A Guide to Dry Storage Area Design (2023)

Size, location, application and equipment are key factors for an effective dry storage area design.

While dry storage areas were more of an afterthought in years past, their importance has been elevated as more restaurants expand their takeout/delivery operations in the face of COVID-19.

These spaces have become the headquarters for what are now essentials in foodservice operations — takeout containers, plastic servingware, napkins and bags. As restaurant dining rooms begin opening up and given the growth in off-premises sales, well-designed, organized and appropriately sized dry storage areas will play a key role in back-of-the-house efficiencies.

“Packaging for takeout has grown, and this has to be accounted for,” says Juan Martinez, principal at Miami-based foodservice consultancy PROFITALITY. “In a full-service restaurant where 80% of dinnerware was plates pre-COVID-19, now 60% is disposables that need [more] storage space.”

A well-designed dry storage area not only contains the appropriate amount of inventory for the space but is also in an accessible location that does not intrude on back-of-the-house production.

“When we go into new accounts, dry storage is never top of mind,” says Kris Lensmeyer, chief innovation and experience officer at Fresh Ideas Food Service Management in Columbia, Mo. “In many cases, these spaces are a hodgepodge of not particularly useful areas throughout the back of house. And there never is enough space.”

By being creative and resourceful with the design, operators can get the most out of these areas.

The Purpose

The purpose of dry storage differs depending on the operation. Noncommercial foodservice will have different needs than a fine-dining or fast-casual restaurant. All of these spaces share one common trait: they store shelf-stable items. This ranges from paper goods and canned goods to bread and beverages to cleaning chemicals and disposable containers.

“These items may not all be in one spot, but they need to be accommodated,” says Scott Reitano, principal at Reitano Design Group, based in Indianapolis. “No matter what, storage space is always at a premium.”

The design and layout depends on inventory, how the space will be used and methods of product storage. “Precautions due to health or safety codes or the potential of theft may also be factors,” says Reitano. “Needs may include a locker or lockable wire mesh shelving unit within the dry storage area for alcohol or chemicals, for example.”

The type of design impacts how operators use these areas. While some foodservice concepts have a centralized dry goods area, others may have multiple spaces scattered throughout the facility. “This depends on how the stored items are used, who uses them and their value,” says Martinez.

Items that reside in these spaces carry some specific requirements. Just like in a home pantry, ingredients must be stored in properly sealed containers. “We typically assume that all food, such as rice, flour and sugar, is in a container with a lid,” says Marcin Zmiejko, associate principal at WC&P, a Denver-based consultancy.

More recently, inventory needs have changed, and with that, the need for additional space. One challenge has been accommodating boxes of disposables necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions.

“As a result, we’re looking into reorganizing dry storage spaces to make room for items such as takeout deli containers, plastic serving ware and PPE,” says Lensmeyer. “Where we’re at, there’s little you can do in terms of changing size and adding more storage areas; it’s more about changing utilization of the space.”

In some instances, operators can opt to repurpose self-service stations for storage, at least temporarily. “The world and our delivery methods are changing, and there are less people in the serving area,” says Lensmeyer. “So, there’s more things you can do with the design to be intentional and add to the experience while still creating a functional space.”

Location, Location

A Guide to Dry Storage Area Design (1)Extra space is scarce in many operations, and dry storage falls low on the priority list.With dry storage areas, location and adjacencies matter. “Dry storage areas should be by the kitchen for easy access, but also need to be in a convenient spot so deliveries don’t impact the production flow,” says Reitano.

The space should be easily accessible to operators and chefs while remaining protected from unauthorized personnel. “In schools, dry storage typically has a smaller footprint and is located by where food is delivered and close to the prep area,” says Zmiejko. “Unfortunately, dry storage areas suffer the most when space is an issue.”

In a perfect world, dry storage would be located right next to the walk-in cooler and freezer and 10 feet from the workstation, says chef Joseph Shirley, director of culinary at Fresh Ideas Food Service Management. “With varying dry storage locations, organization becomes more important as well as planning to be more efficient.”

Size tends to be the biggest obstacle with logistics. When an operation lacks dry storage space, other areas of the kitchen become storage spots for nonperishables. “In California, for example, healthcare operations require a separate space for emergency supplies,” Zmiejko says. “And many states require chemicals be in a completely separate storage area than food items.”

Business and industry operations may have a dry storage area adjacent to the loading dock and another by the kitchen in a completely separate area. There also may be an intermediate space for these items in between the two areas.

In some cases, the pandemic has forced operators to designate an area where staff can disinfect and even leave delivered items untouched for a few days to reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus. “If folks want a true receiving area, it has to come from somewhere. Is that area coming out of dry storage, and do we need a landing area or ultraviolet light to sanitize products coming in the back door?” says Reitano. “There has to be a process and a way to check things in.”

Whatever the challenges, it’s important not to underestimate how much dry storage is needed, or it can make running an operation more difficult.

“That’s when you have to get creative and store things in other areas,” says Lensmeyer. “That’s why it’s important to think about how much space you need, as you can never have too much for dry storage.”

Design Considerations

Just like snowflakes, no two dry storage areas are alike. “There is no such thing as a standard space, because each operation is different,” says Shirley. “If a kitchen has been laid out with dry storage as a consideration, it is most likely well designed, but many times space is designated in a basement or reworked closet.”

Because the importance of these areas is often underestimated, design can be an afterthought. When Zmiejko worked with a large chain on its prototype restaurant concept, dry storage space was the first area reduced.

“I have never heard restaurant managers say that they have too much dry storage,” says Martinez. Although dry storage design is often based on gut feel and empirical operational experience, operators and designers should take into account a number of considerations to ensure these areas function effectively and efficiently.

“Our dry storage space model takes into account input item velocity (based on sales), size of boxes/items, safety factor desired, efficiency of space usage, frequency of weekly delivery, in-process shelving needed and cost of items, among other factors,” says Martinez.

Adjacencies related to efficiency also factor in. “Do we need separate storage areas for paper goods and food, since these are going to different locations for use?” says Reitano.

The purpose of the area, rather than the type of operation, may weigh more heavily when sizing a space. Because operators access these spaces multiple times a day, it pays to create areas that are as efficient to work in as possible. “A 4-foot-wide door is important, ceiling height matters, and there should be 3-foot-wide aisleways at minimum,” says Reitano. “We like open, well-lit dry storage areas that are blocked off from kitchen production.”

As a general rule, organize items as first in, first out. Installing risers ensures containers sit at least 6 inches off the floor for easier cleaning. Also, design dry storage areas with clear aisleways wide enough to move easily through and maneuver, which is necessary for safety.

Accessibility is also a consideration. “Can racks make sense, but how do you put them against the wall when they’re rear-load only?” Reitano says. “These storage systems need to be in a place where boxes containing cans will be unloaded.”

“Sometimes dry goods are stored above areas designated for production or other purposes; this will save floor space,” says Martinez.

High storage stations are typically reserved for bulk product used less frequently, as these are harder-to-reach areas. “When we go into a space, and there’s clutter under tables, the first thing I look for is more room,” says Shirley. “Most of the time, it’s in high shelving.”

The exception is with heavier items, which should sit at waist level for easier handling and better ergonomics. OSHA rules specify nothing heavy above 34 inches from the floor. For items stored up high, ladders should be available.

Extra space for short-term items may be necessary, especially with the current pandemic. “There is an absolute need for additional space to accommodate masks, gloves and disinfectants,” says Zmiejko. “Bringing in dry storage components such as shelving and rack systems for additional items isn’t difficult.”

Being organized is important. To help staff use older product first, identify and date food items as they come in. Properly seal all containers. Clear containers can make product identification easier.

In addition, knowing where items are and keeping like items together make controlling inventory easier and more efficient.

As for the physical space, follow local health department standards. These typically require sealed floors with coving, sealed rock walls, temperature control and a ceiling away from pipes. “Proper temperature is really important,” says Lensmeyer. “If a dry storage room has pipes or is by the dish room, humidity can be a factor.”

Ordering consistency is beneficial for inventory control, efficiency and organization of these spaces. “A good rule of thumb is to have about 10 days of inventory on hand,” says Shirley. “As for a mathematical formula, how much you’ll have on hand and what the items are will equal how much space you need. It can be as little as 100 to 200 square feet or thousands of square feet, depending on the operation.”

Those with limited dry storage space can schedule deliveries more often.

“Storage space differs for rural areas with once-a-week deliveries versus cities, which are more likely to have daily deliveries,” says Lensmeyer. “Smaller, more specialized menus allow operators to utilize product more efficiently, since there are less ingredients needing storage space.”

Key Equipment

Equipment is simple for these spaces, but critical to ensure the areas function properly. Different types of shelving can help maximize the space.

High-density shelving, often underutilized in dry storage areas, allows operators to fit 40 to 50 more shelves in the same space by going up rather than out. “If it allows us to get more shelves in the space, it’s worth it,” says Reitano. “It’s also worth taking a close look at dunnage racks for light paper goods.”

Operators should avoid reorganizing dry storage to accommodate what’s currently in house, as a big order can overwhelm the space. “The more storage created, the more beneficial the space is,” says Martinez. “Some people go high, some create point-of-use dry storage areas to save space, some like these areas centralized,” Martinez says.

Dry storage areas mostly utilize either manual or electric movable shelves and racks. For foodservice storage, these have to be designed with no 90-degree bent. “Most of our shelving unit manufacturers provide adjustable systems, in addition to specific components like dunnage racks for heavy items like cases or filled boxes,” says Zmiejko. “Also, can racks can be stationary or mobile in heights of 36 to 90 inches to accommodate large cans.”

Consider using a mix of fixed and floating shelves, depending on storage needs. “There are also different schools of thought in terms of which shelves are better — plastic, wire or a combination,” says Zmiejko. Smaller stackable bins and giant rolling bins with removable lids can hold sugar, flour, beans and grains.

“I use rolling speed racks that are for catering or walk-ins when traditional shelving isn’t feasible,” says Shirley. “Being creative by adding wall shelving and racks for hanging pots works well.” He adds that operators should eliminate leftover storage containers that don’t stack well. “We use pans that are squares and rectangles designed to be stacked and fit uniformly,” he says. “We also use rolling bins to stack, as well.”

Mod pans, which are small, stackable containers that fit into steam and cold wells, allow operators to break ingredients into smaller amounts. “These pans are the coolest thing I’ve used,” says Shirley. “These are containers with see-through plastic lids that fit into all pan systems.”

In any concept, no matter what size or type, never underestimate the importance of dry storage areas.

“The setup can impact every area of your operation,” says Lensmeyer. “If these areas are well designed, properly sized and conveniently located, there’s no need to plan ahead.”


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