"Plug and play" equipment also helps build in this type of flexibility in a right-sized kitchen. While combi ovens remain one of the most flexible pieces of equipment, ventless pieces like rapid cook ovens and induction burners allow for cooking to happen anywhere at any time.
Rapid cook ovens, in particular, allow operators to produce a diverse range of food — from baked goods to pizzas and protein — with minimal space and infrastructure requirements. Combis alone can replace steamers, convection ovens and various other equipment items if used correctly. Corey-Ferrini has also seen operators use conveyor ovens using impingement heat to toast subs and pizzas and finish pasta dishes.
Sometimes a little creativity is all that's necessary. "Chefs are getting more creative and owners are trying to figure out their recipes and menus around these pieces of equipment," says Corey-Ferrini. "In fact, equipment is driving menus a little more than in the past. It used to be operators would figure out the menu and then go and get all the equipment, but with smaller spaces, that is changing."
Coca has also seen this trend. Some chefs now use combi ovens with smoker options to introduce new menu items without the need for a separate, large and costly piece of equipment. "You won't be able to do authentic Texas barbecue, but it gives you just enough flexibility to change up the menu in a new, exciting way," says Coca. "To me that's a perfect example of innovation."
Though they're not the right equipment for everything, utilizing combis or braising equipment like tilt skillets to replace fryers and kettles is a no-brainer, says Coca. Even adding some water to a pan and braising on top of a griddle.
While many clients prefer this "plug and play" type of equipment, it can take away from the merchandising of food when you put clunky equipment on the countertops. As a result, Corey-Ferrini will design storage space for these pieces underneath the countertops when the counter is being used for something else. She will also specify countertop holding units that can switch from cold to hot food holding.
"We're creating more counter space now than in the past," says Corey-Ferrini. "Before, we used to have more drop-ins, but now we're switching to flatter countertops to allow these pieces to sit on top."
Visual displays at the front of the house also build in aesthetically appealing flexibility. Refrigerated display cases can also serve as cold storage for build-your-own salad concepts, for instance.
Often times when a designer is brought in to develop a kitchen and other areas of the foodservice environment the operator does not yet have a chef on staff. Also, people change jobs and even careers today. It's the nature of the work force. And culinary professionals are no exception.
It's almost a given that at some point during a kitchen's life span, there will need to be some switching out and a chef who had nothing to do with designing the space will be in charge of it. Often, when a new chef comes into the picture the first thing they might do is try to redesign the whole kitchen to fit their needs, which can be costly and time consuming.