Foodservice by Design

Team members from PROFITALITY discuss how industrial engineering can be applied to the foodservice industry.


Change is inevitable. It’s a cliche we were all familiar with prior to the pandemic and the arrival of COVID-19 has only accelerated change for the foodservice industry. That’s because the industry must always change to meet customers’ ever-evolving demands, including updating menus and service styles.

The ability to innovate and push technology in the restaurant industry has always been an option. Many times, though, restaurant operators delay implementing certain technologies out of fear of going too far ahead of what the customers will accept. COVID-19 has forced the industry to be open to and accepting of many ideas that may have not even had a chance just a few months back or may have taken much longer to evolve and become mainstream during normal times.

Thanks to COVID-19 and customers’ cravings for convenience, operators now receive orders from a variety of means, and the way they fulfill these orders is more diverse than ever. And both the way operators receive orders and the way they fulfill these orders will continue to impact back- and front- of-the-house restaurant design.

For most people, the phrase, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” represents a mantra they have heard at some point in their lives, aimed at ensuring children wash behind the ears or keep their rooms organized. For today’s foodservice operators in the COVID-19 era, though, the phrase should be retooled to “cleanliness or closed down.”

Life was easier for restaurants when guests had fewer choices. Going back several decades, the only decision we had to worry about was to determine whether the food was for here or to go. The first big change happened when drive-thrus came about for quick-service restaurants.

Let’s face it: we really do not know how this crisis will play out, and therefore the implications to restaurant design remain just as uncertain. As such, the impact on restaurant design will remain a moving target for the foreseeable future.

Given the tumultuous tone of 2020, everyone seems ready to turn the page and start fresh in 2021. If only it were that easy. Here are my 10 foodservice-related predictions for the coming year.

Much of the COVID-19 conversation has focused on how mandated dining room closures have hamstrung restaurants.

Pivoting. New normal. Off-premises. Contactless. Virtual. Digital. These key words continue to dominate our restaurant-related conversations, as they have since March. And they aren’t going away any time soon.

It is amazing how fast the issues surrounding labor in foodservice have changed.

COVID-19 may have put an end to what we deem as normal. From the CDC guidelines about safely reopening businesses to municipalities regulations that impact the ability to enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant, the only true constant today is change.

Coronavirus does not discriminate. It will infect anyone and the steps to curb the spread of the infection continues to impact all businesses. The restaurant industry remains among the business segments hardest hit by this pandemic yet not all restaurants appear to feel the impact as badly as others.

Simulations are all around us.

For such a mature business segment, the restaurant industry continues to go through some dramatic developments. For example, in the not so distant past, consumers who wanted food prepared outside of the home had to visit any one of variety of restaurant locations: freestanding, in-line, universities, food courts, etc. And for those who wanted restaurant-quality cuisine delivered to their home or office, they usually had two choices: pizza or Chinese food.

All restaurants should regularly visualize what their store of the future (SOF) will look like. An exercise of this nature is important in the best of times. In light of the impact the coronavirus continues to have on this industry, it’s never been more important than it is today, especially with an ever-changing future.

The Foodservice industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, as it has been for the last 5 to 10 years. From companies trying robotics and other forms of automation, to well-established chains trying to branch out into new areas (e.g. delivery, adding alcohol, etc.), these forms of rapid restaurant evolution sometimes drive the need to develop ground-breaking solutions to complex problems that may arise.