Can I Kitchen This?
April 17, 2019 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about using commercial restaurant prep tables, (and prep-tables-with-sinks) in lieu of traditional, built-in kitchen cabinets and countertops. Is this a Thing? Are there any Things I should watch out for if I decide to make it my Thing?

For reasons both practical and aesthetic, I'd like to replace my '90s-style galley kitchen with a combination of stainless-steel restaurant work tables and enough cabinets and drawers to meet my minimal need for cabinets and drawers. I can easily find used tables in my area, but I'm wondering if there's anything I should watch out for when buying them for home use, (I mean, they should be food-grade stainless steel if they came from a restaurant kitchen, but is there any way to verify that? Like, are there usually labels somewhere?)

"But, Flipping!" you may be saying, "You can have someone make stainless-steel countertops for you, and put them on a set of really sweet cabinets that will store the things and look really pretty! Think of the resale value! AND HAVE YOU CONSIDERED ENGINEERED QUARTZ?"

Yep! But those high-end styles aren't my jam, and they're not in my budget anyway. Your dream kitchen may not be my dream kitchen, (but your dream kitchen is okay :) )
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: ...they should be food-grade stainless steel if they came from a restaurant kitchen, but is there any way to verify that? Like, are there usually labels somewhere

You'll want to look for NSF Certification labels or stamps on the equipment.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Functionally speaking, if the work tables are deeper than your existing base cabinets, and you have them on both sides of the galley, you'd want to make sure that you still have adequate walkway space in between them.
posted by fifthpocket at 1:21 PM on April 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm pretty sure residential stainless steel kitchen stuff is fairly common. Ikea used to sell a stainless steel kitchen, but I haven't seen it there lately, mostly likely due to it not being a popular style. But the accoutrements are available.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:21 PM on April 17, 2019

They dent more easily than other materials.
posted by Grandysaur at 1:34 PM on April 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't see why not; in fact I'm currently thinking about doing something similar for wall-mounted kitchen shelves. If you haven't already, check out Webstaurant for some ideas -- but look for a local kitchen/restaurant supply company to avoid the cost of shipping. If you're going in this direction, perhaps also consider some commercial kitchen accessories: a knife magnet, a pot rack and/or a pegboard.

- stainless builds up a patina of small dents and scratches
- dust and/or grease film can build up on open shelves (this is not usually such an issue in commercial kitchens because things are getting used and cleaned more often, and they usually have a burly vent hood over the stove). If you have pets in the house, open shelving at just-above-floor-level might not be the best choice (or you might just have to rinse the fur out of your pans before using them).
- You'll probably get less shelving space for small items -- commercial prep tables with undershelves are typically designed for larger stuff, so rather than getting two levels of shelf, you'll just get one. Might not be a concern for you depending on what type of things you own.
- Exposed plumbing might be a consideration for you -- the sink-in-table options will mean that your drain and supply pipes will be exposed, which might be less than lovely. Then again, if you don't care, then have at it!

- good quality for price
- pretty dang durable
- very easy to clean and sanitize
- there's always a resale market on Craigslist for restaurant equipment
posted by ourobouros at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2019

I had these in 2 rental houses and can confirm a lot of what ourobouros says.

In the first house, they lined the perimeter of the entire kitchen and I hated them because:
- they were deeper than normal counters, which meant more space in the back against the wall for crap to pile up uselessly
- I could never find drawers/shelving that fit well under them, so we never had quite enough storage space. A couple of the tables had built-in storage shelves, but they were taller than we wanted, and had the same depth issues as the countertops -- anything that got pushed to the back was basically lost forever.
- They instantly got a patina of small rust spots that made them look dingy and crappy all the time

In the 2nd house, I liked them better because:
- It was a larger kitchen and they were arranged into a large island in the center, so you could access them from both sides (more usable space!), and also we had room around the perimeter for storage shelving and didn't have to store everything underneath them
- No dingy patina issues. Partly this is because we cleaned them regularly with Barkeeper's Friend, an abrasive but non-damaging cleaning powder that was super effective. I think it was also because they were higher-grade stainless, but I wasn't involved in the purchase so can't confirm that.

In both houses, we did indeed get a film of dust+grease all over everything, but it was less of an issue in the 2nd house because the tables were further from the stove.
posted by introcosm at 2:54 PM on April 17, 2019

So steel looks great when clean, not so great otherwise. In terms of showing fingerprints and watermarks your more traditional domestic worktops are more forgiving. At the same time it is quite easy to clean. But if you’re not used to wiping down your surfaces all the time and that kind of thing is important to you you‘ll have to adjust your cleaning habits.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:10 PM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do not recommend the IKEA stuff. The steel for their various kitchen furniture pieces seems to be inconsistent in quality. They will get rusty even under care or minimal stress in a short amount of time. This may be a recent development of the last two years from the time of my purchases.
posted by jadepearl at 3:26 PM on April 17, 2019

The term for this (in Europe at least) is free standing kitchen, should you want to search for kitchen porn.
posted by stevedawg at 3:32 PM on April 17, 2019

We use a stainless steel kitchen prep table for our island. We love it because we're renters and always find a use for it in any kitchen. I also like that I can move it around if I need more space for some reason.

Our table obviously isn't built-in so we do have to make sure it's level, and it still rattles a little bit. If we're not careful what we put on the bottom shelf, those items will also rattle. And yes, everything we store on that shelf needs to be washed before we use it, unless it's got a lid.

We haven't had any rust issues. We just clean it with regular kitchen disinfectant, but we aren't sticklers so it has water spots and the like. It is definitely dented. I wouldn't say it's scratched per se but it definitely looks used.
posted by muddgirl at 4:00 PM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hey I think the table idea is a swell one but just wanted to add that if steel is your thing, keep an eye out for used steel kitchen cabinets. They were popular in the late 40s and into the 50s. We’ve had them in two recent rentals, and they were dandy.

posted by notyou at 4:30 PM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

We did this in my fraternity house in college. I liked it. I think one of the key things was that we had a separate old-style pantry off the kitchen, which made up for a lot of the storage issues others have pointed out.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:32 PM on April 17, 2019

We got one new in place of a traditional island and I was super excited about it at first. If I'm honest, I thought it showed I was a Real Cook. But in practice (for all the reasons mentioned above) it hasn't continued to spark joy. There's kind of a noisiness to the whole piece--you feel like it's always about to make a racket, unlike a wooden island, for example. And it's never gleaming, no matter how much I clean it. I'm probably going to add some extra large wooden cutting boards on top to mitigate these issues and a rug underneath, but then I'll have a rug in my kitchen . . .
posted by luckdragon at 5:49 PM on April 17, 2019

There are rolling commercial pieces that have a surface, with drawers, or a couple of drawers with a shelf underneath. They are fine. There are some that have an up shelf that hosts pot hangers, or open fretwork metalwork, that will host "S" hooks to hold pans or stuff like spring tongs, spoons, and every other tool. I have a friend who built my favorite in home kitchen ever, with galvanized metal counters that had a gold tint. His upper cabinets were backed by a string of windows exactly the size of the cabinets, and the front doors were glass, so, whatever glass, plates, vases, tureens in the cabinets, were back light by south light. He had plenty of regular under cabinets, a pantry, and walkout deck, with a farm table inside for comfortable dining.

I love restaurant stuff, so a whole kitchen of it would be fine with me. Get a terracotta tile floor to roll the stuff around on. Some of it rolls, and it can go into the dining room for side board action on some occasions. I would have upper cabinets. Having a pantry is supreme.
posted by Oyéah at 6:08 PM on April 17, 2019

I did this to my kitchen a few years ago, I was going to reuse the steel ware in an outdoor kitchen and it was a stop gap measure that I ended up keeping for several years rather than the initial few months I had planned. I liked the practicality of steel a lot - super easy to clean and I like being able to see the Jarrah floorboards extend under them without a kickboard.

Much has been covered above about dust and that is the biggest pain in the ass. I only left out things that I used all the time and adjusted my shelves to be slightly higher from floor (which is also good for vacuuming under it.)

As some have mentioned exposed plumbing for sink units, I got around this by installing chrome trapware. I was able to put my dishwasher under the tray side of the 1350mm sink unit (I had to drill in a timber support plinth at rear of sink unit to stabilise it against the wall otherwise the dishdrawer unit would not have been practical, also I added a foam pad between top of dishwasher and sink tray to minimise sound - sound in such a steel kitchen is a consideration.) I loved how the sink unit has marine edges and spills or messes are easily shower hosed away into the sink.

The difficulty with shower taps and marine edge units is that power supplies on the walls above the sink unit are prohibited (well, here they are in Australia, but for good reason wherever you are) and that sometimes made things annoying.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:30 AM on April 18, 2019

I have a metro shelving unit that is 3’ wide by 24” deep, which is typical counter depth. If I had the butcher block top for it it would be 36” high. It’s on casters. I have it in a section of my kitchen where I moved the fridge so that I have more work space. It was supposed to be a temporary fix but we’ve had it now for something like 10 years and I really like it. The bottom shelf is about 12” from the floor so this is where step stools live and it’s easy enough to clean. All our bulky pots and pans go on that shelf so they are easy to reach. I have a flexible, clear mat that is on the top and bottom shelf so that I’m not working directly on the metal “grate” because it doesn’t have a solid top. Though I think you can buy a solid top and you can get a butcher block top that is made to fit.

I’m sure metro brand shelving would be more expensive than commercial but the scale of it sounds more appropriate. I’ve been thinking of re-doing my kitchen and I love the access that I have and am thinking of recreating this with more traditional materials in a part of the new kitchen. But, yeah, things do get grimy but I find it’s also pretty accessible to cleaning.

I got my stuff at Storables but I see similar product on Uline:
Counter height shelf
Shelf liner
posted by amanda at 6:23 AM on April 18, 2019

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