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 29, 2013
Hmmm... I've been making toy cabinets for my grandkids that require them to put a toy back before taking another one out. Lately I've added some electronics and made them modular. I haven't thought yet much about using them in the kitchen, but this discussion got me thinking. Do you think this would work in your modern kitchen? I have videos at my web site <a href="www.furniture-that-gets-kids-to-pick-up-toys.com"> Just copy and paste and take a look.
Dec 11, 2013
Cupboards and drawers, I think they need to be glass / transparent so you can know straight away where is plates/glasses/etc. Oven, is probably the most obscure gadget, mine come with 4 buttons with obscure symbols. One have to guess to know how to use it.
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Dec 11, 2013
Why hide the knives in a block so you still have to pull several out to figure out which one you want? Stick them on a magnetic block on the wall. They're visible and cleaner, not hiding in a slot lined with whatever somebody didn't entirely wipe off last time they were used. See http://www.benchcrafted.com/Magblok.html for some nice ones.
Dec 10, 2013
i love the idea of a pichin kitchen, which seems like the kitchen for the complete idiot, which i am, at least when i am in the kitchen. i usually do the pull out trash and recycling drawer, try to find a place where you can leave it partly open while cooking and within throwing distance of common working spots. dump the whole box of bags into the bottom of the trash bin, it doesnt take any space and saves finding a nearby place for the rectangular box shape.
Dec 9, 2013
No need to standardize the containers, there are a couple of different "stretch lids" on the market most of which are transparent.
Dec 9, 2013
Already prepared food > food you have to cook

At least in terms of efficiency.
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Dec 8, 2013
No way to edit a comment?
Single Male :
Q: If you could spend 2 hours a week working together with others, and make yourself a week's worth of good food to take home for yourself, are you tempted to participate?
A: "You bet".

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 8, 2013

>>Introverts, that is, shy people, need not apply.
Technical theater volunteering, it was a perfect place for introverts to participate. It takes a group of different kinds of people to get all the work done. Same thing, just different task.

>>Nor people in rural areas and on farms.
The combination of socializing and being productive is exactly the kind of thing that does work up here.

Sometimes add a sporting element to it like Iron Chef.
Sports are funded up here. Add in some blood once in a while and you have an instant hit.
Feed it over the internet or cable TV and allow betting. Of course the house takes a cut.

- - -

I talked to a neighbor, a 65 year old single female and her sister visiting from Switzerland:
We think it’s a great idea – if you’re into having company a lot..
It sounds like it has to be quite sizable...
One idea I don’t go along with is not having the garbage under the sink because I use it (the garbage) a lot when I am working at the sink – maybe have 2 garbage cans?

Another a 50 year old single male:
It would need to be really simple, otherwise it's too complicated for us older folks

One of our (very small rural area) community leaders, a 60 year old married female:
I think the kitchen at the senior center is a bit like the one in the link. It is used by community groups every Tuesday to cook dinner for whoever shows up (these days about 100 or so people attend the dinners). I've cooked there a few times and it is very easy. They also do meals there for seniors, and other groups can rent it for a nominal fee to put on meals (reunions, weddings, etc).

- - -

Our pipes froze last night, -16. Going to go thaw them.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 8, 2013

Sure, But,
$6 for a (too small) chicken dinner? Plus $2.50 for a side of starch? Plus $2.50 for a side of green beans? Plus $2.50 for a dessert? Plus $2.50 for an appetizer? They will have to figure out ways to cut those prices way down. $4 per meal should be an economy-meal target. Deluxe options higher priced of course.

If I can get government funding to help feed people, it eases the commercial costs.
With volunteer organization software, I can cut my labor expenses.
Pre-planned full menus can cut materials costs.
If I can use an idle commercial or community kitchen, it might lessen my rent.
Send the single meals out with the domino's drivers.
Expand to frozen, microwave meals, not just the U-bake. (See Bubba's Boneless Ribs)

Don't forget special dietary needs menus for medical issues. My mother in law hates the idea at 85 having to deal with Dad's dietary issues.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 8, 2013
Here are some funding possibilities to keep the Pitch-In Kitchen Operating:

Prepare "home-made" meals for those people that don't have time to cook as an alternative to fast food meals. Subscriptions for twice a month delivery.
Cooking classes with you and your child. Focused on single parents, managing food budgets and children helping.
Cooking classes teaching newly independent twenty-somethings about food and prep.
Singles night, instead of the nightclub or gym.
Date night for newly dating couples. Watch how he handles domestic chores and interaction with others.
Date night for established couples. Add group marriage counselling as part of the process.
Fundraisers selling meals one time.
Use the same organizing software that is developed, and repackage for many other uses.
Subscription dues for kitchen access.
Grants and funds from government and community organizations.

Maybe some paid staff and volunteer staff. Coordinate the volunteer staff using the same software system.
Having the right instructor and head chef or kitchen organizer would make or break many of these ideas. But one could create that Personality and transfer it to the computer for no cost replication. I would imagine a cheerleader/motivator/sales person would still be necessary.
Running a community theater (on the technical side) required a staff of volunteers. They needed to be reliable, and learn skills, and do the work for free over years. It was a good social venue.
Having the right person keeping the momentum going and energy up, was important.

Senior center meals, homeless shelter meals are probably already being done in individual facility kitchens, but, many years ago in our elementary school, they move the food preparation away from individual schools and put them in one central location, then trucked the prepared meals into each school (I assume it was cheaper to do so) Why not centralize the food prep to shelters and care facilities?
Instead of just food banks providing raw foods, why not include prepared meals?

But the discussion was on design?

Using a central island is good idea. Sewing bees, divide themselves into "friend" groups. Having several smaller islands or work stations might help too.
Some people will like switching jobs, some like the same job. Some will like moving around, some in one place. Some like the grunt work, some the more visible jobs.
The software can accommodate all this.

Kitchens are noisy, people still want to talk. Older people can't hear conversations with all the noise. Separate areas for quiet work or talking groups. In the dining room, on the tables. Use the rolling carts for tools and supplies.

Larger places will want some wireless headsets for coordination. Assisted listening devices can be integrated.

Stools. I can't stand for 2 hours grating cheese and putting it on lasagna. Some people will need to send it down the line in the kitchen, rather than move from place to place.

Use some of the kitchen system designs of McDonald's.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 8, 2013
Phantom II:
"[...] all the grunt work of cooking: the chopping, the prep, getting the equipment lined up, cleaning up afterwards [...]"

This might sound strange, but peeling and chopping veggies and preparing all the stuff is what I like most about cooking, way more than standing in front of the range, dipping the spoon into the pot and trying to figure out which spice or herb could improve (or rescue) the taste.

And, of course, this way the responsibility for the taste still rests firmly with the host. What I truly hate is discussions about how to do it while working in the kitchen. It should be absolutely clear who the boss is for a given dish and then the others help.

With my parents (dad and I both love cooking) we have a very simple acommodation: His kitchen, it's his show and I'm helper. My kitchen, my responsibility for the end result and he's helping me. It's got nothing to do with hierarchies or stuff, it's just a voluntary thing about avoiding discussions in a situation where you can't afford it, i.e. with hungry guests coming. Naturally, when not cooking together, we talk about recipies all the time and how we do or don't things.

It's the same when I help other people cooking, something that happens fairly often. :-)
When they say "I need the carrots chopped for the goulash" it's ok to ask "how do you want them chopped?" but not ok to respond with "but in my recipe book goulash doesn't contain carrots".
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2013
The food prep done by others is a popular franchise, although not very profitable these days.

Super Suppers, for example, does this. I like the food, and the classes they have.

There are many others, of course.

The idea around the pitch-in kitchen is great for extroverts, people who live in large communities, people who have large kitchens already, and similar other restrictions.

Introverts, that is, shy people, need not apply.

Nor people in rural areas and on farms.

Nor people in tiny apartments in large cities where my 5 foot tall grandmother could touch all 4 walls while standing in the center of the kitchen.

The idea of using the Agile/Scrum programming framework as applied to meal preparation is not exactly new, I've attended lectures and seminars where they used this specific example to show why the methodology/framework of Agile/Scrum is so effective. But I do like the concept non-the-less. As long as someone else does the leg work.
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Dec 7, 2013
The cart with it's own garage is a great idea. Maybe it's parked so that between parties its doubles as a holding place for large items until they can be completely put away (like bags of cat food that need to be mixed together into a dispenser, when there's space in the dispenser, etc.)? Islands are a terrific innovation: even a single-cabinet sized small island, well-placed, makes kitchens much more user friendly.

However, given how long it takes 51 % of users to learn efficient software use I think dinner's gonna be a little late ... Jack's gonna get stuck on step 3 of Chop_Coleslaw while Bob just accidentally exited Clean_Broccoli & is stuck on a looping youtube of red panda bears playing in the snow. ;)
Dec 7, 2013
I remember seeing Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsey talking with the wife of another chef. The wife was telling Chef Ramsey that her chef-husband almost never cooked at home. Ramsey asked her if she knew why. When she said 'no,' Ramsey replied, "It's because he doesn't have a sous chef."

For those of you not familiar with the term, a sous chef is the person who does all the grunt work of cooking: the chopping, the prep, getting the equipment lined up, cleaning up afterwards, etc. Ramsey was saying that chefs don't want to cook if they have to do the grunt work.

So what I'd like is a robotic sous chef. I'm the same way - I'm way too slow at the grunt work, and it's not where the real fun of cooking comes in. When I see a recipe that says something like, "Prep: 20 minutes" I say, HA! It'll take me at least an hour.

Your pitch-in kitchen sounds a little like Tom Sawyer getting everyone else to paint the fence. I think the thing I'd most like to see is a way to set up your kitchen that would encourage other people to come in and do the grunt work.

I fear that without some kind of incentive or reward, it might end up being that nobody wants to do the prep work. Maybe in your kitchen, you could have a wine dispenser, such that each time someone finishes a task, they get rewarded with a half-glass of wine. Of course, you may not want that reward for the people who are wielding knives. But that could add to the entertainment value - "Hey, Joe, how many fingers did you have yesterday?"

So for me, the robotic sous chef. Then, maybe an intelligent refrigerator ("Hey, idiot, that chicken has been in here for two weeks! You'd better check for mold! And, by the way, you're almost out of milk!")
Dec 6, 2013
I don't want to mess around in someone else's kitchen nor their workshop tools area. Such layouts are personal preferences. At a gathering, I help by doing a specific task like preparing drinks. My spouse thinks that most kitchens are designed by men who don't cook, which explains the poor layout of most of them (e.g. dishwasher door down blocks all people, same with oven door and fridge door) and they do not take into account two people trying to prepare their breakfasts at the same time. She calls poorly designed kitchens "one butt kitchens" meaning two people cannot use them at the same time.

We both like visiting people who have a counter opposite the kitchen so we can sit on stools and visit while the host is cooking. Also, some of the upper cabinets should have glass inserts so one can easily spot wine glasses and plates. You don't need a tablet for that.

A friend in Walnut Creek is a woodworker and remodeler and he has some great gizmos in his house, for example a spice rack that slides out from the side of the cabinet nearest the range top, horizontal knife racks that are under the cabinets and fold down as needed, all lower cabinets are pull-out drawers so you can see everything in the back of the drawer, and he even has drawers designed for laying canned goods flat.

Your recent strip showing Dilbert discussing with a lady the advantages of an engineer in the house is hilarious. Employment, fixit, but social skills? I am an engineer and it strikes close.
Dec 6, 2013
I'm with the others for open storage and an island. Six Sigma manufacturing principles, everything has a place, everything in its place.

Also, your computer system could award digital badges to participants. "Bob earned the Blanching badge - good job, Bob!"
Dec 6, 2013
After we had a pipe break upstairs over our kitchen, we took the opportunity after it was gutted to try to design it for efficiency. We tried to put things where they would be used. We had limited space so not perfect. Our pull out trash/recycle drawer is positioned to the left of the sink and kitty corner (catty corner?) to the pull out cutting board so I can just wipe the crumbs right into the trash. We didn't think of the bags either so we have to bump the sink person to replace them. Trash bag boxes aren't all the same size so I don't know if building it in would work for us. I wish I had a solution for the foil/plastic wrap/Baggie problem.
Dec 6, 2013
I love to cook and an island is essential.

The reason why is because other people to be in the same space and it makes the kitchen a central part of the home. Food is something families can enjoy. When people are getting in the way it detracts from the social side of food preparation. It is also more efficient because there is space for more than one person to work on more than one problem.

The kitchen also needs to be organized and there has to be an easy way to take inventory and see what is needed. This is partly so you can buy things when they are cheap and always know what is needed and when to buy things (when they are cheap). But also because it's hard and frustrating to do good cooking when you're constantly looking for something. Cooking is something you should enjoy. And it's something the family should enjoy that brings them together.

So if there are some original ideas that come out of this I am all for it. But as for me I think there are two essential necessities: a good workspace and an organized environment.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 6, 2013
Transparent kitchen furniture.
Everyone knows where everything is without any electronic help.
And you have an incentive to tidy up. :-)

Also, if you have the area, maximize the work surface length, so that many people can stand at the surface and work, without getting in each other's way. Try to have convex corners instead of concave ones. A big table is great, if you can afford the space.

What about configurable surfaces? Like, normal work surfaces all around the wall, range in the middle of the room and you can stick another surface like a bridge between one of the wall surfaces and the range.
Dec 6, 2013
Most people don't want to help. They want to watch, to hang out and to feel like they actually helped.
So your design should aim to "accomodate extra people in a kitchen in a way that they don't get in the way".
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