What distinguishes a prep table for pizza production is its raised condiment rail, which situates the topping pans higher than the surface on which the staff member makes the pizza. This not only provides easy accessibility but also helps mitigate a messier worktop. This configuration is also popular for sandwich, salad and sushi prep. Equipment in made-to-order pizza operations typically has a flat surface and wider openings for topping storage so customers can easily view the ingredients available.
Prep Table Purchasing
Since pizza prep tables, or topping tables, come in a range of sizes and capacities, operators need to determine how much space they need to store and prepare ingredients. End users also should decide what size pans they will use as well as whether drawers, shelves or a combination of the two will best serve the operation.
Pizza prep tables hold toppings in a refrigerated
cabinet base while the top acts as a work surface and allows the pizza crusts to lie flat while staff assemble individual orders. The pizza size will dictate the amount of work surface an operation requires. This can range from 8 or 10 inches deep for smaller personal-sized pizzas, all the way up to 24 or 30 inches deep for extra-large pies.
Operators can choose from a variety of work surface materials, depending on the application. These include stainless steel, a polyethylene cutting board or a granite finish for front-of-the-house use when the table is visible to customers. Operators commonly use wire garnish racks with pizza prep tables. These slightly elevated racks allow excess toppings to fall through, which keeps the prep area cleaner.
Table rails for ingredients consist of an opening in the work surface that allows access into the refrigerated cabinet below. Here, pans of toppings are held in close proximity to the prep area and kept cold. These ingredient rails can come flush with the work surface or elevated and slightly canted, known as a raised rail, to make viewing the toppings and scooping them out easier for the workers.
Rails also come with lids that operators can close during nonproduction times, which helps keep the toppings cold. The lids may be easily removable for high-production times or can come dual hinged to be easily folded out of the way as needed.
The volume of pizza an operation sells during peak periods and the number of available toppings will dictate the pizza prep table size. Keep in mind the prep table’s rail portion is meant to hold just a few hours’ worth of toppings for peak production while the refrigerated base holds replacement stock for the rails and for overnight or more extended storage periods. Reach-in or walk-in coolers should provide more long-term bulk storage.
Prep tables are known as one of the most neglected pieces of equipment in the kitchen since they are high use and can be difficult to move for cleaning. With the many ingredients involved with pizza prep, such as flour, sauce and a variety of toppings, these tables get messy.
“The main concern with pizza prep tables is dough and dust from pizza making, so it needs to be cleaned weekly or the unit can be compromised,” says Jamison Johnson, field service supervisor for EMR, a Baltimore-based service agent.
For this reason, keeping up with cleaning and maintenance should be a priority, with operators keeping an eye out for corrosion caused by acidic sauces and tomatoes. Units require regular cleaning both inside and out. Remove food debris from in and around the unit as necessary.
Operators also run the risk of compressor coils becoming dirty and gummy, especially due to the deeper fins on these units. Coils can be 3 to 4 inches thick so chemicals are necessary to thoroughly remove caked on flour and grease. “Dough gets in the condenser coil so this needs to be cleaned weekly,” says Johnson. “The best thing is to turn the unit off so no fans are operating, then take a fin brush to it. If dough crust is embedded in the coil, operators can spray it with warm water and let it air dry for 10 to 15 minutes. A flashlight can be used to make sure it’s cleaned out.”
On the interior, top rails with various toppings stored inside, like tomatoes and sauce, can get into the air and cause corrosion. This can result in evaporator problems, including leaks that require a pricey replacement. “Depending on the style, some pizza prep tables have rails and others have storage on the bottom,” says Johnson. “If it has a rail turn, this should be turned off and wiped down with warm water that is drained into a bucket or down a drain.”
Bi-monthly cleaning is recommended for pizza prep tables at the minimum since regular cleaning ensures optimum efficiency and can lower energy costs. Regular cleanings should include clearing drain lines, cleaning evaporator coils with a brush and CO2 or a shop vacuum, keeping fan blades and condensers clean, ensuring motors are clean and checking for refrigeration leaks.
“When cleaning the coils, a soft brush should be used to prevent damage,” says Johnson. “If operators spray it down with a water hose, it can bend the fins and restrict the condenser’s airflow. This may result in the prep table having problems reaching proper temperatures.” Coated evaporator coils are available and may be a good option for a longer service life, says Johnson.
If the doors do not seal properly, ambient air will enter into the cavity and can cause the coil to work harder and possibly freeze. Use a mild cleaners when cleaning gaskets. Some units require the condensate pans to be cleaned and replaced; hot gas evaporators do not require replacement. Air conditioning filters need to be changed as well as door seals.
For the table’s storage section use soap or a mild cleanser. “Make sure water is warm enough to get dough and toppings off,” says Johnson.
During cleaning, turn off the pizza prep table and remove the food. “Many make the mistake of leaving it on and keeping the doors open, which sucks warm air in,” says Johnson. “The unit can’t pull down the temperature and this results in the evaporator icing over.”
Service technicians typically work on these units quarterly, but if the temperature fluctuates a service call is necessary. Never tamper with a thermostat. “Once a pizza prep table is installed and tested for proper temperature, it doesn’t need a thermostat adjustment,” says Johnson.
The average service life of pizza prep tables is about seven years.
Signs a pizza prep table may need service is a condensing unit that’s icing up or if the interior is not reaching proper temperatures. Gaskets often need replacing due to slamming, along with spring-loaded hinges, which wear out over time.