Have you ever heard the saying concrete jungle? Well, commercial kitchens have been called a stainless-steel jungle. And with good reason. From prep tables and sinks to refrigerators and cooking equipment, most items used in foodservice are stainless steel. They are workhorses bearing the brunt of constant use in most applications, and stainless steel is up to the task. This same equipment often finds its way into front of house applications…think show, display kitchens, or servery stations. Here the monochromatic, metallic nature of stainless steel might seem out of place with the overall interiors vision. Luckily, there are some fantastic minds at work creating alternatives that lend pizzazz to the otherwise staid, stainless steel equipment.
Aesthetics as a Game-Changer
There are a few tried and true methods of adapting foodservice equipment to interior spaces. Powder coating, custom paneling, and undermount equipment are three alternatives that allow the designer to accessorize the equipment and hide them, if you will, in plain sight.
While these options may cost more up front, they can be worth it if they are used correctly to accent the design intent. In our food venue-saturated world, where the customer has a deluge of choices, it is an opportunity to tip the scale on the customer experience. Branding and aesthetics play into consumer decision-making, and both can be enhanced with selective use of these options. Imagine key foodservice equipment outfitted in the same color as the company or restaurant logo. Or the use of custom paneling and undermount equipment to discreetly conceal the elements of an employee pantry/lounge.
Powder coating is a dry finishing process that fuses dry powder to the surface of metal using an electric charge. It is often used on stainless steel surfaces and creates a highly resilient finish that will hold up to the wear and tear of a kitchen, while also being FDA food safe. The coating is not damaged by hot water, steam, or grease and can withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures. Manufacturers who offer powder coating will have a selection of RAL colors to coat the steel, often with various hardware options to coordinate with the space and create a finished product. This is a great option to use in show kitchen applications, from a Michelin star restaurant to a fast-food chain, where the kitchen is visible. It provides an opportunity to strengthen the brand by using complimentary colors. It can be used on refrigeration, heated cabinets, serving counters, and even cooking suites.
Another option to break up that stainless steel jungle is to use custom paneling. Custom paneling is frequently used in residential kitchens, but there are some commercial foodservice areas, specifically counters, which present a terrific opportunity to use this type of application. Serving lines, beverage and hydration stations, POS and checkout counters, and guest or employee pantries are all fantastic locations for custom paneled equipment. The paneling can match the surrounding millwork, effectively hiding the equipment in plain sight. When it’s time to specify “panel ready” units, the equipment is shipped unfinished from the factory. The cabinetry panel is then attached at the site. This allows the façade to be seamless and, in the case of wood paneling, the grain can be uninterrupted going across the surface. Refrigeration, counters, draft coolers and under counter ice makers are among the list of equipment that is available to be panel ready.
Please note, custom paneling is not safe for use on cooklines and in prep areas as it does not hold up to extreme temperatures, can be flammable, and cannot be cleaned with bleach and/or other disinfectants used in commercial kitchens.
Undermounted equipment such as sinks, drop-in temperature-controlled holding units, and induction warmers are placed in a stainless cabinet base or millwork piece with a countertop affixed to create a cohesive and flexible visual. The top counter allows the components of the equipment to be hidden, and when the units are not in use, keeps the surface open to serve other functions. They are especially suitable for B&I and catering spaces because of their versatility.
If there is equipment with a control panel, it is possible to relocate those controls in a less conspicuous spot. There are even some units that when undermounted to the countertop, they can heat or cool through the counter’s surface. When those units are shut off the countertop is a smooth solid surface free of penetration. It is best to use a highly versatile countertop material like engineered stone, preferably a solid surface or quartz, to maintain the integrity of the surface specific for the application of the equipment.
Marble, slate, and concrete are also counter material options but are only recommended for use with countertop induction heaters, not other undermount temperature-controlled units.
The multiple functionalities afforded by undermount equipment creates the opportunity to decrease real estate costs by reducing singular use spaces. If the space can be used as a conference room in the morning and a break room in the afternoon, then less real estate is needed.
Interiors and Foodservice Working Hand in Hand
We must mention how important it is to coordinate with the interior designer when we are looking at the foodservice aesthetics. They have a beautiful vision planned and foodservice consultants have an efficient vision. These two visions must come together to create the ideal space. Foodservice equipment may be made of stainless steel, but there are plenty of options to create a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing environment; you just need to work together to find the best solution.
By Alison O’Hearn | Associate