Kitchen Courtesy

We must all give the communal dining space the respect it deserves.

Show me a communal scullery and I’ll show you a scary refrigerator — it’s a fundamental truth of human existence. But, like all discussions concerning the human condition, we must eventually ask the question: How can we as a society keep the office kitchen clean and civil?   

Memos about keeping the workplace kitchen clean have been part of my life since landing my first job at age 16 for a hardware chain in Kentucky.

Through decades and assorted jobs, the notes and warnings, which now come in the form of email, have changed very little. No matter the industry, the vastness or sophistication of the company or the size of the kitchen, the missives vary only ever so slightly and can include: “Please remove old food from the refrigerator” and “Clean up after yourselves.” When things get really out of control you might receive this reminder: “Get your things out of the disgusting refrigerator now because at the end of the day, everything is going into the garbage.”

As it is with so many behavioral matters, it pays to begin training early in one’s life or — in this case — when employees are new hires. During the office tour, for example, make it a point to mention while standing in the kitchen that it is imperative for everyone to clean up after him or herself and to regularly purge the refrigerator of all food and personal items. Stress that this is a non-negotiable part of everyone’s job at the company and all employees are expected to comply.

Next, create regular reminders and a weekly schedule designed to form a habit. Firm but friendly signage, the ubiquitous email memos and a designated day of the week for clearing-out sessions will keep the issue at the forefront of employees’ minds.

It’s a good idea to form a kitchen committee and elect a spokesperson. Hold yearly elections to mix up the members. Because everyone in the company is at some point or another called to serve, it will foster a sense of community, compassion and duty.  

For the spokesperson, choose an organized and friendly yet assertive individual who is persistent and long on patience. Praise him or her often for their service, as this is often a thankless job. (On that note, I’d like to send a personal shout-out of gratitude to Renaissance Publishing’s Kitchen Commander in Chief, Denise Dean. Thank you, Denise!)

In the end, it’s all about personal responsibility, is it not? In order to keep the kitchen sparkling and imbued with a courteous atmosphere, we must gaze not into the cold depths of the refrigerator, but within ourselves. As the Roman emperor and foremost stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said, “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to



Categories: Biz Etiquette, Hospitality, The Magazine