Change is inevitable in a foodservice operation. To minimize the disruption, it is important to design in flexible options such as multi-use foodservice equipment, utility distribution systems and more.

Cook turnover. Changing menus. Expanding dayparts. These factors will ultimately cause a kitchen to need to change. Building in flexibility from the start is an important factor to help meet this challenge.

"It's wild how eating behaviors are changing and that means customer demands are changing," says Costel Coca, CFSP, design principal at Webb Design in Tustin, Calif. "Foodservice equipment selection in the past was more straightforward and flexibility was never really a focus, but now that we're right-sizing facilities to reduce energy consumption we really need flexible equipment to be able to do more in the same place and deliver in this changing environment."

In the college and university market in particular, flexibility is one of the most critical components today. "Back in the day we designed for 30 years out but that time frame is changing to about 5 to 8 years," Coca says.

Designing for Change-outs

The exhaust hood is the first place to start when it comes to building a flexible kitchen. Adding extra feet to a hood will allow space for new equipment to come in the picture and it provides the flexibility to swap existing pieces. To offset any potential extra energy use, Coca makes sure to use demand-controlled ventilation.

"You don't want to over-design the hood so we go up by a certain percentage," says Coca. "The biggest challenge is balancing sustainability and reduction of infrastructure and energy use but coming up with a flexible design."

Utility distribution systems allow for a "plug and play" setup, but their high cost can be prohibitive. It's possible to build flexibility into that same concept by designing cooking batteries, adding an extra connection here and there, or creating opportunities for quick disconnects, says Coca.

"The critical issue is not the gas or electrical connection — that's pretty cheap to be able to add," says Coca. "The critical part is the exhaust and fire suppression systems. For example, a change from an open burner to a broiler requires three to five more CFMs, so if the hood wasn't sized appropriately, we will have all sorts of problems."

At the other end of the line, building in stainless steel-lined trough drains for equipment like kettles and steamers instead of direct drains can also leave room for flexibility. Coca will create one line but sloping from the back to the front.

Designing for proper adjacencies also allows for changes over time or over the course of a day, such as in a college setting when switching from lunch to late night. For example, Coca might place a pizza and grill station next to each other, as those typically won't change, and they can remain open while other stations shut down at different parts of the day.

"When it comes to institutional design, we're focused on creating micro-environments, or micro-restaurants within one space that serve as platforms and have the ability to change over time," says Coca.

Selecting Flexible Equipment

"It's critical for manufacturers to focus on multi-use equipment and leverage technology as we look to the future," Coca says. For Melanie Corey-Ferrini, FCSI, AIA, owner of Dynamikspace Inc., flexibility means trying to fit a lot of opportunity in a small space.