MiniMise

RESEARCH | DESIGN | PROTOTYPING | TESTING

A handheld smart hub that provides intuitive, automated support for everything from menu planning to staff training, line setup, daily prep, ticket management, and more, to help make kitchen service more manageable for small new restaurant owners and managers.

RECIPIENT OF THE MS-HCI OUTSTANDING PROJECT AWARD

But where did it start?

Where are we looking?

The Georgia Restaurant Association estimated 12,000 restaurants in the Metro Atlanta area as of 2016, which has undoubtedly grown in the following years. In 2023 alone, nearly 150 restaurants are poised to open in the city and across the metro area.

From food halls to fine dining, Atlanta hosts a rich diversity of restaurants, bars, markets, and more, representing a countless number of cultures and heritages. On the iconic Buford Highway, cuisines are available from over 26 nations.

Why does that matter?

In any of Atlanta’s countless communities, local restaurants are one of the most vital and common “third places”. For socialization, commerce, heritage, and more, these restaurants are “crucial to the maintenance of the community and the enhancement of social capital, helping to shape how we see ourselves and our place in the wider world” (The Sustainable Restaurant Association, 2023). The importance of restaurants to the strength of local communities is undeniable.

What's the problem?

In 2022, Forbes put out a report detailing how “80% of hospitality workers claimed to be burned out”, which has since been even further exacerbated in the wake of pandemic. Chefs face some of the most challenging circumstances of any profession, working long hours in a fast-paced environment under conditions that often lead to a litany of issues, ranging from burnout to exhaustion, sleep disorders, and substance abuse.

How does the future look?

On October 24, 2023, several Atlanta restaurants were added to the renowned Michelin guide. An Eater article describes how “the Michelin effect [packs] service every night, even leading to reservation system meltdowns” (Bayley 2023). With new global attention falling on many Atlanta restaurants, the need for efficient and effective service is all the more poignant.

And so...

I began to explore the vital service concerns of Atlanta’s local kitchen staff to help make the frantic, exhausting work more manageable.

User Research

Where do we start?

Naturally, every food business in Atlanta has unique needs and challenges. Facing a variety of specific concerns in staffing, space, funds, equipment, menu, culture, and more, every restaurant creates custom solutions that work for them.

I needed to talk with real people to learn more.

Interviews

From pop-ups to pubs and fast casual to fine dining, I reached out to and spoke with 10 kitchen owners/managers and some industry experts. I took an open-ended, semi-structured interview approach to explore all the different experiences, values, desires, priorities, and struggles, and begin identifying any similarities or trends.

Affinity Mapping

I broke down the interviews onto individual notes and organized common responses together on an affinity map. The resulting groups showed me trends that highlighted several specific factors:

Interview Insights

FOCUS ON SMALL, NEW RESTAURANTS

Fine dining kitchens have seasoned veteran staff and funds to build their kitchen and menu intentionally. Even if helpful tools were available, these old-school chefs also prefer to do everything manually. New restaurant owners have limited resources or experience and have to learn to operate successfully while simultaneously risking failure. They welcome strong, reliable ways to structure their workflows.

“Most old school chefs aren’t the type of people to try something new.”

"Reservations made fine dining much easier."

"We didn't use tickets in fine dining, the chef just called everything."

STRONG LEADERSHIP DEFINES SUCCESS

Quality, flexible cooks that know how to communicate and be team players are vital to operate a successful kitchen. More than this though, a truly effective kitchen depends on strong leadership. The executive chef, kitchen manager, or even owner, need to be able to provide clear and consistent training, guidance, and support. Despite juggling a mountain of other responsibilities, head chefs that don’t engage their staff will quickly face problems.

"I couldn’t enforce standards as a rookie chef but was also too tired to do so once I was higher rank"

"You don’t want someone to not ask a question because they’re afraid that it’s a dumb question"

"I was lucky to have good mentors that would explain why to do certain things."

MENU/SPACE SYNERGY

A successful menu is obviously a restaurant’s entire goal. Good menus entice guests and also allow cooks to contribute and feel pride in their work. However, a successful menu depends not just on conceptual appeal, but also feasibility.

Logistics like layout, staff skill, and inventory define whether a menu will work or not. A kitchen with one dishwasher will struggle to run a menu with hundreds of tiny plates, and a kitchen with one cook and a fryer 20 ft away from the pass window can’t run a fryer-heavy menu.
A kitchen’s success starts with an intentionally planned menu.

"It’s impossible to handle tons of orders with quality with two staff”"

"My pop-ups haven't been too hard b/c my menus were simple."

"Seasonal menu changes help keep the staff engaged."

EFFICIENCY RELIES ON SEVERAL FACTORS

Experienced chefs understand several skills innately, like how long certain things take to cook, how to sequence dishes to finish at the same time, and how to prioritize, group and stagger 5-8 tickets so that no orders ever go longer than a few mins.

However, a common admission is that this experience can only be learned by struggling through it first-hand for years. Especially for new restaurants that have very little room for error, facing any mistake could spell disaster or closure, before they have the chance to learn and apply that experience meaningfully.

“Things that we did on paper sounded right, but we didn't know until we actually did it.”

"Sometimes new hires need to get thrown into fire to learn service"

"I know what takes the longest and I start that first."

Surveys

To define my project objectives further, I needed a more quantitative understanding of these insights. I drafted and disseminated a survey to 30+ hospitality workers in the Atlanta area to rank the importance and difficulty of common concerns identified in the interviews. This data helped clarify the higher priority needs and challenges.

Survey Guide

Analyzing data

To synthesize this data, I employed a new layered form of whitespace mapping. Each respondent was visualized to display what factors they valued vs what they struggled with. Factors that were both important and difficult indicated greater needs.

I sorted every response on a horizontal axis from small to large staff size and then organized the responses vertically in order from few to many years of industry experience.

This view highlighted several interesting trends, but most importantly showed how communication and sequencing remain high priority needs across staff size and experience level.

Contextual Inquiry

Once I identified the biggest impacts on effective kitchen service, I set out to understand how these factors manifest in actual service. I planned out and conducted ethnographic research in the form of contextual inquiry, observing how communications and order sequences are handled at 10 newer small ATL restaurants with 1-3 kitchen staff. As the chefs worked, they shared insights.

(Hover over each insight to learn more)

MORE MENU = 
MORE PROBLEMS

Even with more cooks, kitchens with larger menus consistently ran into more problems, falling behind during rushes.

EXPO IS 
ESSENTIAL

Having an expediter is crucial to oversee tickets and coordinate tasks to cooks at each station so everything comes out on time.

CONCISE IS 
CRITICAL

Kitchens with proper mise en place keep all necessary  ingredients & tools close together, ensuring quick, efficient service.

PHYSICAL TO 
DIGITAL IA GAP

Digital POS systems exist but are largely inconsistent with how cooks actually work. Their habits don't translate digitally.

Final Design Goal:

To design an intuitive, user-friendly tool that relieves stress for new BOH leaders by improving kitchen synergy.

Design Ideation

Brainstorming

To begin brainstorming ideas, I enlisted the help of 5 UX designers and led them in a brainwriting exercise. After I provided a brief context overview and list of user insights, each person generated 5 ideas in 5 minutes for each of the insights before rotating to the next person’s ideas and either building on them or adding new ones. Afterwards, we collectively voted on the best concepts and arrived at two final concepts.

CONCEPT 1

A digital desktop/kitchen tablet tool that provides streamlined menu-uploading processes and a block-based mapmaker to create a virtual layout of a user's kitchen space. The system calculates and displays where to store every ingredient for the most efficient workflow, also visualizing how movement looks to cook each menu item.

CONCEPT 2

A handheld device with internal weighing scale and position sensors. Users upload a menu and use the device to record all the ingredients they use, how much they use, what sequence they take to create each menu item, and where each item is prepared/used. The system creates a digital map with recommendations on how to improve efficiency.

But there was a problem

I needed to show these concepts to my target users and get feedback, but both concepts embodied very broad, systemic ideas that would be difficult to understand for cooks and managers without a tech-savvy background. I needed to create more approachable ways to present my concepts for users to properly evaluate.

Preparing for User Feedback

To make the concepts more tangible, I created two distinct personas and clear, visual storyboards that illustrated the entire user journey for both concepts. I piloted these personas and storyboards first with two 4-person groups of designers, and then I ran 6 users through both storyboards and received their feedback throughout each one.

In the end, there was a clear winner:

Users enjoyed the tangibility and the value it would provide in simplifying their workflow, although they were concerned with durability. In particular, the users enjoyed that the device moved their digital setup process away from an office or computer and into the kitchen, where they want to be at all times.

"This is a game changer. It's so in-the-moment."

"I need it to be more durable."

"I'd like if it was something that could train my staff so I don't always have to hold their hands."

Final Design Requirements

- MUST root digital tasks into physical kitchen space
- MUST auto-generate feasible, effective kitchen line setups
- SHOULD easily translate menus for both customer and staff use
- SHOULD provide effective training support for new cooks
- COULD be made of durable, kitchen-safe material
- COULD provide more user-friendly ticket interface

Final Design

What is MiniMise?

MiniMise is a handheld kitchen device that helps restaurant owners and kitchen managers streamline the synergy of their kitchens. The device includes position sensors and an internal scale to help users map out their kitchen space and record ingredient weights and step-by-step assembly processes for each of their menu items. With the menu and the kitchen space data, the MiniMise app automatically generates several helpful guides, like prep lists, staff training instructions, maximally efficient line setups, movement maps, and more visually organized tickets.

Physical Interactions

The smooth, red plastic button on top of the MiniMise hub can be pushed left or right, as well as pressed down for various interactions. The wide flap with central ridge has a large tactile affordance, making it easy for users to interact without fingers or palms, which are often be messy for cooks during service.

App

The MiniMise app stores step-by-step instructions on how to assemble specific menu items with fully adjustable quantities and units, to help managers train their chefs.

The app also shows managers the path that cooks will have to take around the kitchen space to cook each menu item, giving recommendations on any possible improvements.

Lastly, the app helps managers calculate how much to prep per day, scaling their ingredient quantities to match anticipated order volume

Device

The MiniMise device helps at every phase of the kitchen worflow. Acting as a virtual measuring tape, the hub can be used to measure each station in a kitchen, to create a digital map.

The hub can also be laid flat and used as a kitchen scale to measure ingredients for each menu item, storing that data for other useful outputs. Trainee cooks can later also use this to guide them on how much of an ingredient to use in prep.

Lastly, the hub displays urgent tickets during service that also uniquely allow users to cross items off as they go.

As ingredients are measured and menu items are assembled with the Mise Hub, the device remembers all movement and location data. Then, it generates the most efficient layout to store everything for smooth, effective service.

Evaluation

To evaluate my design,

I went through several rounds of feedback in a range of formats. The first session was simple initial feedback from a relevant user that ran their own food business. I guided them through the app and introduced every feature and function, receiving their input and comments at each point. The response was extremely positive and there was an explicit confirmation that the design would match their current mental model.

Initial User Feedback

• Product Design walkthrough with 1 user
• Extremely positive response
• Consistent with mental models
• High perceived value

“Toast and other POS systems are really more for the FOH/guest side. I really like that this feels more like it understands the BOH side.”

To evaluate my design,

I structured a heuristic evaluation of my design concept through the use of a robust Figma prototype that modeled the interactions of one full journey through the app and device. I listed 9 different heuristics, combining established Nielsen usability heuristics and new ones based on my design requirements. I met with one UX Research professional and had them walkthrough the app before finally giving an evaluation between 1-6 for each heuristic, with 1 indicating full success and 6 indicating several issues.

Heuristic Evaluation

• Visibility of System Status - 2
 + The red and the green colors indicate status well
  - Needs vibrations for extra feedback
• System in Real World - 1
  + Very solid understanding of kitchen context
• Consistency/Standards - 1
  + The design completely follows kitchen IA
• User Control/Freedom - 2
  + I like that chefs have freedom to customize everything
  - User could benefit from a better tutorial
• Recognition > Recall - 3
  + Easy for experienced users
  - Inexperienced users would need a help button
• Aesthetic Design - 1
  + Fantastic, great design
• Help/Documentation - 3
  - Again, just better tutorial support early on
• Kitchen-centered Support - 1
  - Very intuitive after learning curve
• Intuitive Mapping - 1
  - Love the balance of structure but freedom to customize

For user testing,

I built a mid-fidelity looks like model of my device, and a separate Figma interface that modeled all interactions for the device screen.

I set up a kitchen space for testing and had participants perform specific tasks with the device and app, until they had successfully organized their kitchen. After this, I had them evaluate the design based on each of the requirements, once again on a scale of 1 -
6, and provide any questions or comments they had.

User Testing Protocol

User Test

• Effective Kitchen Visualization - 3
  + Love the space planning tool, game changer
  - Hard to give exact feedback with fidelity of model
• Realistic Line Setup Tool - 1
  + Love how easy it is to standardize everything
• Useful Training Assistant - 1
  + This would finally allow me to recruit other cooks
• Consistency/Standards - 2
  + This addresses everything I could think of
  - Some confusion going back and forth from app
• Useful Before Service - 1
  + Would def help me hit the ground running
• Useful During Service - 1
  + I love that the tickets can follow me around

TASK ANALYSIS of complete kitchen workflow BEFORE MiniMise automation

TASK ANALYSIS of complete kitchen workflow AFTER MiniMise automation

* Automated tasks that user no longer has to do are greyed out

NEXT STEPS

• Future improvements: live inventory
• Evaluate scalability
• Working physical prototype