space is definitely possible. You just have to use your space wisely when it comes to small-space restaurant kitchen design. Simple restaurant kitchen layouts are best for smaller spaces.

There are three common design strategies for commercial kitchens. The design you choose depends on your preferences, the preferences of the cook, and your menu. Let's take a closer look at each of these common small commercial kitchen layout examples:


A zone kitchen is a savvy small commercial kitchen design that spreads the workflow across different zones. Each zone has its own specific function. And the crew working in the zones specialize in that area.

Most zone kitchens have an area with lots of counter space for food prep. This is where you'll measure ingredients, slice meat, cut up veggies, marinate, etc.

The cooking zone might be a simple setup with a grill and a fryer. Or it might be more complicated, with several ovens, cooktops, and warming pans. It's all dependent on your menu.

Zone kitchens have places for cold storage, dry storage, and sanitation. And you might opt for a separate zone to plate the food once it's cooked.

Assembly Line

Assembly lines are great for kitchens that prepare lots of the same types of food. For example, sandwich shops, pizza parlors, and burger joints.

It's also a great option if you're providing fast service. There's less time between each step in the assembly, so the food gets done faster.

Don't worry, your assembly line doesn't have to be in a "line". Many kitchens aren't big enough to have one, straight assembly. You can run your assembly in a circle when you're short on space.


The island kitchen is a variation on both assembly and zone kitchens. It works around a center island hub. But also utilizes the perimeter as part of the workspace.

Set up your island as the main prep and cooking area. You want to concentrate most of your cooking equipment in this area. Use the perimeter for less important zones like storage and sanitation.

You can use the island design in an assembly line too. Create a workflow that starts on the island with prep and cooking. Then transfers over to the perimeter to finish off the dish.

Step 3: The Essential Equipment

Now that your menu's in place, and you've decided on the best way to organize the kitchen, it's time to look at essential restaurant equipment and how having the right equipment on hand, plays such a crucial role in your restaurant's success. There are a few main categories that every kitchen needs.


You'll need both dry and cold storage. Commercial refrigerators and freezers come in walk-in, reach-in, and under-counter varieties. Most kitchens have more than one type of refrigerator.

A large, walk-in refrigerator works for bulk storage. Then you'll want a smaller, more accessible refrigerator in your kitchen. If space is limited, a worktop refrigerator kills two birds with one stone.

Dry storage equipment consists of cabinets and shelving. Again, opt for worktop storage when setting up a small space.


The cooking equipment should be easily accessible to everyone in the kitchen.

Save space by purchasing a commercial oven with cooktops set into the top, like a gas range with built-in ovens below. Many of these machines come with added storage shelves above the cooktop.

Locate the frying station near the cooktop or grill. If you don't plan to fry much, a small, countertop fryer might be your best bet. And floor fryers are great if you're short on counter space.

Depending on your menu, your kitchen might need some specialty cooking equipment. This includes bread ovens, pizza deck ovens, toasters, sandwich grills, etc.

Also, invest in good warming equipment to keep the food warm before it's sent out to the customer.


Choose a commercial dishwasher that's large enough to handle whatever load of dishes you plan to throw at it. If you plan to serve food in disposable containers, you may not need a very large one. They come in racked, conveyor, and under-counter varieties.

You'll also need a sink. Most regulations require that restaurants have at least a 3-compartment sink. Choose one that has shelves on either end to allow for drying.


Floor mats are essential for kitchen safety. They provide a sturdy, non-slip surface. This keeps employees safe when they're buzzing around the kitchen during a busy lunch hour.

You'll also need a proper ventilation system to pull away smoke and grease from the kitchen air. Check your local regulations. Most areas require a commercial kitchen to have an exhaust hood over the cooking area.

Finally, you'll need a fire suppression system. Again, check your local regulations. Keep fire extinguishers near the cooking area in case of grease fires.

How to Set Up a Small Commercial Kitchen the Right Way

We hope you've learned how to set up a small commercial kitchen the right way. It's not a difficult task when you break it down into the three, easy steps we've mentioned here.

Start with your menu. Then work out which kitchen layout works best for you. And finally, plan your equipment list accordingly.

Looking for more tips to start your restaurant business? Check out these key considerations for first-time restaurant buyers.


  1. comment authorShammy Peterson Jun 2, 2021

    It caught my attention when you suggested purchasing a commercial oven with cooktops set into the top to save space. This is a helpful tip for me because I am planning to have the old plant house in our lawn area to be converted into a restaurant-like kitchen. During reunion parties being held at home. I will do all your tips to ensure that the place won't look overcrowded.

  2. comment authorCharlotte Fleet Aug 24, 2021

    It was interesting to learn that it is required for commercial kitchens to have an exhaust hood. I think it would be crucial to have the hood installed by a well-reputed service. Thanks for your tips on starting a commercial kitchen.

  3. comment authorElle Jones Feb 18, 2023

    You mentioned getting a commercial oven with cooktops built into the top to conserve space, and that got my eye. This is useful advice since I want to have the old plant house in our lawn area turned into a kitchen that looks like it belongs in a restaurant. when home-based reunion gatherings are being conducted, I'll follow your advice to prevent the area from appearing congested.

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