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One of our clients has a sign posted in their foyer near where they serve coffee that says, “It’s not a meeting if there is no eating.”  For many churches, food is the fuel of fellowship. Of the many things we miss in the age of COVID-19, sharing a cup of coffee or a meal together, at church, is near the top of the list.

Planning for how and where we serve food in our church buildings can be a challenging part of the overall design process. First, kitchens are expensive. They have a high concentration of utilities – plumbing, gas, HVAC – which makes the cost per square foot up to 50% higher than other areas of the church. Depending on capacity and quality, kitchen equipment can be a significant part of a project budget.  In addition, building codes continue to roll out more and more measures to protect the health and safety of those who prepare, serve, and consume food in a church building. These technical factors combined with the passion many of us have for food and fellowship can make finding the right balance of capacity, functionality and cost difficult.

Twenty years of experience equips Blueline to help churches get the most out of their kitchens. Here are some lessons learned that can bring clarity to designing your food service areas:

“Commercial” vs. “Warming” — Churches usually describe the type of kitchen they want in one of these two terms.  A commercial kitchen allows a church to cook food that generates grease, requiring a hood over any cooking surface or oven. This hood must have its own exhaust as well as make-up air.  Production kitchens also need 3-compartment sinks connected to a grease interceptor with water at 140 degrees. Dishwashers must be high-temperature or use chemical sanitation.  Food prepared for commercial purposes, including fundraising, trigger building code requirements that, in turn, require commercial grade equipment and construction.

Warming kitchens typically employ residential-grade appliances. Food activities include warming items in a microwave, crockpot, range, or stove.  Large, commercial grade convection ovens can typically be used for warming bread, pastries, etc. as long the reheating does not generate grease. Typically, we specify ample outlets and counter space for people to bring crockpots and provide multiple microwaves. A warming kitchen can also be a place for caterers to set up for an event that is being catered.

Building Codes vs. Health Department — The building code may be different than the requirements of your local health department. Churches are typically exempt from Health Department certification and inspections unless they are running a daycare or pre-school.

Flexibility — when the budget allows, utilizing stainless steel tables, shelving, and racks, rather than building permanent cabinets and countertops, allows for easier reconfiguration as use of the kitchen changes over time. Having some of the tables and shelving on castors allows groups to change the set up depending on the type of preparation need.

Workflow — There are time-tested ways for optimizing how people preparing and serving food move around the kitchen. It begins with a one-way flow with separate doors for entering and exiting the kitchen. The chart below shows a basic circulation diagram.

Other specialties that may be included in the kitchen are coffee production areas where large quantities of coffee are brewed and distributed to coffee service areas throughout the church. Churches that celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday often need a place to prepare the elements and store the trays, cups and platters associated with this sacrament. (This assumes there is no Sacristy.)

Also, do not forget the trash. Try to minimize the distance trash needs to be carried from the kitchen to dumpsters or outside trash cans. Recyclable materials – glass, plastic, cardboard, and compost – can take up a good deal of space. If carts are used for moving prepared food and/or dirty dishes, a space may be needed to wash the carts.

Size — A 20’ by 30’ (600 square feet) kitchen is ample size for a warming kitchen that serves several hundred people. A room this size can have worksurfaces and equipment around the perimeter with area for a 4’ wide by 10’ long island in the middle. A 15’ x 10’ room can accommodate storage of serving areas, dry goods, and bulk food items. The same footprint can work for a production kitchen depending on the amount of equipment and people working at one time.

Serving Windows — Some churches use serving windows for setting out food. This limits food service to one line.  Serving from tables outside the kitchen allows two (or more) lines. It also frees up walls space in the kitchen for cabinets and shelving. Serving windows can be tricky to deal with if the kitchen must be enclosed with a fire-rated wall. Finally, eliminating the service window means there is no messy view from the dining/ fellowship area into the kitchen.

Kitchens are complex and expensive. Additionally, no two projects are alike. These are but a few of the many details Blueline can guide you through to discover the kitchen that best amplifies your hospitality ministry.

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