Choosing the Right Prep Table: A Comprehensive GuidE

Having the right commercial restaurant equipment is crucial to running a successful food service business.

One essential piece of equipment is a prep table or prep station. These tables provide a convenient and efficient workspace for food preparation. They make it easier for chefs and kitchen staff to create delicious dishes.

However, with so many options available, choosing the right one for your business can take time and effort. In this guide, we'll discuss key factors to consider when selecting a prep table.

Types of Commercial Prep Tables

Different commercial kitchens require different commercial restaurant equipment. The right prep table for a pizzeria won't necessarily be the perfect fit for the ice cream shop next door or the food truck parked down the street. An easy first step for selecting a refrigerated prep table is to decide which style is right for your business. Prep tables can be broadly divided into four categories:

Sandwich Prep Tables

A sandwich prep table is usually used to make sandwiches or salads. It features a refrigerated well on top of the unit that is used to store poly or metal food pans with ingredients. A hinged lid covers the well.

The top section has a 10-inch deep cutting board for assembling sandwiches, salads, or other items. Cutting boards with different depths are available.

The lower section of the table has doors or drawers for additional storage. Sandwich prep tables are typical in delis, sandwich shops, convenience stores, food trucks, and other food service establishments.

Mega Top Prep Tables

A mega-top prep table is very similar to a sandwich prep table. The main difference is the refrigerated well on top of the unit. On mega-tops, this section is larger than on sandwich tables.

The larger well size allows you to store more poly and metal food pans. The top section of the table also has a cutting board surface for assembling sandwiches and salads. Cutting board depths are usually the same on mega-top and sandwich models.

The lower section of the mega-top prep table has doors or drawers for additional storage. The storage area allows you to keep extra food pans close at hand. Mega-top prep tables are common in commercial kitchens with popular menu items with many options.

A cook in a kitchen kneeling to look into the bottom refrigerator of a mega top prep table.A cook in a kitchen kneeling to look into the bottom refrigerator of a mega top prep table.

Pizza Prep Tables

A commercial pizza prep table is specifically designed for making pizzas. They feature a refrigerated top section with compartments for storing ingredients such as toppings, sauces, and cheeses. Cutting boards on pizza prep tables are usually 19 inches deep compared to 10 inches on other types.

The lower section of the table has doors or drawers for additional storage. Commercial pizza prep tables are commonly used in pizzerias and other restaurants where pizzas are popular. They provide a convenient and efficient workspace for pizza preparation, making it easier to create delicious pizzas.

Countertop Prep Stations

Countertop prep stations are designed to be placed on a counter, table, or other elevated surface. Smaller than a commercial prep table, prep stations are common in kitchens with limited space or as an additional workspace for specific food preparation tasks.

Refrigerated prep stations are versatile and can be used for many purposes, such as preparing sandwiches, salads, and small appetizers or holding ice cream toppings. Countertop prep stations are an excellent option for small cafes, food trucks, or catering businesses that require a compact and portable workspace for food preparation.

What to consider when purchasing a refrigerated prep table?

Once you've decided which of the four types of prep tables you need, your next step is deciding which features and specifications you want. Some common things to consider are:

A pizza is made on a cutting board of a pizza prep table.A pizza is made on a cutting board of a pizza prep table.

Size and Capacity

The first thing to consider when choosing a prep table is the size and capacity that best suits your needs. Prep tables come in various sizes, ranging from small countertop models to large, multi-door units. 
Consider the space in your kitchen and the volume and type of food you prepare. A smaller prep table may be more suitable if you have limited space. Larger kitchens may benefit from larger or multiple units with more storage and workspace. 

Refrigeration Options

One of the main functions of a stainless steel prep table is to keep ingredients fresh and at a safe temperature. When choosing a prep table, consider the type of refrigeration options available.


Most models have built-in refrigeration systems. Items stored under the top lid and in the lower storage area are kept at food-safe temperatures. The lower storage area can be accessed by doors or drawers. This area is usually cooled to refrigerator-level temperatures.

Units with built-in freezers allow longer and colder storage; however, tables with refrigerators are far more common.

One of the most important things you can do for your prep table and all your refrigeration equipment is to let it breathe. Give the unit space, especially around the air vents, to ensure it has appropriate airflow to the condenser. The vents can be located on the front or sides of commercial refrigerated prep tables. Also, be sure to clean your condenser frequently to make sure your table is working efficiently.

Material and Durability

Prep tables need to withstand the rigors of a busy commercial kitchen. It's important to choose a table made from durable materials. Stainless steel is a nearly universal choice for its durability, corrosion resistance, and ease of cleaning.

Some models have glass doors, making it easier to see which ingredients are in the storage area.

Features and Accessories

Different prep tables have various features and accessories that enhance their functionality. While most models have cutting boards built into the top, their depth can vary, giving you different-sized work areas.

Other models have shelves or drawers for additional storage. Some models have optional clear lids that allow you to see the food pans easily.

Overshelves can be added to some tables, giving you extra dry storage space near your busy work area. Consider the features that would be most useful for your kitchen and choose a prep table that offers those options.

Let your budget guide your purchase

As with any equipment purchase, keeping your budget in mind is critical when choosing a prep table. While opting for the cheapest option may be tempting, remember that a prep table is an investment in your business. It's worth spending a little more on a high-quality, durable table that will last for years. Consider the features and options that are most important to you and find a balance between cost and functionality.

Chef preparing fresh grilled chicken noodle bowl on the cutting board of a sandwich prep table.Chef preparing fresh grilled chicken noodle bowl on the cutting board of a sandwich prep table.

By keeping these key factors in mind, you can choose the right prep table for your business and ensure your kitchen runs smoothly and efficiently.