Protecting a foodservice organization’s investment in inventory depends on its having effective and efficient storage facilities. Storage is a vital function that is given too little attention: well planned and well managed storage areas encourage employee productivity, reduce product loss, and improve food safety.
Storage needs vary depending on the scope and size of an operation, its menu offerings and level of service, anticipated meal volumes, the frequency of deliveries, and the configuration of the building. A small, chef run restaurant in a busy urban area may require only modest refrigerated and ambient temperature storage rooms off the kitchen, while a large resort hotel in a remote location may need thousands of square meters of temperature controlled and ambient storage for a wide range of food, beverage, service, and support products. For this reason, storage requirements for an individual operation should be determined by that facility’s distinctive characteristics.
In general, storage for foodservice operations can be classified into three distinct groups: temperature controlled storage such as refrigerators, freezers, and wine rooms; ambient temperature (or ‘dry’) food storage for bulk goods and packaged items that do not require refrigeration; and non food storage, typically for service ware, utensils and cookware, paper goods, linens, and cleaning supplies. The wise foodservice operator keeps food storage separate from non food storage to ensure food safety and control access to valuable inventory.
Temperature controlled storage may take the form of reach in refrigerators and freezers located near the point of use, or a chilled room commonly called a walk-in. For storing most food products, a temperature of 2 4 °C (36 40 °F) is typical, although the amount of humidity required for optimal storage of items such as fresh fish or produce varies and thus operations with large volumes of these ingredients tend to have dedicated refrigeration for each product type. Frozen items must of course be stored at temperatures well below 0 °C (32 °F), requiring a separate storage area. It is common, particularly in smaller operations, for a frozen storage walk in to be connected to and accessed from a refrigerated walk in as a way of saving energy. Chilled storage rooms at temperatures of 10 15 °C (50 60 °F) may also be employed for storing wines, or for aging specialty cheeses or meats.
Dry storage areas for food and non food items are best positioned near the point of use, which unfortunately is impractical when space is at a premium. Many operations divide these storage areas in two, with a small ‘day use’ storage area in the kitchen and larger storage facilities elsewhere in the building that are ideally accessed only once or twice a day. Within the scope of the entire space of an operation, storage areas should be carefully integrated with employee work stations whenever possible as a way of increasing productivity and reducing fatigue.
The ideal foodservice storage area is readily accessible from both the receiving area and the kitchen. In large operations, designers try to adopt a ‘forward flow’ model (Kotschevar & Terrell, 1986) that allows supplies to move into storage at one end and out the other, into preparation and cooking areas, and from there to customers. This approach keeps kitchen staff separated from non kitchen areas, limiting the potential for cross contamination.
Important features of an effective storage area include sturdy shelving that makes optimal use of the volume of space available. The best storage shelving is adjustable, wheeled for easy removal for cleaning, and, if located in humid areas, resistant to corrosion. Good shelving also allows airflow around the products being stored, which is why many operations choose wire or slatted shelf units. Foodservice shelving may be purchased in a variety of lengths and heights, typically in some multiple of 15 cm, and in a range of widths, although for many operations a width of 60 cm (24") is optimal as it readily accommodates typical pan sizes as well as cases or loose packaged products. Most health codes require that all food products and food contact materials be stored a minimum of 15 cm (6") off the floor, favoring low racks for large, bulky items as well as more traditional storage shelves.
Lighting in storage areas needs to be bright and uniform, and should be shielded to protect products in case of a damaged lamp or bulb. In all storage areas, adequate airflow and protection from extremes of temperature or humidity need to be provided. Choosing the right floor and wall finishes will make storage areas easier to clean; tile or industrial composite floors are ideal in most storage areas, while epoxy paint is appropriate for dry storage area walls. Refrigerated storage space is typically pre-fabricated from panels, which may be steel coated at the factory with enamel or made of stainless steel, an expensive but long lasting and effective choice. Lastly, many operators choose to control access to storage areas, particularly those areas holding valuable inventory such as alcohol or meats.
When planning a foodservice operation, management should consider storage not only for food, beverages, and service ware, but also for items that are rarely considered but are inevitably required in the course of business. These might include parts and supplies for kitchen equipment, media and receipt tapes for point of sale systems, festive decorations, soiled linens, or surplus furniture. Storage areas for such items are often created out of ‘found space,’ which may be functional but is rarely optimal.
Kotschevar, L. H., & Terrell, M. E. (1986). Foodservice Planning: Layout and Equipment. New York (USA): Macmillan.