Shared Kitchens 101: Outfitting a Community Space for Any Chef

A shared kitchen is a fully-equipped cooking space that is rented out to multiple food businesses, startups, caterers, personal chefs, bakers, and other culinary entrepreneurs on an hourly or monthly basis. Unlike a traditional commercial kitchen, a shared kitchen is utilized by different users throughout the day or week. By optimizing a shared kitchen layout and equipping it for diverse users, a wide range of culinary entrepreneurs can work, create, and grow their food businesses in an affordable and convenient commercial space.

Determine Your Goals

When designing a shared kitchen layout, it's important to first determine your goals for the space. Some common goals for shared kitchens include:

  • Offer affordable space. For startup food businesses and home cooks, a shared kitchen provides affordable access to licensable commercial cooking facilities. This allows more people to turn their cooking passions into a small business.
  • Build community. Many shared kitchens aim to foster connections between home cooks, food entrepreneurs, and neighbors. The kitchen can act as a hub for people to gather, collaborate, and support one another's culinary endeavors.  
  • Provide convenience. Shared kitchens offer a convenient option for those who don't have sufficient space or equipment at home to prepare large batches of food. Renting time in a shared kitchen nearby can save home cooks the hassle of transporting all their supplies.
  • Promote sustainability. By sharing space and equipment instead of each person purchasing their own, shared kitchens reduce redundancy and make more efficient use of resources. This supports sustainability initiatives.
  • Generate revenue. Many shared kitchens are run as a business to generate revenue by renting space, equipment, storage, and more. Defining this goal helps shape decisions about pricing and profitability.
  • Support the local food economy. Shared kitchens provide infrastructure for small food businesses, farmers, caterers, and others to thrive, bolstering the local food economy.

Determining your goals upfront helps guide important decisions about kitchen layout, equipment, amenities, and operations. Focus on 1-3 primary goals to optimize the space for your top priorities.

Identify Your Target Customers

When setting up a shared commercial kitchen, it's important to identify who your target renters will be. This allows you to design and equip the space to meet their needs. Some common types of renters for shared kitchens include:

  • Food trucks: Food trucks have become increasingly popular in recent years. A shared kitchen provides a licensed commercial space for food truck owners to prep and cook food for their mobile restaurant. They'll need adequate cooler and freezer space to store ingredients and finished product. Multiple prep stations allow several food trucks to work simultaneously.
  • Catering companies: Caterers prepare food for events and gatherings offsite. They'll use the kitchen for prepping appetizers, entrees, sides and more to transport to their event locations. Dry storage for items like serving platters and table decor is helpful. They may also need cooling and freezing space for prepared foods before transporting them.
  • Meal prep and delivery services: Meal prep companies will use the shared kitchen to create healthy, pre-portioned meals for their customers. Adequate refrigerator and freezer space helps them store ingredients and finished meals until they're delivered. They benefit from having multiple prep stations and packaging areas.
  • Bakers: Whether they specialize in cakes, cookies, breads or pies, bakers need space to prepare their confections. They'll require prep space for mixing, baking and decorating. Dry ingredient storage is essential and may need special considerations like humidity control. Specialized equipment like high-capacity mixers and ovens tailored to baking is ideal.
  • Food and beverage manufacturers: Some renters may prepare packaged foods or beverages to wholesale. They'll need sufficient space for their production line including prep, packaging, labeling and storage. Specialized equipment for bottling, canning or other packaging may be needed.Thinking through the needs of each type of renter you want to attract allows you to optimize the layout and equipment in your shared kitchen for their success.

Evaluate the Existing Layout

When setting up a shared kitchen, it's important to take stock of what you're working with in terms of the existing layout and features. This will help inform what changes or additions may be needed to optimize the space.

Consider the overall size and footprint of the kitchen. Is it an open concept or closed off? What are the dimensions?

Take notes on how the kitchen is currently laid out. Is there good workflow between the storage areas, prep spaces, range, and dish pit? Identify any potential bottlenecks. Observe how many people can comfortably work in the kitchen at once.

Inspect all existing equipment and appliances. Check that they are in good working order. Determine if the capacity is adequate for the number of intended users.

Also, evaluate the storage space and consider what's currently lacking in the kitchen. Is more counter space, prep space, or equipment needed? What could make the workflow and functionality better?

Designate Prep Spaces and Storage

When designing prep spaces in a shared kitchen, it's important to consider the needs of your different users. Having dedicated spaces for prep and storage will make your renters lives easier.

Counters. Install countertops made of durable, easy-to-clean materials like stainless steel or quartz. Leave plenty of open counter space for activities like chopping, mixing, and assembling. You may want to designate certain counters for prep tasks that tend to get messy, like breading chicken or filleting fish, while keeping others clean for salad and veggie prep.

Prep Tables. Incorporate spacious, sturdy prep tables - ideally with wheels for flexibility. You can designate tables for specific purposes based on your users' needs, like:

  • A butcher block table for cutting meats and hard produce
  • A stainless steel table for handling raw proteins
  • A plastic-topped table for bread and pastry dough
  • A marble-topped table for rolling out pie dough
  • A utility cart as a mobile prep station

Dry Storage. Proper dry storage organization reduces clutter on prep surfaces, minimizes contamination, and enables renters to easily locate ingredients for their recipes. With ample and well-designed space for dry goods, renters can work efficiently together in the shared kitchen.

Cold Storage. Refrigerated storage is critical in a shared kitchen. Careful planning of cold storage ensures renters have sufficient space for ingredients that need refrigeration and easy access to commonly used items. When designing refrigerated storage in a shared kitchen, consider including:

  • Walk-in refrigerators. Larger shared kitchens may benefit from a walk-in refrigerator for bulk cold storage. Walk-ins allow for storage of large quantities of perishable ingredients. They also help keep the kitchen cooler during hot summer months when multiple renters are cooking.
  • Reach-in refrigerators. Multiple reach-in refrigerators placed strategically around the kitchen provide renters refrigerated space close to their prep areas. Label specific refrigerators for dairy, meat, and produce to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Prep refrigerators. Small undercounter refrigerators located right at each renter's prep station keep ingredients cold and within arm's reach during cooking tasks. This avoids frequent trips to the walk-in or reach-ins.

Frozen Storage. Designating sufficient frozen storage space is crucial in a shared kitchen. Invest in one or more full-sized freezers to provide ample room for renters to store frozen ingredients, prepped foods, and finished products.

Define Shared Spaces

When designing a shared kitchen, it's important to think through how renters will utilize communal spaces outside of their individual prep areas. This includes places to wash dishes, clean, dine, store personal items, and use the restroom.  

Dishes. Provide adequate dish washing stations with commercial grade sinks, sprayers, and drainboards. Allow enough space for multiple people to wash dishes simultaneously. Make sure dish cleaning supplies like soap, sponges, and sanitizer are always stocked. Consider installing commercial dishwashers if budget allows.

Cleaning. Keep cleaning tools like brooms, mops, and vacuum cleaners accessible but out of the way. Set up a utility closet or janitor's station for storage. Maintain a cleaning schedule and checklist to keep common areas tidy. Stock cleaning supplies in a centralized space.  

Lockers. Provide personal lockers for renters to securely store small personal items when not using their station. Lockers allow them to free up prep space without losing security. Install near entrances/exits for convenience.

Bathrooms. At least one shared restroom is a must. More may be required depending on capacity and layout. Keep bathrooms clean and well-stocked. Consider touchless fixtures, and automatic soap/towel dispensers. Provide hygiene products if possible.