Food Manager

Space-Saving Solutions: Tips to Help Food Businesses Stay Organized

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Trust20 Contributors • 8 minute read

Whether you own a small diner or a mom-and-pop sandwich shop on a crowded corner lot, running a small food operation presents an added challenge in making the most of the limited space while keeping up with food safety requirements. 

Though it might seem like you’re at a disadvantage, don’t stress. With proper planning, you can transform your kitchen into an organized, efficient, and compliant space.

Not sure where to start? Say goodbye to cramped quarters and say hello to efficiency. Here’s what we’ll cover:

How can inventory management support my business?

Getting ready for a kitchen re-org

How do I start a kitchen reorganization project?

Food storage specifications

Optimizing your food storage

Using labels for efficient storage

How can inventory management support my business?

Regardless of space, ingredient storage and food waste are something the foodservice industry grapples with regularly. Restaurants spend approximately 30% of their budget on ingredients.1 Ultimately, four to ten percent of that purchased inventory will be wasted.2 That’s a lot of food (and money!) down the drain.

The first rule of thumb for keeping inventory fresh while managing a small space is to only order what you need.

But how do you know exactly what’s necessary? Implementing a solid inventory management system is one of the best ways to reduce food waste and streamline workflows. Choosing the right software to track your existing inventory, past and future orders, and sales is essential in any establishment, regardless of size.

Your inventory management system will also help increase food turnover, reduce customer wait times, improve inventory forecasting, and support a more accurate budget.3 Once your inventory management system can properly support your business, the next step is to establish and maintain a highly organized space.

Getting ready for a kitchen re-org

The right organizational system will help make your kitchen work for you. It will also help you maximize your space and keep food safety at the forefront of all activities.

As you prepare to reorganize your space, remember to group like items together and store things where you use them. Let’s review some key considerations.

Food Safety

Safety should always be top of the mind during the decision-making process. If you’re getting ready to make significant organizational changes, remember to account for principles like the First In, First Out (FIFO) Method, cross-contamination prevention, and storing food products more than six inches off the floor and at least two inches apart for proper airflow and temperature control. We will discuss food storage in more detail below.


Next, consider how much storage space you have to work with. Remember, measure twice, cut (or move!) once. Don't forget: you’re not just measuring the width and depth of the space you must work with–you must consider the vertical space as well.

Most Frequently Ordered Menu Items

Assess your menu. What items do you use frequently? What items do you use the most? These should occupy the most space and be easily accessible to the team. You can stash the items you seldom use in a more discreet location.

Most Frequently Used Equipment

What equipment, utensils, appliances, and tools do you use the most? Of course, menu items and kitchen tools are directly related. So, let your list of “most frequently ordered menu items” determine the list of most frequently used equipment pieces. 

Team Size

Consider the moving parts of your kitchen: your team! How many people are bustling around the space? How do they move through the space? Disorganized traffic can lead to accidents, wasted products, and inefficient flow.

How do I start a kitchen reorganization project?

Once you are armed with all the considerations above, you can get started! Let’s break down the steps to starting a reorganization project in your kitchen.

Map It Out

Don’t just start moving things around! It is important to make a plan before making moves. Lay it out, get team feedback, brainstorm, and collaborate. Different people have different perspectives on how the establishment operates, and they can help reveal any blind spots that might prove problematic down the line.

When you’ve mapped out your layout, test it. In The Bear, Chef Carmie taped out his kitchen and choreographed his movements before installing equipment. Be like Carmie–minus the temper–and plan things out.

Once you feel secure in the layout, share it, and don’t be afraid to tweak it along the way. When everyone is on the same page, it enhances the flow of the kitchen.5


Another excellent place to start is with a good old-fashioned declutter. Throw out expired inventory and unnecessary packaging, and recycle or give away containers or utensils that don’t make sense for your space. Is anything nonessential sitting around? Get rid of it! You’ll thank yourself later. 

Get to Work

An important step is to decide whether you will implement your changes all at once or slowly over time. Once you have a strategy in place, make sure that it is also communicated to everyone on staff.

Create Cleaning and Maintenance Schedules

After you put together a new organizational structure, create a plan to maintain the new order. It is also important to assess what your team should be cleaning daily, weekly, and monthly. Establish a clear cleaning schedule, and hold your team accountable for keeping things on track.

Food storage specifications

Now that you have mapped out your changes and decluttered your space, you’ll want to assess how your food inventory fits into the new system. How the inside of your cooler and freezer are organized is just one piece of the puzzle. Let’s review some other storage considerations that impact food safety.

Maximizing Airflow

You already know that foods should be stored with space around them for proper airflow and that fans can help maximize airflow. However, if you have fans in your cooler or freezer, keeping delicate foods like berries and greens away from any fans is crucial to protecting their quality and longevity.

Dry Goods Storage

Dry goods need to remain dry. They should be stored in airtight containers at room temperature to keep them fresh and safe. You should also consider tracking moisture levels in the storeroom and investing in dehumidifying systems (don't forget to schedule maintenance for that system, too!).

Top Down Organization

Always direct staff to place the heaviest items on the bottom shelves and the lightest items on higher shelves. Whether you’re unloading stock into the storeroom or putting items into the freezer, it is important to consider physical and food safety. No one wants to haul a bulk bag of flour off a top shelf!

Optimizing your food storage

Whether outfitting a walk-in cooler or a dry goods storage space, the right shelving can make or break your space. Luckily, the shelving options and customization capabilities available today can transform even the tightest quarters into highly efficient spaces.

Shelving Options

There are so many choices available today that it can be overwhelming. First, decide what type of shelf structure makes the most sense: adjustable, triangle, wall-mounted, cantilever, mobile, high-density, solid, or vented shelves.6 Next, ensure your shelves are made of suitable material to protect your inventory and comply with local regulations.

Exceptionally small spaces may even consider a trolley system to reduce the aisle space that traditional shelving takes up when not in use.

If something doesn’t seem like quite the right fit, spend some time researching your options–you’ll find the solution with just a little poking around!


Once you have updated your overall storage infrastructure, you can accessorize to organize any outstanding trouble areas.

Clips: Maintain a safe facility by using shelf clips, mounting clips, or pins to keep shelving mounted to the inside of a cooler or against a wall.

Shelving Casters: Increase versatility in your kitchen by adding wheels to the bottom of your shelves to turn them into rolling carts.

Storage Baskets: Distribute your utensils, equipment, and ingredients among baskets so they are easily accessible and even the smallest items in your kitchen have a “home” that makes sense.

Shelf Covers: Protect your inventory from airborne contaminants like dust and water.

Hangers and “S” Hooks: Customize your kitchen storage by using hangers and hooks to maximize your use of vertical space.7

You know your space best, so trust your team and your gut when considering how to organize (or reorganize) it.

Using labels for efficient storage

Once you have reorganized and optimized your space, labels will play a key role in maintaining an orderly and safe food environment. Labels are a critical form of communication in your kitchen, so ensure everyone on your team knows how to properly label any foods that come through your door.

Food may be delivered with labels on it, but food handlers typically remove the original packaging during the storage or preparation process. It is important to note when food arrived or was first opened so you can properly track its shelf life. A process should also be established for noting when food contains allergens to prevent allergic reactions.

You can also prevent dangerous mix-ups by labeling chemicals and cleaning supplies.

The Takeaway

There are many challenges to running a food business in a small space, and poor organization can lead to food waste, food safety issues, and financial loss.

While you review your organizational options, it is worth reviewing food safety best practices with your team. If you don’t have time to hold stand-up training sessions, consider offering online refresher training (like Trust20’s) to ensure everyone on staff is up-to-date with safe food handling best practices.

Spending time assessing and optimizing your establishment is well worth the investment and can transform tight quarters into a highly functional space.

Start Trust20's Food Manager Program today.


  1. Forbes: How Much Do the Ingredients Cost in Your Favorite Foods?

  2. Upkeep: How to Calculate Restaurant Food Waste

  3. Marketman: Restaurant Inventory Categories: How to Organize Your Stocktake to Maximize Your Profits

  4. Kitchen Services: How to Organize a Commercial Kitchen

  5. Webstaurant Store: How to Organize Your Restaurant Storeroom

  6. Webstaurant Store: Different Types of Restaurant Shelving

  7. Katom: Commercial Refrigerator Shelving