Solutions for New Realities

Success in foodservice operations represents a faster-moving, harder-to-hit target today than ever before. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, some consumer patterns and behaviors have changed permanently, while others seem to be returning to the status quo. Finding, training and retaining adequate staff sometimes seems all but impossible. Supply chain issues with food and other inputs are significant and unprecedented. Technology continues to move ahead at dizzying speed, transforming the very nature of foodservice. What are operators and specifiers to make of all this? What do they need to know to make the best decisions when embarking on new builds or remodels of foodservice kitchens? Four foodservice design and management advisory services consultants share their latest thinking. Collectively, this group has more than a century’s worth of experience in foodservice operations, distribution, management and consulting:

Finding the Flex Points
Q: In the current foodservice environment, how can you design operations to build in flexibility — segment flexibility, daypart flexibility and menu flexibility?
A: Modularity is key — plug and-play equipment that’s ventless or can be switched out for other equipment under a hood. If you only use a wok or charbroiler a few times a month, you can flip it in or out of the cooking lineup as needed. We have always designed our serving counters to be up on legs so finished flooring could run through underneath. During the coronavirus pandemic, when these stations weren’t self-serve anymore, they were easy to convert from island stations into single-sided stations for served salads, with an employee on the other side.

Design Decisions Help Manage Food Costs
Q: How can kitchen design address rising food costs?
A: This is chef- and operation driven. Depending on the operation, we’re thinking differently about receiving, about storage, about kitchen prep areas. It comes back to flexibility — more options are offered by sous vide, cook-chill and new technologies.

Foodservice Everywhere
Q: Operators today have more different points of service than ever before. How can design accommodate this decentralization trend?
A: A lot of this happened during the pandemic years, and it’s kind of here to stay. In a corporate dining setting, for example, the employees working on the eighth floor no longer come down to the cafeteria all at once every day. What system can we provide for the people who choose not to congregate? One thing is vending. Another is mobile phone preordering for pickup. That has certain advantages, just as it does for hotel room service; you know beforehand exactly how many orders you will have of what foods and can plan accordingly.

The Labor Squeeze
Q: How can design and equipment choices address today’s labor challenges?
A: You still have to prepare food, cook it and put it together. Where I see tremendous change is in self checkout with no cashiers. Another new technology that coordinates with this: scanners that can now see the food item itself, such as a hamburger, and don’t need a bar code or QR code. That speeds throughput without the cashier and ensures food charges are correct. Business and industry, healthcare, higher education are all making more use of mobile app ordering. And not just for takeout — the customer can approach the venue and the mobile app will alert the staff to produce the order so it will be ready. All this has implications for other systems. This data can be captured to help the operator plan the menu with the right items for quick throughput, see what dayparts need to be improved and see where he can build another location to capture more customers.

Tech Done Right
Q: How can operators find and implement technologies that actually solve their problems, rather than chasing new technology just for the sake of doing so?
A: For me, as a consultant who does management advisory services, creating operating efficiencies that save labor and save money — what comes to mind is Revit for creating kitchen layouts. We use all the virtual tools we can in Revit. As soon as possible in the planning process — hopefully in the schematic design — we show the client virtual walk-throughs in the space. It helps everybody on the design team and the client team arrive at decisions and feel good about what’s happening as the design evolves. It’s such an invaluable tool that I’m surprised it took folks so long to adapt to doing things that way.

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