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Commercial Kitchen Layout – Is the Golden Triangle Still Relevant?


Working in a commercial kitchen requires skill, organisation and the ability to remain calm under pressure. No matter what role you occupy, you are part of a well-trained machine that is fundamental to the success of the business.

Along with the staff, the way the kitchen is designed is also a vital factor. Everything needs to be accessible with no bottlenecks or places where space is cramped. For many years, kitchen designers have used a theory called the ‘golden triangle’ to make the best use of space. However, with modern technology and a change in the ways commercial kitchens are run, is the ‘golden triangle’ still relevant?

What is the ‘golden triangle’?Domestic kitchen with sections for fridge, oven and sink

Also called the ‘kitchen triangle,’ this principle was first developed by the Illinois School of Architecture in the 1940s. The idea was that if you had the three main components of the kitchen (sink, cooker, and refrigerator) positioned to form an invisible triangle in the room, then it would streamline the cooking process.

The ideal distance between these appliances was between four to nine feet. This would give someone enough room to move around easily, without being cramped. It also meant that the person cooking could move from one to the other in one direction.

Although the ‘golden triangle’ was developed for domestic purposes, many commercial kitchens started to adopt the design technique as well.

Why Was it So Popular?

To understand why this design feature was so popular, you have to think about the time period it was developed.

In the 1940s, the kitchen was considered a purely functional area and was separated from the rest of the house. This meant that only those who really used the kitchen went in there.

Houses around that time were much smaller than today, meaning space was at a premium. The ‘golden triangle’ design allowed for the best use of available space while still keeping the kitchen functional.

Typically, only one person in the household was responsible for cooking, so this design offered the best system to allow them to prepare meals quickly and efficiently. The same could be said for commercial kitchens, which often only had one chef working at a time.

What’s Changed in Kitchen Design and Layout?

Even though many houses and businesses still have the ‘golden triangle’ design in the kitchen, the way people cook both domestically and commercially has changed over the years.

Newer kitchen designs now offer a different type of cooking experience. Domestically, more homes now have an open plan kitchen which includes a dining area. In many restaurants now, part of the kitchen is visible to the customers and they can see their food being prepared.

Kitchens are now used not only as a functional area, but also a place to experiment with food and share cooking experiences. Typically, more than one person in the home will now do the cooking, and it has become a more social area and an extension to the rest of the house.Man and woman plating up food in commercial kitchen

In restaurants and commercial situations, the kitchen is now filled with many people all working on a separate part of the cooking process. This means more people need access to the three main areas of the kitchen at any one time.

Technology has impacted every area of modern life including the kitchen. In the past, there were only a few main appliances that people had access to, whereas today, there is a vast assortment of equipment and appliances. The arrival of the food processors and blixers, commercial microwaves, and commercial dishwashers along with numerous countertop cooking equipment and an increased demand for ample food preparation area, has meant that more areas of the kitchen are needed as part of everyday use.

Modern Commercial Kitchens

The increase in technology and the number of people working in commercial kitchens have led designers to adopt a new five-point principle that allows better use of space.

  1. Storage - Changes in the law governing the safe storage of food means there now needs to be various storage options available. A cool storeroom is needed for foods that do not require refrigeration. Adequately temperature-controlled areas are also needed for chilledPentagon with 5 sections and frozen foods to minimise contamination.
  2. Food Preparation - To avoid cross-contamination, it has now become essential that different types of food are prepared separately. This means having separate areas or ‘zones’ that deal with meat, vegetables etc.
  3. Cooking - Anyone in the kitchen that is preparing food may need access to cooking equipment. This means that the cooking area must be easily accessible without it causing a bottleneck if more than one person is cooking.
  4. Service Area - Once the food is prepared, it needs to get to the customers at the front of house. This means having an area where the food can be placed so it can be collected by waiting staff. These areas typically use hot lamps to keep the food warm.
  5. Cleaning - Washing and cleaning of the cooking equipment is an important part of the kitchen. This area is usually in a separate zone of the kitchen where the pots, pans and dishes can be cleaned effectively.

Commercial Kitchen Layout

Because of these five principles of modern commercial kitchens, there are now three popular layouts that are used. These layouts ensure the principles are used effectively.

  1. Island Style - This style uses an island in the middle of the kitchen for the cooking equipment, and the preparation and storage areas around the outside.
  2. Zones - The zone style dedicates one area of the kitchen to each of the five principles.
  3. Assembly Line - This style involves the food being passed along a line of staff who assemble the food along the way. Many pizza restaurants use such a style as it is easier and there is less variation of the menu.

With changes in food safety legislation and the way food is prepared and cooked, the traditional ‘golden triangle’ design is less efficient than it used to be. However, in smaller commercial kitchens and in many domestic premises where space is limited, there could still be a place for this type of design.

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