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The Importance of Restaurant Ergonomics - How to Design for Safety

Restaurant kitchens are often confined and force chefs to stand for long periods of time in almost static motions, causing discomfort and pain. For this reason, it’s important that restaurant ergonomics are considered. How can you design your kitchen for safety, and how can you encourage staff to move in ways that will minimise strain? Here is the importance of restaurant ergonomics - how to design for safety. 



Ergonomics is the study of people working efficiently inside a workspace. For commercial kitchens that means having both an ergonomic space itself, and training ergonomic, efficient movements within that space.


How can I design a kitchen for safety whilst maintaining efficiency?

Before you design your kitchen space, you need to know what menu items will be prepared in your kitchen. For example, if you have many grilled foods, you will need a large grill, and preparation area in front of it. You may need a large garnishing station, but you wouldn’t need a big bank of ovens. As another example, if you are a sushi restaurant, then refrigeration takes priority over having a grill or other equipment. You might need kitchen space for large rice cookers. Your menu will dictate your design and layout. Make sure you get advice from your chef as to what layout would work more conveniently for him/her and his/her team of chefs.


You’ll also want to be aware of the standard measurements for height of work surfaces (3 feet is the standard but it helps to have varying heights), storage cabinets, and so forth. You’ll want to measure the space of your kitchen area, pantry, and so forth to decide where items should go and if you’ll have enough walking space if two chefs are working at back to back counters, and so on.


Planning ahead will allow you to design ergonomically and safely for the people who will use the space. A true ergonomic design will minimise the movement of kitchen staff working within the kitchen to save time, to reduce accident risks, and to reduce food spill possibilities.


Consider the size of your space

A restaurant kitchen should be proportionate to the restaurant size - or the seats in the restaurant, rather. A general rule is that every seat in the restaurant needs 5 equivalent square feet of kitchen space. For example, a 50 seat restaurant needs a 250 square foot kitchen.


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Consider the shape of your space

The shape of your space will fundamentally determine how people can move safely within it. For example, if your space has an island then everyone has to move comfortably around the outside edge. Consider where the doors and exits are too. 


Number of levels

Some restaurants are multi-story so you'll have to think about the food service, and how big your kitchen will need to be to accommodate such a large space. A very large, multi-level restaurant will need a large kitchen, and a clear path for exits and entrances to reduce workplace accidents. A staff service lift, for kitchen porters or waiters, may be a necessity in a busy restaurant, but this comes at a cost.


Natural light

Natural light is important for well-being. Consider placing your kitchen in an area with both natural and artificial light. Think about getting sunlight lamps to help with food service at night as well. Natural light, however, can cause glare at certain times of the day so safety considerations must be made like shades during sunset. Natural light will boost staff well-being too. 


Commercial kitchen windows shouldn't be fewer than 10% of the total floor area. You can use skylights or views of open spaces. Window position should be carefully planned. Kitchen light should be about 160 lux. Food prep, cooking, and washing areas should be 240 lux, whilst dessert presentation and cake decorating need around 400-800 lux of light (400 lux is the illuminate equivalent of sunrise or sunset on a clear day). Read more about artificial versus natural light here


Floor coverings

All floor coverings need to be able to be washed and cleaned effectively and thoroughly. Flooring must not absorb grease, food, or water. It shouldn't harbour pests, or cause water pooling. 


Suitable kitchen flooring:

  • Stainless steel with non-slip profile and welded joints
  • Ceramic tiles with epoxy grouting
  • Quarry tiles with impervious sealant
  • Polyvinyl sheet or tiles with heat-welded joints
  • Concrete that is steel trowel case hardened with epoxy sealant

PVC sheet or tiles should not be next to hot fat appliances like deep fryers. All commercial kitchen floors and the flooring of staff amenities must have a non-slip surface. Flooring should be cleaned daily to maintain slip-resistance.


Floor and wall surfaces can easily become contaminated by grease build up. All junctions should be coved (concave molding) to make cleaning and disinfecting easier. 


Entrance & exit door

Entrances and exits need to be located where people can safely exits. For all rooms, there must be at least two escape routes. Find out more about the number of exits you need based on number of occupants, and the width of the doors required here



Positioning of sinks

When you're building a space, you'll need to know where to place your plumbing for sinks and wash stations. How you decide on plumbing will be determined by the layout and the use of the kitchen. Consult the head chef and commercial kitchen planners as to where each of the staff will be placed and which and how many washing stations the staff will need access to. 



Number of staff

The number of staff you have working will determine how big the kitchen needs to be and how people will move safely within that space. Make sure everything is planned out before you build or construct your restaurant kitchen. 



So, how can I design a kitchen for safety too?

Allow your local inspectors to come and review your preliminary kitchen design to make sure health and safety guidelines are met.



Create work zones that work

Create work zones in your kitchen for maximum safety to avoid collision, tension and chaos. Have a separate zone for tasks such as:


  • Cleaning
  • Cutting + other prep work
  • Baking
  • Frying
  • Cooking
  • Serving / Plating


Each member of staff will work within a designated zone. So the chef who prepares and washes vegetables can work in the wash station zone, and another chef can work in a fry zone to prepare fried foods, and so forth. 



Plan toilets away from food areas

This may sound obvious, but the restaurant needs a sufficient number of toilets that do not lead into areas where food is handled. There need to be enough toilets for both guests and staff, but toilets should not be on the path to food areas because contamination can occur, and you'll want to seperate out the directional paths of customers and staff as much as possible to avoid collisions. 



Provide appropriate number of sinks

There needs to be enough sinks for handwashing located in appropriate locations. Sinks must have warm and cold water, soap, and paper towels. All chefs and kitchen staff need access to a handwashing station that doesn't hinder another staff's movement. Make sure handwashing stations are placed close to each person's individual area, and that floors are kept mopped and dry. You may also want slip-resistant matting around these stations. 



Separate food washing equipment

Food washing equipment must be separate from hand-washing equipment. Depending on the number of people working in the kitchen, you may need several handwashing stations, located at various points in the kitchen. You may need one major food washing station, or you may need several. Make sure the areas around these washing stations have non-slip mats, and that the floors are regularly mopped and dried to reduce the chances of slipping. 



Good air circulation & ventilation

All parts of the restaurant need to have natural or artificial air circulation. Restaurants with solid fuel cooking appliances (tandoori ovens, wood fire pizza ovens, charcoal grills) require employers to protect employees and guests who may be at risk of exposure to smoke and mixing of dangerous flame and substances with carbon monoxide gas - released when you burn wood or coal, for example. Since the gas is poisonous yet cannot be tasted or smelled, then appropriate ventilation and air circulation has to be in place. 


A commercial kitchen needs good ventilation to remove steam and smoke as these are potentially dangerous for employee health. You also do not want your diners to smell like food when they eat at your restaurant as it will negatively impact them returning.



Maintain kitchen equipment 

The kitchen should be easy to maintain. Cookware should have dedicated storage - shelves, cabinets, a pantry, and so forth - for all cookware, equipment, and crockery. Shelves are more convenient for those who work there, but cabinets are easier to keep clean. Kitchen equipment should be inspected regularly and maintained properly. For example, a leaking ice machine can cause a hazard in the kitchen. 



Only use professional food equipment 

All equipment must be made for a professional kitchen.


  • Tables for food preparation.
  • Electrical equipment for cooking, baking, and frying.
  • Refrigerators, freezers, and ice machines.
  • Equipment for washing dishes.
  • Cabinets, drawers, and shelves to store dishes.
  • Staff uniform and personal equipment such as slip resistant shoes


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Appropriate kitchen configuration 

So now you know the key features your safe working kitchen should contain - how do you arrange it? Below are a few of the most common layouts of commercial kitchens:


  • ASSEMBLY LINE. Ideal for restaurants with limited dishes that need meals prepared in a flowing line. Great for fast food, sandwich restaurants, burrito and taco joints, pizzerias, and so forth. Allows for smooth operation with high-volume production. 

  • ZONE-STYLE. Work surfaces are placed considering tasks such as cleaning, cutting, mixing, etc. Zones have necessary equipment and appliances to carry out those tasks. This type of kitchen has designated stations for dry and refrigerated storage, cooking, sanitation, dishwashing, and kitchen to restaurant transition areas.

  • CENTRALISED/ISLAND STYLE. Arranged similarly to zone-style kitchens with the middle part of the kitchen in one main block instead. The central section usually has cooking equipment, and the outside edge is reserved for cutting, food storage, prep, finishing, and cleaning, or the reverse.

  • ERGONOMIC. A kitchen designed around actions taking place in the restaurant for faster cooking. Doesn’t always consider energy efficiency since a fridge can be placed next to a fryer to maximise how quickly fries can be made.

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Now the design is correct - how do you encourage staff to move efficiently and safely within the kitchen?

You want to encourage your staff to move as much as they can in positions that do not cause strain. If they’re standing for long periods of time, they need shoes with extra cushioning and support.


You may also want your chefs to have access to a stool or a place to rest their foot in order to relieve pressure on joints - or encourage them to shift their weight and change positions often. There are many different exercises chefs can use to stretch their limbs. Slip-resistant shoes and mats are a must have too.


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Work surfaces of varying heights maximise comfort, and allow your kitchen staff to work using natural body positions.


Overall, safety and ergonomics need to be considered in commercial kitchen design.




Concerned about staff safety in the kitchen?

At Shoes for Crews (Europe), Ltd. we've designed shoes with sole technology specifically with chefs, bakers, and restaurant staff in mind to get you home safely.  Find out exactly how our sole tech can help keep your staff safe at work by downloading our FREE tech guide below:

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