February 6, 2011 by: Heimsath Architects Staff

Part 3 – Appliances, Drains, and Space Planning

Designing Church Kitchens

Commercial Appliances

When it comes to the equipment for the kitchen, once you get past the big code related issues of the vent hood and grease trap, most of the decisions really are based on how you use your kitchen and what your budget is.  There are some stipulations on sinks, dishwashing, and refrigeration that a fully regulated commercial kitchen will need to deal with, but these do not usually apply to the majority of church kitchens.  The commercial-rated equipment tends to work better and longer, but it is  more expensive and more foreign to the average volunteer.  We most often see a mix of appliance types.



Commercial refrigerators provide more room and better temperature control, so we see these used a lot.  Occasionally, if the kitchen is really going to be used for feeding lots of people regularly, we will use a walk-in refrigerator.  These are more expensive and take planning to make them fit into the building. 


 All Saints Kitchen, Southern Shores, North Carolina

Open preparation and serving islands with mix of commercial and residential.

All Saints Episcopal Church, Southern Shores, North Carolina

Commercial ranges are great for cooking large meals, as their bigger surfaces and smooth tops easily allow for the use of bigger pots.  They often have large griddles, which are great for pancake breakfasts; in fact many have large removable griddles that can be placed on the normal burners. This can give you a little more flexibility in that you don’t dedicate a section to a griddle.  Keep in mind that choosing a commercial range with almost certainly bring in the Type 1 hood requirement.



Commercial ovens also greatly increase your baking and cooking capacity.  Stand-alone ovens usually come in stacks of two and each oven has multiple racks inside.  They tens to be convection ovens, which can be a bit scary as your baking times have to be adjusted for the faster oven. However, more and more residential ovens have convection features, so your average volunteer is more likely now to be ready to deal with convection.  There are commercial microwaves as well, which like the ovens are more powerful.  In both cases, the controls are very functional and are not as user-friendly as residential appliances.


Warming Cabinets

Another commercial appliance that is fairly foreign to residential users is the warming cabinet.  These are vertical units that can hold many racks of food and keep the keep food warm (and in some units cold) until it is time to serve.  This allows a group to pre-cook parts of the meal to be ready and then serve it all at once.  You have seen these cabinets if you have ever seen a caterer provide food away from their kitchen.



There are two types of commercial dishwashers: slide through, and under counter.  Each of these can use one of two types of cleaning systems: high temperature and chemical.  The great advantage of a commercial dishwasher is that it cleans a load of dishes in a few minutes rather than the longer time it takes a residential dishwasher.  High temperature dishwashers need booster heaters to get the water hot enough for sanitation (170°) so you need to make sure you have capacity for the added load.  Chemical dishwashers use lower temperatures plus chemicals.  Make sure you have room beside the dishwasher for the chemical bottles and know that you will most likely have to have a contract with a chemical provider. 

 Emmaus Catholic Church Kitchen, Lakeway, TX

Full Commercial Dishwasher in Separate Cleaning Zone

Emmaus Catholic Church, Lakeway, TX


Sinks and Floor and Drains


Triple Sink

Commercial kitchens will be required to have a triple sink for sanitation purposes (though if you have a commercial dishwasher this can often be reduced to a double sink).  We have found that even in our residential grade kitchens, the triple sink is a cost-effective way to get nice deep sinks for washing large gear.  The commercial sprayer valve is also a pretty useful device.  Note: in all commercial kitchens the drains are required to have a visible air gap between the drainpipe and a floor sink.  This is so that if the sewer backs up, it spills on the floor and does not continue into the sinks or dishwashers.  This is a good idea for residential grade kitchens as well.


Floor and Drains

Whichever type of kitchen you have, make sure your flooring material is ready for water.  This means it needs to tolerate spills and mopping, and more importantly, maintain the required amount of slip resistance to make the users safe.  Floor drains are very useful because at some point in the life of the kitchen, there is going to be stuff all over the floor. 


One note on floor drains is that if you don’t use your kitchen a lot (especially if you don’t get a lot of water on the floor) the water in the trap under the floor drain will dry out.  This will allow sewer gases to seep up through the drain.  You will definitely know when this happens as the smell is quite distinctive.  There is an easy solution though—just pour a good amount of water down the drain and the trap will seal itself.


Accessibility and Planning



Typically, accessibility rules do not apply to commercial kitchens because these are limited use areas.  However, church kitchens fall into a gray area because of their use by volunteers.  If you have accessibility review, make sure you go over what will be required.  Appliances are most often exempt because they are considered equipment.



 All Saints Kitchen, Southern Shores, North Carolina

Open stool area for meetings

All Saints Episcopal Church, Southern Shores, North Carolina

If you have a walk in cooler, be sure to know how the accessibility reviewer will look at this both in terms of turn-around space and door hardware—most walk in coolers are not accessible.  One possible solution is to have another refrigerator that is accessible. 


You will most likely be required to have at least one accessible sink and 30” minimum accessible counter space.  One way we meet the sink requirement is to provide a hand sink (required in a commercial kitchen) that is accessible, thus solving two issues with one sink.


Space Planning

Church kitchens need a lot of flat preparation space.  Think about people flow, especially if you plan to serve people from within the kitchen.  It is important to keep the serving and cooking sections separate - and don’t forget drink stations! If possible, it is also a good idea to keep dishwashing in a separate area, so the dirty dishes don’t mix with serving and cooking.  Functions in church kitchens generally involve a lot of conversation, so openness is key.  Kitchens are also noisy, so be sure to think about audible separation between the kitchen and the larger spaces.  Make sure openings to the main room will contain the noise—smoke seals are essential not just for fire code, but because they limit air flow and thus limit some noise transference.  We like to use solid door rather than roll-down doors if possible.  If you do use a roll up door, especially one with a counter in front, pay close attention to how it will be opened and closed.  These doors can get pretty hard to move and often the person who is trying to close it is not a body builder.

 Spiritual Renewal Center Kitchen, Victoria, TX

Separation of serving area from cooking area.  Note: Great storage under serving island

Spiritual Renewal Center, Victoria, TX


Storage and Management

Don’t forget storage!  You will need dish storage or paper good storage depending on whether you use re-usable dinnerware or paper.  You need to think about which groups will store what food where.  For example, a licensed day care facility needs to date and label their food so it can be disposed of when required.  This group will have different and sometime conflicting needs from the youth group storing popcorn and drinks.  A good church kitchen will have lots of different uses and functions. A good kitchen “Czar” or a well functioning kitchen committee will go a long way in setting up and enforcing the rules of the use of your kitchen—especially when there are commercial requirements.


Putting it All Together

I hope this has helped.  Designing the right kitchen for your facility takes a lot of work.  Be sure to have an architect with experience working with churches to help you listen to all the possible user groups and discern their needs.  You need to know who is using the kitchen and how to determine and best design.  The choices of types, layouts, appliances, and finishes need to be balanced with the users, the code, and the budget.  We have from time to time found that the needs of the different user groups varied so much that it was actually better to design two different kitchens in different locations.


I cannot stress enough that you need to talk to the building officials during design when changes can be more easily made.  It is not a 100% guarantee that something may not change in the requirements, but it should get you pretty far down the path.  Commercial kitchen appliance vendors also have a lot of god advice, but remember they are trying to sell their equipment.


Closing Statement

Good Luck with your new kitchen—I’m hoping this article will ensure hundreds of successful pancakes suppers.

Visit our Church Kitchen Resources Page.

Church Design & Construction/ Fellowship Hall