Flight Attendants Share Their Best Tips for Making the Most of a Small Kitchen

If you think your kitchen is small and cramped, try preparing food and drinks for a plane full of hungry and thirsty passengers in a closet-sized nook. Because we truly have no idea of how flight attendants get it all done on a flight-to-flight basis, we reached out to a few industry veterans (and even a pilot!) for their expert small-space, micro-kitchen tips.

The Experts and their Credentials

  • Sue Fogwell: “I recently retired from my flight attendant job with a major airline after 22 years working in a variety of galleys on different aircraft whether narrow-body or wide-body, domestic and international routes.”
  • Nico de Jager: “I am a former flight attendant as well as the current owner and CEO of an airline catering and duty-free company. I also have in-depth knowledge on how to stock and load the limited space available for optimum efficiency, as the supplier of the trolleys and containers, and have an interest in smooth and efficient service on board.”
  • Brett Manders: “I am an International Airline Pilot and author of the book Behind the Flight Deck Door — Insider Knowledge About Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to ask a Pilot.

1. Cut the clutter while you work.

“The key to working effectively in a galley is being very organized. It helps to keep the counter uncluttered and have a trash can pulled out and throw all trash out right away, otherwise, the counter will become messy and other items will get buried that will be needed. Dangle another trash bag from a hook for all recyclable items and wipe the counter down as you work, so that your space always remains clean.” — Sue

2. Work solo.

It’s more effective to work by yourself in a galley. Having someone ask if they can help in such a tight space is a recipe for disaster and could lead to a situation where the other person will be in your way or slow you down. It’s better that a helper stands outside of the galley space so that you can hand them beverages and prepared dishes that they can deliver to the dining table. If the helper needs something from the galley, instead of reaching for it, just ask instead, and the galley person will get it.” — Sue

3. Prioritize needs versus wants.

Determine what you really need, what is nice to have, and what is a luxury. First, stock your kitchen essentials — like cups, plates, cutlery, and food and drink items you always want on hand. Determine how much space you need for those non-negotiables, and then with whatever space you have left, stock up on the nice-to-haves.” — Nico

4. Organize your space according to frequency of use.

Place items you use most frequently at waist height or higher so you do not have to bend or kneel down to get them. Having a small space makes moving around harder, and having to open three doors and a drawer to end up with one cup of coffee is both inefficient and irritating. If you have cereal every morning, yet you cook pasta maybe once a week, keep the cereal (and the bowl you eat it in) in an easy-to-reach spot. Keep the pasta supplies in a less accessible cabinet.” — Nico

5. Use coffee to get rid of pesky odors.

“One super-helpful thing cabin crews use to mask bad smells? Coffee bags! Coffee has a great ability to absorb bad smells and a discreetly placed bag will work wonders. I don’t understand the science behind it, but flight attendants swear by it. This could certainly help out if you have some strong odors in a small kitchen.” — Brett

Small-kitchen dwellers: Is there anything you’d add to this list?

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