Dealing with Limited Space in a School Cafeteria

Limited space is a universal struggle for K-12 schools across the country. Aging infrastructure, tight budgets, and growing student populations all contribute to cramped workspaces for cafeteria staff. This lack of space can lead to long lines, stressed employees, and, ultimately, an impact on the quality of food served to students.

In an ideal world, schools could combat the limited space by expanding the kitchen footprint. However, this rarely occurs, so cafeteria staff must make do with the space they are given. Fortunately, there are ways to fight against the space squeeze without knocking down walls or costly construction.

At Metro, our mission is to make the world more organized and efficient by providing solutions to optimize your space. In this blog post, we’ll look at the common challenges of limited space in a school cafeteria, creative solutions to maximize space and efficiency, and Metro solutions that will help transform your kitchen space.

overcome limited space in a school cafeteria kitchen

Why Limited Space is a Common Problem in School Cafeterias

Many schools struggle with limited space; the biggest challenges are in the classrooms and cafeterias, including the kitchen. One of the biggest reasons for this is aging or incompatible infrastructure.

Schools are often built with a specific student population in mind, and student and teacher populations can greatly shift as time goes on. For instance, in the US, the average age of a school is nearly 50, and more than a third of the buildings were built before 1970. Enrollment can significantly fluctuate during this time, meaning that once spacious buildings are now crowded.

When schools face overcrowding, the issues trickle down to the cafeteria; cafeteria staff must provide more meals for more students (possibly in a shorter time frame), and the existing structure can create logistic challenges. Higher lunch counts mean you might have to store more milk or produce than you currently have room for in your walk-in.

Similarly, dry storage areas may face the same space struggles, resulting in staff needing to get creative with their storage space. When this happens, instead of a smooth workflow, staff may have to take extra steps to access key ingredients or may have to shuffle through boxes to ensure a first-in, first-out system.

Here are some of the effects limited space has on a cafeteria kitchen and staff:

  • No room for new equipment
  • Haphazard storage affects efficiency and stock rotation
  • Can prevent hiring additional staff, even if labor is needed
  • Limiting inventory due to storage restraints increases the risk of running out of items

Space-Saving Cafeteria Solutions from Metro

Of course, meals cannot stop due to the size constraints of a school kitchen, which is why cafeteria workers must learn to make their space work as efficiently as possible. Fortunately, these Metro products will help put your cafeteria space to work, no matter how small. Whether you need optimized solutions for your walk-in or workspaces that work smarter, we’ve got you covered.

Here are some of our favorite space-saving solutions for overcrowded school cafeterias.

Storage Solutions for School Cafeterias

Every square foot counts in a busy cafeteria. That’s why, when you’re looking to optimize the limited available space in your school cafeteria, we recommend starting with your storage areas. With limited space to store ingredients, equipment, and serving ware, organization is key.

Here are some products to help you stay organized and efficient:

Track Shelving

If your dry storage area or walk-in needs more shelving than your current footprint can provide, Metro track shelving can help. This high-density shelving solution utilizes tracks and mobile units to increase your potential storage capacity by up to 50%.

Metro offers two types of track shelving:

  • Top-Track Shelving: This system features an overhead track that suspends the mobile units, keeping your floor area clear. This maximizes storage capacity and simplifies cleaning by eliminating obstacles on the ground.
  • QwikTRAK Shelving: This system utilizes a floor track to guide the mobile units. The floor track protects your floor from scratches and dents often caused by heavy equipment and can compensate for uneven surfaces.

Both systems are available with both wire and polymer shelves. We recommend MetroMax plastic shelving for use in a walk-in cooler or freezer.

Cantilever Shelving

For a heavy-duty shelving solution, Metro SmartLever cantilevered shelving is a great option.

Due to its design, Cantilevered shelves eliminate the need for vertical support posts in the front of the shelves, allowing for easier access to stored items and increased storage capacity. Improved accessibility saves time and helps streamline the workflow during meal prep.

You also have additional space to store more items: SmartLever provides 30-50% more storage capacity compared to traditional four-post shelving in the same footprint. Shelves can also be adjusted or added to fit the various sizes of items you need to store, helping to save wasted space in an already cramped storage area.

SmartLever can also be used in conjunction with existing tables and workspaces to create additional storage, as seen in this video from our Kitchen Storage Makeover 2022:

Wall Shelving

One of the best ways to make the most of limited storage is to ensure you are taking advantage of all available space. Walls are one of the most underutilized spaces for storage, but they have so much potential. Wall shelving is a simple yet effective way to increase your space’s storage capacity without using any floor space.

Metro wall shelving solutions are made from durable, rust-resistant materials, and these industrial wall shelves can be customized to fit your desired layout. Metro’s SmartWall is a popular solution for school cafeterias because, in addition to creating more storage space, it can be used as a drying station or to make your workstation more efficient.

Workspace Solutions for School Cafeterias

While optimizing storage is important when working with space constraints in a cafeteria kitchen, creating efficient workspaces for food prep is also important. With limited countertops and prep areas, every square foot must be utilized effectively to ensure a smooth mealtime workflow. And when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s important to keep tools, utensils, and spices close at hand to help limit the chaos.

Here are some solutions to ensure you get the most out of your cafeteria's workspace:

Stainless Steel Worktables

Metro's TableWorx stainless steel worktables maximize workspace efficiency, transforming tight areas into functional workspaces. Designed to meet the ever-evolving demands of modern facilities like school cafeterias, TableWorx offers a new level of versatility, durability, and functionality for stainless steel tables.

Metro’s stainless-steel worktables are available in stationary or mobile options and have six adjustable heights ranging from 34” to 39”, allowing you to create an ergonomic workstation for your employees. TableWorx can also be configured into an all-in-one workstation with our easy-install riser system allowing multiple configurations.


PrepMate is a multifunctional workstation designed to improve the efficiency of prep work in environments with space constraints, such as small cafeteria kitchens. Whether you’re preparing raw meats or vegetables, this PrepMate allows staff to chop, slide, clean, store, or serve in a smaller footprint.

This Multistation is also ideal for preparing allergy-friendly options or following other dietary restrictions. While you may not have the available space to dedicate an entire countertop to being allergy-free, the PrepMate mobile workstation ensures you have everything you need to follow dietary guidelines in a small footprint.

Super Erecta Prep Stations

If you’re looking for efficiency for your workstation needs but don’t know where to start, we offer complete workstation kits built for the most common food service applications. These fully functional workstations include ample workspace and storage for your team, ensuring maximized use of space.

The Metro SMSP2448NK3 Super Erecta Prep Station is ideal for use in multi-function spaces, such as a school kitchen. This unit utilizes a stainless steel work surface and SmartWall grid with included accessories, such as hanger rails and shelves to keep important items like tools and spices close by.

For additional prep space, the Metro SMSPM2436 SmartWall/Super Erecta Prep Station with Undercounter Mobile Prep Cart offers a functional stainless steel workstation and SmartWall grid with the addition of an undercounter mobile prep cart that nests under the workstation.

Other Space-Saving Solutions

Here are some additional space-saving solutions that will help you create a more efficient kitchen:


If you need holding cabinets but lack the space to add more traditional units, Metro HotBlox offers a space-friendly solution; these versatile, right-sized holding cabinets adapt to your unique space and menu needs.

With three sizes to choose from, models offer a small footprint and can be used on the countertop, under counters, stacked, or for transport. They also have the capacity to hold crispy or moist foods, which is easy to adjust depending on the day’s menu.

HotBlox holding cabinet for school cafeteria


If you have existing Metro Super Erecta shelving in your school cafeteria, one of the easiest ways to add more storage space to your existing footprint is by adding more shelves to your units. With EZ-ADD, you can easily recover unused space within your walk-in or dry storage area without disassembling your unit to add a shelf.

EZ-ADD shelves also future-proof your storage and add flexibility if your storage needs change over time. EZ-ADD shelves can also be slated, creating easier access for hard-to-reach items. These shelves are available in chrome and Metroseal green and are compatible with standard 1” Metro posts.

Optimize Your Cafeteria Space with the Help of Metro

While limited space in a school kitchen can feel like a constant battle, it doesn’t have to be a losing one. With the help of Metro’s innovative storage and workspace solutions, you can overcome the space limitations in your school kitchen to create a more efficient and functional environment.

Don’t let limited space hold you back. Contact Metro today or find a local rep to discuss your specific needs and explore how our solutions can optimize your cafeteria space.

Visit our website to view all of our innovative foodservice solutions