The Golden Rule(s) of Renting Kitchen Space

When I first started Dale’s Fried Pies, my absolute biggest barrier to entry was finding a kitchen to work in. Unlike many cities of its size, Knoxville doesn’t have a true community kitchen dedicated to providing a place for culinary entrepreneurs to get their feet wet. Like most food business newbies, I didn’t have the resources, knowledge or confidence in my business to even think about building a kitchen on my own. I googled different combinations of “kitchen,” “rental,” “community,” “commercial,” and “commissary” over and over to no avail. I felt totally lost. I finally started cold calling churches, restaurants, bars and nightclubs that I thought might have kitchens that weren’t constantly in use. After two weeks and dozens of calls, I finally got lucky and found an organization willing to rent me space. They closed a year later, and I was back to square one. That’s when I decided it was time to start thinking about getting a kitchen of my own.

Now that the commissary at the Central Collective is up and running, I’ve learned a few things from the other side of the table. I understand why so many people were unable or unwilling to rent space to me. While I always knew that I wanted to provide rentable kitchen space to emerging culinary entrepreneurs, once I was all set up in MY kitchen, with MY equipment that I bought with MY money, I started getting cold feet. What if someone rented the kitchen and burned it down? What if they left the place a mess every time they came in to cook? What if I didn’t have enough time in my kitchen each week to fulfill last minute orders?

I pushed through my fears, though. We now have three regular renters in our kitchen space. Each of them is a small local business owner, just like me. Each of them cares about making good food and serving their community, just like me. It makes me feel great knowing that providing this space lets people start or expand their businesses. I thought it might be useful to create two lists of tips – one for people looking for space to rent and one for people looking to rent out their kitchen space. But once I started these two lists, I realized the principles are the same regardless of which side of the table you’re at. The bottom-line – be up front and honest, respect people’s time, and keep the kitchen in good shape!

Dale and Mother's Cupboard

Dale, right, with the proprietors of Mother’s Cupboard, the first renters at Central Collective.

Rules for Renting

  • Make Sure the Price is Fair

    If you’re looking for rentable space, make sure you can afford the rental fee. Factor in the time it will take you to prep, cook and clean up. Multiply the hourly fee by the time you will be in the space each week. Look at your weekly revenue and make sure that you can afford the cost of the rental. If you can’t, let the landlord know that you’re not able to rent the space because of cost. This may let them know that they’re charging too much for space.

    If you’re looking to rent your kitchen, make sure that you’re not charging so much that new business owners can’t afford it (don’t forget what it was like when YOU were starting out). However, you don’t want to charge too little either. You may be supplying cleaning supplies and incidentals like garbage bags and paper towels. You are reducing the time you are able to produce product, and placing limits on your schedule. There will be significant administration time and effort that you’ll need to put into communicating with your renters, establishing contracts, fixing things that break, and addressing any issues that arise. Renting your kitchen is work, and you should make sure you are compensated for it.

  • Be Clear About What is Expected

    Every kitchen rental agreement should start with a clear and detailed contract. Renters should know what they can expect when they arrive. They should know exactly what equipment they are and are not allowed to use. They should know about if/where they can store their equipment and ingredients. Having all of this in writing helps to avoid future problems. If you’re renting time in a kitchen, make sure you know the answers to these questions before you agree to work in the space.

  • Keep the Space Clean and Functional

    As a kitchen owner, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that your kitchen is clean, functioning and complies with the standards set by your local health department. When something breaks, you should fix it as soon as possible. Your renters are spending their hard-earned money to rent your space, and they should be guaranteed a space that is clean and functional when they arrive.

    As a renter, you should practice the campsite rule: Always leave the kitchen in better condition than you found it. Make sure to abide by any rules set out in your rental contract. Don’t leave full bags of garbage sitting in the kitchen. Wipe all surfaces and clean any utensils or equipment you’ve used. Not only does this ensure that the kitchen is as clean and functional as possible, it will make the kitchen owners want to keep you around! If you leave a dirty kitchen every time you rent space, it’s likely that you won’t be allowed to work in that kitchen for long.

  • Respect Each Other’s Time

    As a renter, you should know exactly when you are scheduled to be in the kitchen space. Make sure you’re making the most of your time (you’re paying for it, after all) – have a plan of action and arrive on time. Make sure you leave when your scheduled time is over. Factor in how long it will take you to properly clean the space. If you’re constantly lagging behind in the kitchen after your scheduled time, your kitchen owner probably isn’t going to be happy.

    If you’re a kitchen owner, don’t schedule renters right after another. Leave a 30-minute buffer in between in case someone is running late or there’s an issue that needs to be fixed in between renters. If you’re charging people to use your kitchen, they should be able to use the space for every minute they’re paying for!

Dale Mackey
Dale Mackey

Dale Mackey is a Chicago native who moved to Knoxville in 2007 and has no plans of leaving. She spends most of her time making and selling fried pies, but when she finds a free moment, she enjoys writing, eating, playing with her cats, playing with her husband, and going on adventures. She's named after cowgirl Dale Evans, and hopes she does her namesake justice.

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