I've been designing in my mind what I call a pitch-in kitchen. It's a kitchen designed for multiple helpers to pitch in. The kitchen might be used for servicing large parties, or to efficiently feed the homeless, or to simplify food preparation for a collective of neighbors. Today I'm focusing on the design, not the ultimate use of it.

The idea is to make the kitchen so user-friendly that a stranger could walk in and know where everything is and how it works. Perhaps there are tablet computers at each food prep area of a central island that gives instructions for tasks that are auto-assigned to people from a master menu. Anyone can walk in and tap the tablet's "what's next" button and immediately see instructions for washing and prepping the carrots, for example, complete with a picture showing the quantity needed and how they should be sliced. The software would be in charge of sequencing the steps as each volunteer checks in. If a volunteer doesn't feel comfortable with a step that is assigned, he can choose another.

I imagine the plates and cookware are color-coded so anyone can tell which cupboard or drawer holds what. If you can't find a ladle, type its name into the search box on the tablet computer to see a map of the kitchen with an arrow to the correct drawer.

People enjoy helping in the kitchen as long as they know where everything is. Most adults like the feeling of being useful. And food prep can be fun if you get the right group together. The trick is to automate the thinking and planning part of the meal prepping and let the humans do the mindless chopping, stirring, washing, sautéing and other tasks.

The meal organizer would start off by choosing a recipe online. Then the organizer would enter the number of diners to size the ingredients and click one button to order it all for delivery at a set date and time. Another piece of software would send out email invitations for kitchen helpers from the list of your party-invitees or volunteers. As people reply for various kitchen roles, from prepping to cooking to clean-up, the software keeps track and reduces the available openings on the fly. The software then sends out a schedule to each helper telling them exactly when in the process their contributions are needed. Perhaps each helper has a companion app for their phone that buzzes them when it is time for their step. You might be chatting with other party-goers until your phone says, "Time to wash the broccoli."

On a smaller scale, I designed my current kitchen for pitching in. For example, I didn't put the garbage receptacle below the sink because someone is often standing in the way when you want access to it. And I recently added a block of cutting knives on top of the counter because "Where do you keep the knives?" is the first question every kitchen helper always asks. I also plan to standardize the Tupperware-like containers so they all have the same lid no matter their depth.

Had I been cleverer, I would have added a garbage bag storage area inside the garbage/recycling pull-out drawer so any helper could see where the replacement bags are when they help take out the trash.

My favorite kitchen-nerd innovation is the kitchen cart. It's a wheeled metal cart that is tucked under a counter until needed to help clear dishes after a meal. Just wheel the cart around and load the dirty dishes and glasses from every nook and corner of the house after a party. If I had been smarter with the cart idea, it would include an attached garbage bucket so I could scrape food into it as I do the pick-up.

Do you have any kitchen efficiency ideas to add?

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Dec 6, 2013
One kitchen efficiency item we have that I haven't noticed elsewhere are our "spice caddies". We have large, glass-fronted pantry drawers and right behind the glass are custom-made plexiglass containers that each hold about 6 spice bottles.

The idea is to group spices that are commonly used together into one caddy, then say if you're doing an Italian entree, you grab the one with basil, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper, etc. And there's nothing wrong with having a second red pepper in the Mexican caddy.

In theory it's kind of handy, but it's amazing how the "night elves" tend to mix them up.

0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 6, 2013
The clean-up cart is a great idea for bungalows, not so much for two-storey plus buildings. Adding a spot for a dishwasher rack seemed like a good idea until I considered that once full of plates and such, it would be too heavy and unstable to transfer back into the dishwasher. Maybe just the top rack for glasses?

But a low plastic pan for dishes, a compost bucket, a recycle bag, and a garbage bag...all very handy.
Dec 6, 2013
I keep waiting for someone to mass produce transparent counter tops so I don't have to open drawers to find things. I know where the soup ladle is supposed to go, but my wife never actually puts it there so I always end up hunting through drawers. It would be much easier to just look down the counter to see which drawer it is in today.

Also need to perfect those center islands with drawers that can open from either side. That way people can be working in the same space without having to constantly push each other aside and can actually converse without talking over their shoulders.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 6, 2013
You want touch-screens in a kitchen?

People in kitchens usually have hands that are covered in food and/or water. Just saying...
Dec 5, 2013
I posted yesterday, but couldn't find it today. I hope I didn't need to be censored. I thought I was good. All the comments were awesome.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
One of the big problems with storage of food is that you can't see what you have. A big improvement on modern ice box shaped refrigerators would be in the round storage--a central lazy susan with glass on all sides or a viewing window in the door, like a giant SF movie tube. Do you like Star Trek's transporter room?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
Lots of big new houses have "restaurant" style kitchens that are ergonomical wonders. No need to re-invent the wheel when you can steal a car.

My parents' church has a big modern kitchen and hall attached with a daycare centre as well. The kitchen has a restaurant class dishwasher and a very long central island that can be used for trays going out and in as well as prep. There's a counter open to the hall so nobody has to deal with doors.

Dumbwaiters would make it possible to put the kitchen on another floor from the dining room or from other rooms for entertaining in various ways. The pantry and walk-in freezers are de rigeur if you entertain on a large scale, but even on a fairly small scale, refrigerators with doors on both sides (like in a convenience store) means you can stock them from a storeroom without the delivery guys entering the kitchen. A wall of those could keep drinks cold (see AbFab's champagne and vodka refrigerator) or store frozen entrees and various perishables such as cream puffs or fruit cups, made up ahead of time.

Don't forget humble lazy susans or conveyor belts (they don't need to be powered--the kind they have in cafeterias work great). You can pretend you are Lucy and Ethel.

Overhead storage seems popular in the kitchens you see on TV and in the movies. Just reach up and pull down a pot. Peasants used to hang their meat and sausages to smoke and dry among the rafters. You don't need that today butt there's lost of room going to waste in a hot kitchen if you don't have high ceilings and elevated storage.
Dec 5, 2013
Just a little thing, but I learned in my very short time as a restauranteur that it works well to keep a supply of trash bags in the bottom of the trashcan under the current bag. Then whoever takes out the trash sees immediately where the next bag is. BOCTAOE -- like when the last bag goes out!
Dec 5, 2013
I would add some kind of conversion information at hand, chart, app, or otherwise.

I can program a computer and win innovation awards, yet the moment I step into the kitchen, I'm cutting myself, overcooking the noodles, and mis-measuring the flour.

Also, that "ultimate cooking guide" put out by Nathan Myhrvold...now *that* gets engineers excited about the kitchen. The problem is that it isn't very accessible ($454 and 12 volumes!). But if there were, as you describe, something to walk the super left-brained among us, step-by-step, through how to make the PERFECT french fry, I would find that really fun and exciting.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
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Dec 5, 2013
How about QR codes that will link to a checklist or a video reminding me how to use that pasta maker (again).
What is tomorrow's version of a QR code?
Dec 5, 2013
Not everyone likes to pitch in. I agree, most people enjoy being in the kitchen "where the action is", but in my experience, most just want to sip champagne while watching.

Personally, I like cooking and don't mind people watching me because it frees my wife for conversation (there's no one better than her). Also I enjoy the role of "mad scientist".

I make a point of washing my hands in front of everyone, and I like to have the recipes memorized because you never see a TV chef reading a recipe. And likewise, I avoid measuring spoons whenever possible.

Most of the "pitching in" at our parties consists of asking a guest to bring an appetizer. This can backfire, however. A lot of guests have old favorites that they'll make every freekin time. Like GuestX and her artichoke dip. I am so sick of that greasy concoction.

I think a person who doesn't really like to cook that much, and then hears compliments (real or not) on their greasy dish can easily fall into a rut. We made the mistake of fawning over a certain Xmas cookie one year and now we get a giant canister of them every year. Even worse, they've become "healthified". I'd feed them to our dog, but they have raisins.

There should be one day a year when you can tell your dinner party friends that you're sick of their dip and their sawdust cookies, and that day should be Festivus. Everybody could vent, and if they can't take it, they can join some other dinner group.

So if you're keeping track, we'll need some software monitor appetizer usage, and some software to trade couples into new groups so they can get some more mileage out of their favorite creations.

Dec 5, 2013
Sounds like a good application for LEAN manufacturing techniques, i.e. : spaghetti (no pun intended) diagrams showing the movements required to create the meal, then reorganizing stations to minimize movement and maximize flow. TAKT time so processes pace themselves and deliver only what they need when they need it to the next station, minimize waste and non-value added activities like motion, waiting, inventory...

I'm not a big fan of LEAN because many use it as an end-all solution rather than just a tool, but here it might add value.
Dec 5, 2013
Most kitchen stations are designed to be accessed from only one orientation, directly in front of it facing away from everyone else. Why not have the oven, stovetop, sink, and cutting/prep area in an island that can be used from any side of the island? The oven should have more than one door and multiple control panels so that it can be accessed without having someone else move out of the way. The stove & sink could have controls on the ends of the island such that they can be reached from 3 sides without reaching across the stove/sink. Now use the periphery of the kitchen for storage instead of stations that don't face each other.

With everyone facing each other, each can see what the other is doing and collaborate (or teach) more effectively.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
Scott, I think you're on your way to a business plan here.
The overall concept seems to really resonate with all the commentors so far (each adding good suggestions btw).
I bet it would with others too.

This combines cooking class with pitching in on a volunteer project.
A social endeavor that results in a meal you helped cook yourself.

AltlantaDude has a great idea about racks going into the dishwasher.
My first thought was a tiny garage the whole cart is wheeled into and washed like a carwash.

I agree the commercial kitchen setup is efficient, but I think groups of laypeople might feel more comfortable in a "home" kitchen.

Why couldn't/wouldn't restaurants or church kitchens rent out on off hours?
(So many buildings are only in use a small portion of the time.)

And of course many of the concepts would be useful in other realms - imagine a screen showing you a map to the right filing cabinet.
Dec 5, 2013
marcg, If leaks are an issue, you can also drape several new, unfolded garbage bags over the side of the garbage can before putting in a bag for use. Still it would be simplest to only handle each bag once between the original package and use.
Dec 5, 2013

Put RFID chips on everything: ingredient packages, utensils, etc. Then put RFID sensors in all cupboard shelves, fridges, trash cans, drawers, etc. The kitchen knows everything you have, where it's located, whether it's put away in the right spot or not, and everything you've thrown out. Stores should RFID all their products so there's no extra work when restocking.

RFID enabled scale!

Set your ingredient down on a scale, the scale knows what it is, knows the remaining quantity, and knows where you should store it. The kitchen can decide when it's time to restock based on remaining quantity and how much you normally use in a week or two, and can factor in any specific menus you have planned in the future. Recipes can be filtered on quantity of ingredients, not just the presence of ingredients.

The kitchen can track the amount of an ingredient remaining by subtracting the amount you were supposed to use for the recipe you choose, but you can optionally sync back up by just putting the partially full container on the scale for a second. Drop the container in the trash and the remaining quantity can be removed from inventory.

Alternative: Cameras.
A few cameras hooked to the kitchen all-mind can recognize products and utensils and serve the same function as RFID. It also works with the scale. This doesn't seem quite as robust as RFID, since your body may block the camera angle, etc. The visual recognition may confuse pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie. The benefit is you don't need to limit shopping to RFID.

Or both RFID & Cameras. If the camera sees something that does not get registered by RFID, it makes an attempt to identify it. There may be recognizable product packaging, or even a UPC code in view. Or it just takes a picture, shows it on a monitor, and asks you about it.

Kitchen: "What's that?"
You: "It's a turkey."
Kitchen: "I couldn't hear you what you said. What's that?"
You: "A turkey."
Kitchen: "I couldn't hear you what you said. What's that?"
Kitchen: "I couldn't hear you what you said. What's that?"
You: "It's a freaking turkey, you idiot."
Kitchen: "I couldn't hear you what you said. What's that?"

Then you pull out the keyboard (which is normally hidden away in a drawer under the scale) and type in the word Turkey.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
My wife would still have the uncanny ability to stand/block right where I'm try to get to.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
For your own kitchen, you can put a bunch of garbage bags in the bottom of the can. Or if you're afraid of leaks (mine don't seem to), get one of those wall-mount office in-boxes and mount it to the side/back of the can, or maybe the inside of the pullout.

I like that cart idea. I do the same for cookouts. I load the cart with the food, plates, utensils, ... and haul it out to the deck. Then load the trash onto the cart when the cookout is over. Never thought to put a trash can on it, but I will. And I never thought to use it for inside party cleanup.

On your social kitchen of the future - Have a list of items needed for the recipe (utensils, tools, containers, etc.) as part of the recipe. I see that a lot on magazine woodworking articles, where they list the tools needed for the project. When you touch the item on that list it could bring up a picture of the kitchen and highlight where that item is stored. And I second the removal of doors. Or maybe use doors that roll up or otherwise slide completely out of the way, and leave them open for the duration of the meal. Cabinet doors typically open greater than 90 degrees, so opening one cabinet often blocks the one adjacent.

One thing about those plastic containers - The manufacturers seem to like to change their designs every couple of years, so the lids are close, but don't quite click in. I'm thinking it's planned obsolescence and forces you to buy new sets instead of only one or two when needed. But have plenty of the really cheap ones for guests to bring home leftovers.

+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 5, 2013
Remember that we already have 100s of years of development in pitch in kitchens -- they are commercial kitchens. Get rid of the doors on cabinets (or make them clear glass), put the equipment on the walls, etc.

I accept that tech can help things along, but there is a training curve for the tech itself, too. I would suspect that most of the people who would naturally pitch in would be adverse to the tech, and vice-versa. A better solution might be to give the tablet to the "chef", who is coordinating everything, and put a big display up somewhere central in the kitchen for people to see assigned tasks and steps on.

First, pitching in is social. People won't just walk up and accept tasks off a tablet -- they want to talk to the host, interact with them, (make it clear that they are helping). Having the host give out the assignments helps on that. Second, putting it up on a big screen is a triple whammy. It gives the helpers the info they need, it can show outstanding tasks to people drifting by and browsing (who might help with prompting but would never pick up a tablet and check) and as more people are helping, the recognition of it would prompt others to get their name up on the board with some tasks under it.
Dec 5, 2013
Store your extra trash bags inside the bottom of the trash can. As long as you have a can that can keep the bags up around the rim, and bags that are good enough not to rip, they will stay clean. You sacrifice a little space, but the convenience more than makes up for it.
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