Prep Counters & Tables
One of the most important lines of kitchen equipment, yet one of the most overlooked, is preparation tables and counters. That’s where most of the prep work gets done, and its design can make a big difference in the speed and efficiency of the kitchen staff.
There are three main types of preparation tables and counters. One type is devoted to specialized final preparation and assembly offood. Typical units would be sandwich tables, salad tables, and carving tables.
The second type is designed for manual food preparation, such as a bakery table, a counter where vegetables are sliced and cut, and a butcher block.
The third type is the electrical equipment tables or counters. These are where electrical preparation equipment is set up and operated. These might include tables or counters for slicers, vegetable peelers, bench mixers, food processors, etc.
Some preparation tables and counters are just open structures. They have a top, generally stainless steel, legs, and probably one or two shelves below the top.
Others have built-in undercounter refrigeration or heated compartments, depending upon the nature of the food being prepared.
Specialized preparation units have cutouts for insetting pans holding ingredients required in the specific preparation the table or counter is designed for. This is especially true of sandwich tables and salad tables.
There is a wide variety of sandwich tables available. Almost every manufacturer has some special design feature to make the unit more convenient or to speed production.
A typical cold sandwich preparation table, which some manufacturers call a sandwich refrigerator, consists of a counter height unit, which is generally 36 inches from floor to the working area on top of the unit. Length may vary from as short as three or four feet to as long as seven feet or longer. Tops are available with or without a backsplash.
The preferred material is stainless steel, although most sandwich tables come with a cutting board, usually a tough plastic material, that is from seven to 12 inches wide, running the length of the unit. There is frequently a cutout in the cutting board to sweep crumbs and scraps into a scrap container located below the top.
In the table top, cutouts for pans are provided. These hold the sandwich ingredients, such as sliced tomato and onion, lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise and other dressings, meats, cheeses, etc. There is generally refrigeration coils or a cold water bath to cool the ingredient pans, which are standard fractional “steam table” pans. Tables are generally available with or without a cover for the ingredient pan area which stows away when the table is in use.
Below the countertop, sandwich tables generally have a built-in refrigerator. Some have standard swing-out doors, while other manufacturers provide slide-out drawers.
Tables are available with fixed or adjustable legs or with a coved base. Some manufacturers provide an overhead shelf or cabinet supported by uprights that fasten to the table. This space is used for bread and rolls, for wrapping materials or other preparation accessories and supplies.
The counterpart of the cold sandwich preparation table is the hot sandwich preparation table.
Instead of refrigeration, such a table generally contains heated drawers, overhead infrared heaters and heated ingredient pans. Some manufacturers make hot sandwich tables with cutouts to hold round steamtable pans for such things as meat juices (for au jus sandwiches). As with the cold sandwich units, hot tables are available with or without covers for the ingredient pan area.
Also constructed of stainless steel with a plastic cutting board, hot sandwich units often have a different configuration of cutting board. Instead of simply having a long board designed for preparation, there is often a large square board for carving roasts, turkey, or hams. Such boards are often equipped with roast holders or such devices are offered as options.
Instead of refrigerated units below the counter top, the hot sandwich table generally has open shelving or an unheated cabinet for storage of plates, wrapping materials, tools, utensils, etc. A few manufacturers offer tables with undercounter heated drawers or cabinets.
Ingredient trays are generally heated by electric elements or by an electrical or gas heated hot water bath, similar to that found in a steam table. Where carving is performed on the table, roasts are generally kept warm with infrared heaters.
As with cold sandwich tables, some manufacturers provide an overhead storage area, either shelves or cabinet, for supplies and accessories.
The simplest form of sandwich preparation equipment is the counter with nothing on it but a cutting board along the front edge. This is still found in some kitchens where sandwiches are not high volume menu items. Ingredients are generally removed from the refrigerator and placed on the counter as needed, and when the sandwich is made, the ingredients are again returned to the refrigerator.
One type of salad preparation table is very similar to the cold sandwich table. A major differences is the size of the ingredient pans. They tend to be larger than those available for sandwich preparation. However, many operators use a standard cold sandwich table for small scale salad preparation.
For large scale preparation, many operators use a cold pan table that is very similar to the units used for salad bars. The top of the unit, which is generally from four to eight feet long, contains an area that is either cooled by mechanical refrigeration or by chipped ice. The bowls sit in the “pan” area, which is generally depressed from one to six inches below the surface of the table top. The shallower depths are found in mechanically refrigerated tables, while the ice-cooled tables generally have the deeper pans. Pan drains are found in both types of unit.
Undercounter refrigeration cabinets or drawers or both may be found in salad preparation tables. Even those tables that use an ice pan for ingredients may have undercounter refrigeration. And many operators use ice in conjunction with a mechanically refrigerated cold pan.
As in a sandwich table, salad preparation tables generally have a plastic “cutting” board running along the front edge upon which plates or bowls are placed during salad assembly.
Much of the preparation that goes on in a foodservice kitchen is pre- preparation: peeling and cutting vegetables, slicing and trimming meats, seafood and poultry, mixing ingredients.
Much of this is done on what are called “utility” or work tables. A typical utility table has a stainless steel top supported on steel legs with one or two shelves below to provide storage and to make the table sturdy. Unheated undercounter cabinets with swing-out doors may be offered in some lines in place of open shelving.
Some tables are provided with cutting board surfaces, generally a tough, “rehealing” plastic. For baking, you’ll often find “butcher block” laminated wood table tops.
Most makers supply an overhead shelf option which consists of two shelves at the workers’ eye level, supported by standards attached to the table itself. Some overhead shelves have a back panel to keep objects from being pushed off the shelf; others are open front and back.
Wet utility preparation tables and counters have backsplashes, raised rims and generally have a sink and faucet at one end. Such table are primarily used for such tasks as washing vegetables. Some will also have a plastic cutting board for cutting, chopping, and dicing.
Equipment Tables, Stands and Carts
Electrical preparation equipment may be mounted on any table or counter sturdy enough to support the weight of the equipment and withstand vibration as it operates. However, manufacturers provide special tables and counters for equipment installation.
Tables are available either fixed or mobile with the addition of casters. Mobile tables are often called equipment carts. Smaller fixed tables may be called equipment stands.
Tables may be open on the bottom with one or two shelves, or may have an enclosed cabinet with a swing-out door or doors. Many operators prefer the closed cabinets for storage to maintain an uncluttered appearance.
Some units have electric outlets built into the sides or top of the unit, with a cord leading from that to a wall outlet. On some, the cord with the equipment must reach to the wall outlet.
Manufacturers offer various options, such as fold down top extensions, tool racks, pan supports, etc., depending upon the type of equipment that is to be mounted on the table, stand, or cart.
Some equipment, such as slicers, are mounted on tables with refrigerated storage underneath. The type of configuration depends upon the operator’s use, desires and the range of options in the lines you carry.
Equipment tables, stands, or carts make an excellent add-on sales opportunity when selling equipment.
PHOTO : Preparation counters and tables are available in three types. Their specific designs and
PHOTO : functions can be cost and time efficient.