Sinks, tables, counters, and shelves are not especially glamourous, but they are the basic building blocks of the kitchen. As functioning pieces of kitchen equipment, tables and sinks are often overlooked, but so much of everything else that happens in the kitchen depends on these items that it pays to select them carefully.
Most sinks are made of stainless steel and are bought in different sizes to fit specific purposes. In fact, every kitchen should have at least six sinks to meet typical sanitation requirements.
Mop sinks are usually floor mounted for ease of use in dumping mop buckets. Typically these units are at least 24"×24" or larger. You typically will want this sink in its own room for sanitation reasons.
Clean up sinks, or pot and utensil sinks must consist of three individual sink compartments to meet the requirements of your local health department. The first sink is for soaking and washing with detergents; the second is for fresh water rinsing; and the third is for sanitizing. Sink sanitizing can be done by a chemical additive or by using a special sink heater to raise and maintain water temperature at 180 degrees.
Health department inspectors generally say the sinks should be large enough to hold your largest item to be washed. So if you are using 18"×26" sheet pans, the sinks will need to be slightly larger than that. Drainboards are another good operational feature. These will come in handy on each end of the three compartments. If possible, drainboards should be at least as wide as your sinks and twice their width.
The general utility sink is used for rinsing produce, filling water pitchers and similar-functions. We typically like to see about an 18"×18" sink built into a worktable, but other configurations will work.
Finally, the hand sink is critical to sanitation in every operation. A hand sink must be a separate, purpose-built sink (another one cannot double for it!)
Every operation needs at least one hand sink and often more. The general requirement is for a hand sink to be within 20 feet of any food handling point in your kitchen. It cannot be part of another table and must be separated from food processing functions. Also, you will need an accessible soap and towel dispenser near each hand sink.
Tables and counters are also a necessity in every operation, but each is constructed differently, for a different function.
A worktable is a stainless top with legs and structural bracing and perhaps an undershelf.
A workcounter has the same sort of top as a table but a box type base with multiple shelves, cabinets, refrigerated compartments or other features under the top. Counters generally rest on six or eight inch high legs, just high enough to clean under.
The tops of both the counters and tables are generally 34" to 36" above the floor, a comfortable working height for standing employees.
Worktables and counters are available in a wide variety of sizes. Some manufacturers offer “buy-out” tables that are stocked in standardized sizes. An unusual size or shape requirement can be custom fabricated. Although it is often thought that custom fabrication is more expensive, this is not always the case, so it is best to compare before buying. Often custom equipment can improve kitchen efficiency and help make the layout more functional.
Worktable construction is the most important factor in determining how much use and abuse an item can take and still function. The thickness of the stainless steel used is a very important factor in how rugged a table will be. Welding, bracing, and reinforcing of shelves, tops, and other components also determine a table's strength.
Heavy-duty worktables and counters are usually constructed with 14-gauge stainless steel tops, 16-gauge horizontal shelf surfaces and 18-gauge vertical body and liner parts. Lighter duty tables, perfectly suitable for many uses, usually have 16-gauge tops. Bracing and reinforcing under the top can be just as important as the top thickness in determining durability.
The type of stainless steel is also important, as not all stainless steel is equal. “300 series” stainless steel containing a chromium and nickel blend is more stain resistant than “400 series” stainless which is less expensive and more commonly used in light duty and residential applications. Although they don't look different, you can always tell the difference because 400 series is magnetic while 300 series is not.
Worktables and counters can be purchased with a variety of options like undershelves, sinks, and overshelves. Remember to leave out shelving under tables where rolling equipment needs to be stored, and also leave off overshelves where tall equipment such as coffee urns may be positioned. Counter bases can have refrigerated compartments or heated shelves that can be custom built into the counter to the precise size needed. Buy-out undercounter refrigerators and hot cabinets can also be mounted under the worktop, sometimes saving money. Other compartments for controls or compressors for items in the counter may be located where needed for easy access.