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A dedicated work table can improve the workflow of a commercial kitchen. Proper work table placement can help segment the line, guide the cooking process, and allow for efficient utilization limited space. When it comes to purchasing a work table, most suppliers will offer a range of options: from the size of the table, to shelves, undershelves, and drawers, to the shape of the table edges, to the addition of caster wheels for mobility, there are numerous customizations available to ensure that your work table will best fit your needs.
Most commercial work tables are constructed of stainless steel to limit contamination and to ease the maintenance and cleaning process, though the stainless steel is available in a variety of grades, each with differing quality and price.
Stainless steel grades (gauges) generally measure the strength, durability, and hardness of the steel. For example, 14 gauge stainless steel is less prone to denting, which may be better for your kitchen if you are going to be doing a lot of chopping on the work table. As you go higher up in gauge, the steel is less resistant to impacts. 22 gauge steel, for example, is more likely to scratch and dent, which means it is only a good choice if you do not expect to be exerting impact force on the work table. Despite the fact that higher gauge stainless steel is less durable and can dent easier, many kitchens go for higher gauge tables simply due to cost -- they are cheaper than equivalent lower gauge steel tables.
Corrosion resistance is another important consideration. Series 300 stainless steel alloy is constructed with a mixture of chromium and nickel that makes it more corrosion-resistant than other Series (e.g. 400). But do you really need a highly corrosion-resistant work table? If you expect to be working with damp or wet ingredients, or for there to be any spillage, then it may be worth it to invest in a corrosion-resistant steel alloy for the long term.
Do try to find a good balance between your workflow needs and your budget, and don’t let suppliers oversell you on a low gauge or 300 series table that your kitchen may not require.
For businesses that will be using work tables mainly as a cutting board, a polycarbonate plastic top is a possible alternative to a stainless steel top (though the base structure will still likely be stainless steel). This may improve cleanup time as separate cutting boards do not have to be used and cleaned.
Wood tops are very popular for bakeries and kitchens that require a dedicated flour and dough station. Wood tops often come customized with risers to prevent flour, cocoa powder, confectionary sugar, and other ingredients from escaping the tabletop and causing a mess around the kitchen.
In many commercial kitchens, work tables are not left freestanding -- usually, they are set up against a wall. A backsplash protects the wall from particulate matter, liquids, and other messes created on the work table. The height of the backsplash varies, though keep in mind that in many cases, taller backsplashes may be pricier.
There are several edge types available for your work table: from squared, to rounded, to countertop style.
Squared edge tables are perfectly flat on all sides, which makes them best for connecting multiple tables together (the edges fit flush against one another), though the edge may make it somewhat more difficult to clean. Rounded edge tables are very popular as they are easier to clean than squared edge tables, and the sides are still squared to allow for connected tables. Countertop edge tables are more expensive, but they are designed with a ridge along the edge of the work table that collects free flowing liquids and food particles, which can help preserve cleanliness in a busy kitchen.
Suppliers typically offer two types of shelves for work tables: table-mounted and undercounter. If you have the height to spare in the kitchen, table-mounted shelves are great for holding ingredients and tools that will be used frequently, as they are easily accessible from surface-level. Undercounter shelves, on the other hand, while slightly less accessible (they fit under surface-level, built into the base structure), preserves more space. In a kitchen with very limited space, undercounter shelves may be more useful than table-mounted, though it is certainly possible to purchase a work table with both for maximum storage capacity and productivity improvements.
Like shelves, drawers can be added to a work table to increase storage capacity and provide easy access to frequently used tools. Drawers are, of course, much more useful for storing cookware and implements that cannot be safely stored on a shelf.
Some work tables come with a sink built into the surface itself. Though a built-in sink can be pricy and will reduce the surface area you have to work with, it may improve efficiency if your employee has to frequently pre-clean implements and ingredients.
Many work tables come with casters or can be customized with casters to improve mobility. Catering companies and other businesses that need solid, but mobile workstations make great use of work tables customized with caster wheels