What Is a Lazy Susan?

Marble Lazy Susan holding condiment containers next to kitchen food and materials

The Spruce / Olivia Inman

A lazy Susan is one of those handy little kitchen tools that most people own, but never really think about. It turns out that this humble rotating tray's origins date way back to the 18th century and are supposedly connected to one of the Founding Fathers. Whether it's being used to serve food at the dinner table or at a restaurant or as a way to organize and keep kitchen cabinets neat and clean, a lazy Susan is a household must-have with a surprisingly fascinating history.

What Is a Lazy Susan?

A lazy Susan is a rotating circular tray, sometimes with multiple tiers, that is used for serving food and as a space-saving storage solution in a kitchen or pantry.

The History

There are several different theories when it comes to where a lazy Susan came from, some suggesting it was an American invention, others stating that the rotating tray originated in Germany, and others still claiming that it was first seen in England in the 18th century.

Whatever its true origins may be, one of the very first times that it was publicly advertised in the United States was in 1918, when an ad for the product, which cost $8.50 at the time, ran in Vanity Fair magazine. The magazine referred to the device as a "lazy Susan," so its name must have been coined already. Those who believe it originated in the U.S. say it was invented by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself, for one of his daughters. At the time, however, his invention was called a dumbwaiter, which historians point out is such a general term that it could actually have been a number of devices, so there is no definite proof that it was in fact a lazy Susan.

After going out of style for many decades, the device regained great popularity in the 1950s, when it became a common household item used both for serving food and storing pantry items. As for its catchy name, that remains a mystery, with some suggesting it was named after one of Jefferson's daughters (although none were named Susan) and others saying that Susan was simply a common name at the time.

Key Characteristics

A lazy Susan is a circular tray, usually made from either wood, glass, or plastic, sometimes containing a non-slip rubber base, that can rotate 360 degrees. While most lazy Susans that are used for serving food at a table are a singular tray, there are also multi-tiered versions that are mainly used for storage and organizational purposes.

When it comes to the benefits of this kitchen device, a key one is convenience. Instead of having to reach across the table to grab a bowl of rice or waiting for someone to pass you the plate of vegetables, spinning the round tray conveniently makes everything that is being served accessible to everyone at the table, no matter where they are sitting.

Another key characteristic is the neat and streamlined look that it creates when used as a storage solution inside a kitchen cabinet. It instantly eliminates clutter, creates more space, and makes everything easily accessible and visible.

Circular and marble Lazy Susan holding glass spice containers in kitchen shelf

The Spruce / Olivia Inman

Common Uses

The original purpose of the lazy Susan was to aid in serving food, making all dishes on the table accessible to everyone without having to reach over the table. When the device saw a resurgence in popularity in the second half of the twentieth century, it became widely used not just in restaurants but in households all around the country.

Perhaps more than anything else, a lazy Susan is used as a space-saving storage solution in a kitchen or pantry today. Just like the ones that are used for serving, lazy Susans that are used for storage are generally round, although you can also find D-shaped or kidney-shaped ones that were specifically designed to fit in upper or lower kitchen cabinets to prevent clutter and make items easily accessible. Instead of having to go through an entire shelf or even worse, a full cabinet, this handy device means that everything is visible, neatly organized, and easy to reach with just a quick spin. A multi-tiered lazy Susan is also a great way to maximize vertical space that would otherwise go unused, since it creates an additional shelf or two and adds a storage surface that previously wasn't there.

The simple yet very clever device has become so popular and such an everyday staple that the rotating principal that it's based on has been used for other space- and problem-solving kitchen features, such as the lazy Susan cabinet. Instead of placing a regular lazy Susan inside a kitchen cabinet, the cabinet already has one built-in in place of regular shelves, allowing you to rotate the shelves and access items quickly and easily. So, while we may not know the precise origins or history of this common household item, it has certainly revolutionized the way that we prepare, store, eat, and serve food, both in restaurants and in our homes.

Article Sources
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  1. Krajewski, Markus. The Server: A Media History from the Present to the Baroque. Yale University Press, 2018.