If you oversee operations in a commercial kitchen, you know that details matter. One of the details that matter most is the floor of your work area. With a broad variety of flooring systems on the market, it can be difficult to choose the best flooring for a restaurant kitchen.
At a minimum, every kitchen flooring system should have these qualities:
- Easy installation. For the best results, you need a flooring system that can be installed quickly and easily, keeping downtime to a minimum.
- Antimicrobial/hygienic. The best kitchen floors are seamless, preventing water or liquids from seeping into cracks, and also acting as a guard against microbial infection.
- Slip resistance. It goes without saying that the best flooring for a restaurant kitchen should be slip-resistant — even when wet — to provide safe footing for your crew.
- Durability. Kitchen floors have to withstand a variety of thermal shocks — i.e. spills of boiling cooking oil, water, and other liquids. It also needs to be moisture tolerant.
- Easy maintenance. Flooring should be easy to clean and sanitize, standing up to frequent cleaning and scrubbing, with a watertight seal and non-porous-surfaces.
Now let’s take a look at the five most commonly used flooring systems, and see how they stack up.
Top Five Flooring Choices
JetRock Epoxy Flooring
Based on our experience, the best all-round solution answer is a quartz-blended, epoxy flooring system — and of the various products we’ve worked with, JetRock stands apart. (Not to be confused with broadcast epoxy, a non-commercial grade flooring, which is not usually recommended for high traffic, commercial environments.) JetRock is a virtually odorless mixture of quartz chips and epoxy resin, and after it’s troweled to a 3/16″ single layer application over existing tile, wood, or concrete surfaces, it hardens into a seamless surface that’s thoroughly slip-resistant, even when greasy or wet. It installs quickly — overnight — minimizing downtime, and lasts up to 10 or 15 years, depending on use. It’s watertight and extremely hygienic. Last but not least, it can withstand the chemicals, temperature extremes, and high wear that are typical in a commercial kitchen — making it an ideal solution from hotlines to cooler boxes. Other epoxy flooring systems may blend in materials other than quartz, which may be less durable, wear out faster, and take longer to install with two or three application layers. $6-8/sq. ft. for materials, $9-14/sq. ft. with installation.
Ceramic Tile Flooring
Another strong candidate is ceramic tile flooring. Its best features are its classic appearance, durability, and relatively low installed cost. Day-to-day cleaning is fairly easy, but the use of chemicals in cleaning materials or frequent cleaning eventually weakens the grout lines, making them susceptible to retaining moisture, and accumulates bacteria. Over time individual tiles crack, they can be fairly easily replaced. A tile floor in a commercial kitchen will show wear and tear, retain odors, and may get water seeping in under the tile. It tends to have high maintenance costs. It is not unusual to spend up to $5K in commercial kitchens to replace cracked tiles and regrout once or twice a year. $5-6/sq. ft. for materials, $8-10/sq. ft. with installation.
Concrete is another popular option. It has the benefit of being highly durable, with a hard, flat, and seamless surface that cannot be damaged by heat or most impacts. Polished concrete can make an attractive kitchen floor and, if well maintained, can last up to 10 years. This type of flooring is also durable and can handle heavy machinery and equipment. On the negative side, its hardness makes it a fairly unforgiving surface to stand on for long periods of time — so many owners install rubber mats to ease the impact. Concrete flooring is porous – accumulating bacteria and mildew – and may not pass health department tests unless you paint over it with epoxy. It isn’t the easiest to clean, and can be slippery when wet. It can also increase the noise level in a commercial space. $3-5/sq. ft. for materials, $6-12/sq. ft. with installation.
Vinyl flooring is also another option, although not generally recommended as the best flooring for a restaurant kitchen. While its typical installation price is similar to that of epoxy flooring systems, it tends to have high maintenance costs, especially if moisture or dirt gets into seams. It can be very slippery when wet. Another drawback is that installation usually requires two or three days. On the positive side, vinyl flooring adopts many of the properties of its subfloor — so if it’s installed over an underlayment with some “give” in it, it will create a surface that’s comfortable for staff to stand on for long periods of time. $6-10/sq. ft. for materials, $10-14 with installation.
Natural Stone Tile
Natural stone tile is another option for commercial kitchen flooring, especially when the workspace is visible to customers and appearance is a key priority. It’s durable and hard, similar to ceramic and quarry tile, but it has several drawbacks you need to keep in mind. First, if you’re really going for a designer look, the installed cost can be quite high and installation can take days or weeks. In addition to costing more on the front end, natural stone can also be relatively high-maintenance, requiring frequent repairs or replacement of tiles. A few other downsides: first, unlike quarry or ceramic tile, stone tiles can be subject to stains and discoloration unless they’re sealed. In addition, stone tiles used in commercial kitchens must be very carefully chosen: if they have deep surface variations, they can become tripping hazards. Most importantly, they must be slip-resistant, even when wet — and not every natural stone tile meets this requirement. $5-6/sq. ft. for materials, $8-25/sq. ft. with installation.
Consult with a Flooring Professional
Of course, every restaurant kitchen has its own combination of requirements and “nice-to-haves,” and no solution is right for everyone. The best approach is to see and feel the various options as well as talk with a flooring professional about your needs and concerns. Ideally, the selection you make will provide a return on investment for years to come — so it pays to take your time making your decision.