EXPERT’S VIEW: How kitchens can be designed to support the mental health of chefs

Target Catering Equipment kitchen 1

With World Mental Health Day taking place today, there is a lot of focus on how businesses can improve employee mental and physical health through their office design. But chefs and those who work in the commercial kitchen industry are often overlooked, writes David Pedrette of Target Catering Equipment.

A survey on UK chefs found that 81% have experienced poor mental health during their careers and that nearly half believe not enough is being done to support their mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Research carried out by Nestlé Professional found the top factors currently contributing to stress are staff shortages (58%), lack of time (43%) and limited budgets (42%). The lack of daylight in many kitchens was also cited, with 41% saying it negatively impacted on their wellbeing.

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Every commercial kitchen will have different areas causing stress for chefs, whether it be HR issues, or the physical environment.

However, there are some basic commercial kitchen design principles which can be followed in order to support the mental health and wellbeing of the kitchen brigade, while also considering the need for efficient output of products.

Firstly, how can foodservice businesses generate time and increased profit through kitchen design and product specification? After all, more time means more creativity; the main ingredient to a chef’s culinary repertoire.

The Nestlé Professional research identified creativity as a key factor in reducing stress levels and increasing employee satisfaction, with almost nine out of ten chefs (87%) in agreement that more freedom to be creative in the kitchen would significantly improve their stress levels.

However, the vast majority (85%) stated that their creativity is being stifled by other pressures in the kitchen.

The right design and specification of ergonomic kitchen equipment can be the foundation for creating a more pleasant working environment for staff”

Craft Guild of Chefs’ Andrew Green said: “Chefs are highly creative. They are focused on designing food on a plate, pulling together textures and flavours – the rough with the smooth, the sweet with the sour. We need to be encouraging creativity, but all too often it is an afterthought. There’s just not enough time.”

So, how can chefs create more time? Start by considering where time is being wasted – this could be time spent prepping veg, waiting for appliances to warm-up or cool down, post service clean down, or simply walking from one location to another.

Look at the type of fuel that is powering the appliances, typical options being gas, electric or induction.

You will find that gas and electric radiant element appliances, such as open burners, solid tops, hot plates and grills will all need to be put on before service and allowed time to come up to temperature.

Likewise, the retention of heat in the surfaces will mean cooling down times after service are longer. Hot surfaces also mean food spills will be burnt on and require more effort to clean off at the end of service.

With induction cooking technology, heat is generated instantly within the pan itself meaning there are no heat up waiting times, no hot surfaces for food spills to burn onto and no hot surfaces that need to cool down before you can thoroughly clean the hob post service.

Cooking with induction also means 90% of the energy goes directly into cooking the produce in the pan, compared to just 40% with gas. Therefore, the duration of cooking processes can be more than halved when using induction.

Creating a better working environment will also minimise the risk of physical injury and promote better mental health and wellbeing.

Kitchens are notorious for being fast-paced, hot and sometimes volatile places to work in. Demand to deliver quality food in a limited timeframe while working in a high temperature environment with little natural daylight is bound to take its toll on staff wellbeing and mental health.

The right design and specification of ergonomic kitchen equipment can be the foundation for creating a more pleasant working environment for staff.

The World Health Organisation has determined air quality levels in commercial premises. The need for good ventilation to remove fumes from combustion and the cooking processes in kitchens is vital to good health.

Noisy extraction fans are another issue. They are not conducive to good concentration with noise levels that can causing stress and physical discomfort not to mention communication difficulties.

By reducing one of the main background noise influences, the kitchen extraction and supply air system, you will in turn reduce noise levels in the kitchen improving  communication between staff members and thus bring the kitchen atmosphere to a much calmer level.

This reduces stress and allows kitchen staff to concentrate and focus on doing a better job, reducing the risk of accidents and mistakes within the kitchen.

Compared to gas equipment, which needs kitchen extraction systems left on at high speeds in order to remove harmful by-products of combustion, electric and induction equipment create no harmful by-products, meaning extractor fans can be running at much lower speeds to maintain comfortable working temperatures.

They can also be turned on and off as and when required, thus creating a much quieter kitchen.

The need for good quality, low energy lighting in a potentially high-risk area such as a commercial kitchen is also of paramount importance. Not only does the quality of light in the workplace impact on the quality of work performance, studies also show that poor lighting can have a detrimental effect on staff health and wellbeing.

When designing the layout of a commercial kitchen it is important to make the most of natural light. Natural light boosts Vitamin D in your body, improves circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, helps us to focus and enables us to get more done. It even makes us happier.

When natural lighting is limited you can consider artificial alternatives, such as LED panel lights. You should also consider the type of wall and floor finish to reflect lighting around the room.

There are now new Altro hygienic wall and flooring systems that can make commercial kitchens softer and provide a calmer, more inviting environment to work in.

Overall, a commercial kitchen environment that supports mental health and wellbeing will be more likely to produce a better-quality output, enabling higher business profits and healthier and happier staff.

David Pedrette is the managing director of Target Catering Equipment, a family-run business providing quality, bespoke catering equipment to the foodservice industry for more than 30 years.

Tags : kitchen designmental healthTarget Catering Equipment
Andrew Seymour

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