Shared kitchens or commercial commissaries can provide space to adapt your foodservice and grow your business.
Maybe your restaurant customers have been asking you to add more delivery or cater private parties and events. However, maybe you don’t have enough kitchen space for all the required preparation. Or perhaps you dream of opening a restaurant, but you’d like to start a catering business first, to build your reputation and customer base. Shared kitchens can be the answer.
Growing in popularity, shared kitchens can be anything from another restaurant with kitchen space available on certain days and times to large commissary kitchens open to all sorts of food entrepreneurs.
Shared kitchen facilities can vary widely in size and amount of available cooking equipment and storage, both dry and refrigerated. The type of clients they serve also varies from one location to another. Some shared kitchens are geared primarily toward bakers, for example; others are for food truck operators, and some are for retail food startups, in addition to caterers. (Other shared kitchens are geared toward delivery-only foodservice concepts. For more information on these formats, read “What are Delivery Only Kitchens?”) In all cases, a shared kitchen is a licensed and inspected commercial kitchen that is available for rent by the hour, day, week or month.
For the expanding foodservice or catering professional, shared kitchens offer several advantages:
- Commissary kitchens pay all the bills for utilities, pest control, security, etc.
- Commissaries provide good commercial grade equipment and maintain it.
- While you need your own business license and food handler’s permit, shared kitchens make it easy to stay compliant with local health codes—they’re responsible for passing inspections.
- Shared kitchens provide a sense of community where you can benefit from the advice and experience of fellow operators.
- Commissaries often provide additional services such as kitchen staff and incubator programs that can help you grow your business faster.
Renting kitchen space makes the most sense when you simply don’t have the room or the right equipment to cater an event. The advantage of a shared kitchen is that you only use and pay for it when you need it, so you don’t have the overhead of maintaining that space and equipment yourself.
Still, rates to use shared kitchen spaces vary (see below), and you’ll need to determine if the event is large enough to generate the income necessary to offset your costs.
If you’re catering small parties, a shared kitchen may make less sense; instead you might be able to find a restaurant willing to give you time in its kitchen during off-hours, either for a smaller fee or in trade for something you can offer the restaurant.
Depending on location, shared kitchens can range from small spaces of less than 1,000 sq. ft. to massive communal food enterprises of more than 30,000 sq. ft. You’ll find an equally diverse range of equipment in these spaces, too, so it pays to do your homework.
In larger cities, you may have dozens of shared kitchens to choose from, usually ensuring you’ll find exactly what you need. Smaller markets, not surprisingly, have fewer shared kitchen facilities to choose from, so you may have to adapt or find workarounds for some of your needs.
Layouts vary, too. Some shared kitchens have a large communal prep area and one or more cooking stations with different types of equipment, such as for baking. Smaller shared spaces may have only one kitchen setup, so you might have to jockey for time slots in order to use the area or space you need.
Common kitchen layouts include assembly line, island cooking suites, zone-style layout, galley kitchen or open kitchen. If you’re more comfortable with one over another, try to find a shared kitchen with the layout you prefer, and that meets your other needs, as well.
When evaluating shared kitchens, first think about what the needs of your customers are, and what you’ll need to cater a particular event. Make a list of how much and what type of storage space you require, what equipment you’ll need, how many staffers you’ll need to prep and cook to determine how many prep/cook stations you’ll need, and what hours will work best for your schedule.
The chart shows an example of what equipment you’re likely to find in a large shared kitchen with three cooking bays.
Shared kitchens typically charge for use by the hour and by linear foot for storage, whether refrigerated or dry. Some have monthly membership fees; some have minimum hourly fees with a sliding scale that lowers the hourly cost the more hours you use. Still, others will let you rent a space by the month that is all yours so no one else can share it.
Costs can vary from $12 per hour to $35 or more per hour with monthly rates running from around $500 to $1750. Some sample costs:
Sample Hourly Shared Kitchen Rates
|Hours per month||Prime Hours||Bakers’ Hours|
Prime hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Baker’s hours: 8 p.m. – 8 a.m.
10-hour minimum per month.
Commissary kitchen and food trucks: $250/Month
Sample Storage Rates
Daily dry storage: $10 per shelf
Daily freezer storage: $20 per shelf
Daily cooler storage: $25 per door per day (2-door and 3-door coolers)
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.