Countertop Options for Foodservice

While the work surfaces in your kitchen are usually stainless steel, there are other options for the countertops in your serving area.

Cambria Countertop

Cambria offers many countertop color choices and is easily maintained and durable, making it an excellent choice in foodservice areas. (Photo courtesy of CambriaUSA)

Quartz material such as Zodiaq™ or Cambria™

  • Is non-porous. No sealant or polish is required.
  • Is made with pure quartz crystals, one of nature’s strongest materials.
  • Comes in a wide variety of colors.
  • Is NSF/ANSI 51 Certified for food contact.
  • Comes standard with polished finish although honed is available too.
  • Is easy to maintain, is extremely durable and chemical resistant.
  • Is heat and scratch resistant but not heat and scratch proof. It should not be used directly as a cutting board and a trivet should always be used to prevent damage from heat.
  • Can be cleaned with a damp cloth and non-bleach, nonabrasive cleanser when necessary.
  • Can be damaged by sudden and/or rapid change of temperature especially near the edges.

Solid Surface material such as Corian™:

  • Is easy to clean and maintained and can be renewed if scratched.
  • Is stain resistant and minor discolorations can be removed.
  • Comes in a wide variety of colors.
  • Is NSF/ANSI 51 Certified for food contact.
  • Comes in three finishes – matte/satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss.
  • Is easy to clean with soapy water, ammonia based cleaners or solid surface cleaner. Chlorinated solvents and strong acid cleaners should be avoided.
  • Withstands heat better than most surface materials but hot cookware should not be set directly on the surface.
  • Should never be used directly as a cutting board.
  • Is somewhat brittle so cut outs can be problematic.

Recycled glass and cement product such as Ice Stone™:

  • Is made from recycled glass, cement and pigment.
  • Is extremely durable and sustainable.
  • Is a very dense but still porous so surfaces would have to be sealed to prevent staining and waxed to prevent etching.
  • Spills should be wiped up immediately, especially acidic liquids.
  • Can be cleaned with products that are free of chlorine, ammonia, acids or citrus scents. Only cleaning products that are recommended by the manufacturer should be used.
  • Cutting boards and trivets should be used to prevent scratches and heat damage.

A few options you may encounter that are not recommended in foodservices areas are outlined below.

Plastic Laminate. Although Plastic Laminate comes in a variety of colors and is less expensive than quartz or solid surface it is not recommended in foodservice areas for the following reasons:

  • The thin surface can chip or wear away.
  • Stains can seep into the seams easily.
  • It is not heat resistant and is easily damaged.
  • It is not easily repaired and must be replaced if damaged.
  • Is easily damaged by moisture.

Natural Stone. While natural stone offers natural beauty and some heat and scratch resistance it is not recommended for foodservice areas:

  • The surface is more porous than solid surface or quartz and thus more easily stained.
  • Seams can trap dirt and are difficult to clean.
  • Scratches are hard to remove. Nicks, chips and cracks may not be repairable.
  • Must be professionally resealed and repolished.
  • Less variety in color and patterns.

Ceramic Tile. Ceramic Tile offers versatility with many sizes and colors that are available but is usually not recommended for foodservice countertops for the following reasons:

  • The grout lines collect dirt and are difficult to clean.
  • The tile is not very durable or scratch resistant.



Local Produce for School Lunch Program: Distribution

This post is the second in our series of articles about sourcing local produce for school lunch programs.


Determining how to get locally farmed products to the school is often the biggest challenge faced by foodservice staff when instituting a farm to school program.

The most frequent issue cited by school foodservice staff when developing a farm to school program is difficulty transporting locally farmed products to the school. A number of factors should be considered when determining the most effective distribution method for your district, such as the district size, whether the district has centralized versus satellite kitchens, the schools’ storage capacities, and whether farm cooperatives exist in the area. Four distribution methods are outlined below.

Buy directly from individual farmers. Some school foodservice directors have built relationships with individual farmers and buy directly from them.

No middleman so challenges can be overcome quickly and easily
Foodservice staff learns what the farmer grows and can even ask for specific items to be planted

Individual farmers mean more paperwork, more phone calls, more coordination, more deliveries

Buy from a farmer cooperative. A cooperative consolidates multiple farmers’ products and distributes them together.

Reduces administration, paperwork, number of deliveries

May not be an option for all regions
Decreases personal contact with individual farmers

Buy from farmers’ markets. This model is similar to buying directly from farmers, but orders are given to the farmers a few days prior to the farmers’ market and are picked up by the foodservice staff on the day of the farmers’ market.

Ability to inspect before accepting the product
Gives an opportunity to see other growers and their offerings at the market
Can reduce costs since the farmer was already coming to the market

More time consuming since product must be picked up
Works only in regions where the school year and farmers’ markets coincide
Feasible only if the district has a truck and driver available

Order locally grown food through a traditional wholesaler. For this method, foodservice staff purchases from a distributor that offers at least some local products.

Often allows foodservice staff to maintain existing purchasing relationships
Reduces administration and time required to procure local product

No communication with farmers
Unable to guarantee product is locally sourced (can be mitigated by knowing the availability and seasonality of local produce and requesting access to buying records from the broker)

Because of the differences among school districts, there is not a one-size-fits-all or recommended distribution method. Each district, after taking an inventory of their resources and unique circumstances, can choose the distribution method that best fits their situation. For more extensive information on distribution models, see the USDA’s publication Eat Smart – Farm Fresh! A Guide to Buying and Serving Locally-Grown Produce in School Meals.

Host 2011 International Exhibit Lessons Learned


Cooking Suites maximize space usage and increase efficiency. (Photo courtesy of Bonnet)

Last month Doc Kitchens and his team attended the Host 2011 International Exhibit in Milan, Italy, one of the largest trade shows of foodservice equipment in Europe and probably the world. While we certainly couldn’t experience the whole show in the time that we had, we saw many things that will inspire us the next time we do a project here or abroad.

  • Cooking Suites: We saw lots of cooking suites, which are very popular in Europe. They allow the cooking to be brought out to the customer’s view while allowing the chefs to easily communicate across the equipment. In addition, the configuration of cooking suites allows cooks to stay in their station as  the plate passes from station to station, instead of having one cook in charge of all the plate’s contents. Cooking suites provide increased efficiency and maximized space.  They are highly customizable to accommodate any menu as well as extremely energy efficient. For more information on European cooking suites, see this article.
  • Combi Ovens: We also saw many brands of combi ovens. Combi ovens bring together various technologies including convection, convection with moisture, steam, re-thermalizing or a combination of any of the above.  While combi ovens are used in the States, it is evident from the Host 2011 show that they are more widely used in Europe. Since varying cooking methods can be combined in one unit, fewer individual pieces of equipment are required in the kitchen. Combi ovens prepare food quickly and are excellent for high production environments. While operators are sometimes hesitant to use such a complex piece of equipment, once they receive the training required, they typically find that they love it and can’t imagine their kitchen without it.
  • Aesthetics and Efficiency: European equipment, no matter what the function, tended to have clean, organic lines compared to most American equipment. Items that may be seen by the customer came in a variety of color options to add interest to the open kitchen environment. Efficiency and energy consumption were common themes throughout the show. For example, we saw many equipment pieces that had dual functions, such as the kettle that was also a mixer, which allows foods to be cooked from start to finish in one unit without any food transfer.

Visiting another country is enlightening; you see how others live, work, and design. While there were many differences, there were certainly many similarities too. We can learn from our trip and our observations at the Host 2011show and use those ideas and inspiration to assist with our projects no matter where they may be.


Local Produce for School Lunch Program: An Introduction

This post serves as an introduction to our series of articles about sourcing local produce for school lunch programs. 

Your school system already utilizes sustainable practices when constructing and operating new schools. As a foodservice director you may have considered additional steps you can take to support the sustainability effort. Why not adopt a program such as buying local produce for your school lunch program (i.e., farm to school program)? A successful farm to school program partners schools with local farms and results in more nutritious and better tasting menu offerings, which in turn can increase school meal participation rates and contribute to the overall health of your students. In addition, purchasing directly from nearby farms supports the local economy and provides health and nutrition educational opportunities for students. All of these benefits sound great, but where should you start and what hurdles might you encounter?

Local Produce Image

Many resources are available to assist school foodservice directors with sourcing local produce for their lunch program.

The Farm-to-School Program is a valuable national network that connects schools with local farms. Farm-to-School provides myriad resources to help school foodservice directors get started. The Farm-to-School website provides information about building relationships with local growers, case studies from school systems that have already implemented farm to school programs, and tools for evaluating the program’s success.

I highly recommend reading USDA Farm to School Team 2010 Summary Report. This report summarizes the findings from fifteen school districts across the country that have already implemented a successful program – describing challenges encountered, along with real-world solutions. You may be interested to learn how various school districts overcame funding shortfalls, labor challenges, and facility modifications that are required to implement a farm to school program. The amount of valuable information and the number of ideas and solutions available to anyone interested in starting a farm to school program are incredible. Consider investing time researching the opportunity and take advantage of the resources that are available to you through the Farm-to-School program.

The potential positive impact of a farm to school program for your school system is enormous. Good luck, and stay tuned for additional posts about this topic!


Top 10 Trends in K-12 School Foodservice

1. Greater Use of Energy Efficient Equipment

Almost all school projects are seeking LEED certification these days. The use of energy efficient equipment and variable demand exhaust systems are part of every school project. An increased number of Energy Star rated appliances has helped schools reduce their utility consumption. This common sense trend toward using energy efficient equipment will continue far into the future.

Energy saving exhaust systems and an emphasis on reducing water and waste are common elements of most K-12 design projects.

2. Water Use Reduction

Low-flow faucets and warewashing equipment with very low water requirements are becoming the standard in every school kitchen. The days of operating a warewasher that uses 400 gallons of water per hour are over.

3. Waste Reduction through Recycling and Composting

Many school systems are abandoning the use of garbage disposers and are instead pursuing composting programs. Tray return stations are quickly becoming recycling stations where students separate the waste from the recyclable materials.

4. More Locally-Grown Produce

Reducing the carbon footprint of schools is gaining popularity. Purchasing produce from local farmers rather than from across the country is a real trend. Today’s kitchen designs have to account for the logistics of fresh produce preparation as compared with opening ready-to-serve produce.

5. Greater Emphasis on Scratch Cooking

Many school systems are returning to scratch cooking, particularly with baked products. The perception that scratch cooking produces fresher, healthier food and happier students is driving this trend.

6. Greater Variety in Menu

Students are willing to experiment with new foods, especially in high school. The diversity of student populations is also driving a need for more variety in menus.

7. Non-Institutional Serving Areas

Students have become used to dining and socializing in food courts and want to have the same kind of atmosphere at school. They don’t want to feel like they are in an institutional setting. Participation rates at schools that have a commercial feel are significantly higher than rates at schools utilizing the traditional linear serving line.


Many school systems are returning to scratch cooking for fresher, healthier food and happier students.

8. Emphasis on Food Safety

National news coverage of food-borne illness outbreaks has made school administrators more aware of the need for food safety.

9. Greater Awareness of Food Allergies/Sensitivities and Preferences

Because the number of U.S. children with food allergies has increased significantly in the last ten years some school systems have incorporated nut-free or gluten-free options. And to accommodate food preferences some schools have expanded the menu to include items such as vegan choices.

10. Increased Design Flexibility

Unlike commercial operators, school systems plan to use foodservice equipment for many years rather than planning for replacement five to seven years in the future. As a result the equipment chosen for a school kitchen must be flexible enough to serve the program through a wide variety of menu trends that will occur over a 20 or 30 year time horizon.


When Not to Hire a Professional Foodservice Consultant

Wait a minute! Why would a professional foodservice consultant say that you should not hire him? As someone who makes a living ensuring that my client’s best interest are protected, I realize there are times when a client would be better served by obtaining design services from someone other than me. Let me explain. Foodservice facility designers generally follow one of two business models. They are either fee-based designers (all professional members of FCSI fall into this category) or value-added designers (companies that offer design services in addition to direct sales of equipment fall into this category). Some projects are better served by fee-based designers, while others are more appropriate for value-added designers. The type of designer needed for the project is dependent on the characteristics of the particular project, as I’ll explain below.

Consulting image

Fee-based designers act as their client's unbiased advocate

Our firm utilizes the fee-based business model and we are compensated solely from the fees charged to our clients. We take no compensation from manufacturers or other sources for specifying particular brands of equipment nor do we receive compensation from the sale of the foodservice equipment. Compare this to a foodservice equipment dealer who offers design services for little to no expense to the client knowing that he will have an opportunity to sell the equipment package and pocket the profit from that sale.

Projects that are relatively small (meaning a foodservice equipment budget of less than $150,000) and that don’t have complicated systems (e.g., conveyor systems or complicated refrigeration rack systems) are perfectly suited for the foodservice equipment dealer. In this case, the dealer can provide design services for very little up-front cost. When he sells the equipment package to the client, he will recoup the costs for his design services.

Owners of larger projects or projects requiring highly engineered systems are usually better served by fee-based designers, such as professional members of FCSI. Why? The fees incurred to secure the services of a professional member of FCSI can be justified through the competitive bidding process. Typically, our firm’s clients realize savings through the bid process that more than cover the fees for our professional services. In order to become a professional member of FCSI, one must demonstrate competencies in the foodservice industry by passing a written Industry Knowledge Exam and a Professional Skills Exam. In addition, one must have a minimum of three years of project management experience. Professional members of FCSI must also subscribe to a strict code of ethics that ensures that they serve as client advocates throughout the design and construction process, and most notably, FCSI consultants never sell equipment.

In conclusion, you should seek the services of a professional fee-based consultant for any project that requires significant expertise, includes highly engineered systems and are of sufficient size that the competitive bidding process will offer sizable savings. Small and relatively simple projects may be better suited for foodservice equipment dealers offering design services as a value-added service. If you have a project that you would like to discuss in general, feel free to give us a shout. We’ll be happy to help you determine which kind of food facility designer would be right for you. Thanks for reading!


Capturing Cooking Effluent with the Exhaust Hood

Q: I’m having issues with my exhaust hood not catching all the discharge from my cooking equipment in the restaurant I just took over from a failed operator. Any ideas?

Exhaust Hood End Panels

Illustration of partial (top drawing) and full (bottom drawing) side panels. Used with permission. From Design Guide 1: Improving Commercial Kitchen Ventilation System Performance, Selecting & Sizing Exhaust Hoods

A: Issues involving exhaust hoods can be complicated and expensive. Start with the easy things first:

Check the fan to be sure it is operating. If the fan has a belt, also make sure the belt is in place.

Make sure the filters are clean and in place.

Ensure you have the proper overhang on the hood beyond the cooking equipment. The current code states that the hood must overhang the cooking surface a minimum of 6 inches.

Make sure there are no cross drafts from fans used to cool the staff or from diffusers in the ceiling for heating/air conditioning supplies. Cross drafts from diffusers, even those located many feet away from the hood, can have adverse effects on capture.

Experiment with side (or end) panels. Old cardboard boxes make great temporary trial capture improvers. Start by placing a sheet of cardboard at each end of the hood forming a partial end panel on the hood. Blocking off just 25-50% of the ends of the hood can make dramatic changes in capture along the front of the hood. If the temporary fix works, have the ends fabricated out of stainless steel and install them in place of the cardboard.

If all this fails consider hiring an expert to evaluate the situation. Hood design has advanced very rapidly recently and the new designs save energy and work better. Pay back can be more rapid than with other energy saving improvements so it is work the investment to hire a knowledgeable professional and budget for the best system for your circumstances.


Frost Prevention in a Walk-In Freezer

Q: I have frost forming in my walk-in freezer. Can you tell me how to stop the frost buildup?

A: Below are the most common reasons for frost formation in the walk-in freezer and how to stop it in each situation.

  1. Propping open the door: Frost accumulates when warm air is allowed to enter the walk-in. Make sure the employees are not propping the door open for extended periods of time while loading or unloading the freezer.
  2. Seam leak: If your walk-in is a new installation and the frost is forming along seam lines, you may have an air leak at the seam. This leak can be repaired by sealing the seam with caulk from the outside only (the warm side). Do not caulk on the inside or you will make the problem worse as the moisture will accumulate in the seam and freeze and the expanding ice will further separate the panels.
  3. Leaky door or wiper gasket: If the frost is around the door you likely have a leaking door gasket or wiper gasket on the bottom of the door. Go inside the freezer, have someone turn the lights off, wait a minute or two for your eyes to adjust and look around the door for light entering from the kitchen. If you see light you have a leak at the gaskets that will need to be repaired.
  4. Pressure relief port issue: Another leak at the door can be caused by an iced up pressure relief port. Walk-in freezers are generally equipped with a small electrically-heated vent to allow the warm air that enters the box to shrink as it cools without creating a low pressure that will have to equalize. If you notice the door is difficult to open immediately after being closed you may have a failed pressure port or none at all. Find the port, which is usually a louvered vent located near the door and visible on both the inside and outside of the box, and see if it is blocked with ice. If it is, clear it and check the small heater inside to see if it’s working. If the heater doesn’t seem to be working, or if you do not have a pressure relief port, call your refrigeration technician for repairs.
  5. Fan delay relay failure: If the frost is on the ceiling, particularly near the unit cooler (coil), you may have a failed fan delay relay. The fan delay relay functions to delay the coil fans from restarting after a defrost cycle until the coil refreezes. If there is no delay the water on the fins of the coil will evaporate and turn to frost on the ceiling of the walk-in freezer. You’ll need a refrigeration tech to confirm the problem and replace the fan delay relay.

Good luck!


Welcome to Doc Kitchens

DocKitchensImageWelcome to Doc Kitchens, where all your commercial and institutional kitchen design questions will be answered. We have a list of blog topics that we’ll begin addressing soon. These entries will answer some of the questions that we get repeatedly from end-users and architects, such as why we use 10″ wide solid tray slides.

If you have a specific design question you’d like us to answer, feel free to let us know, either by posting your question in a comment here or emailing it to