Keeping the foodservice equipment marketplace up to date with the latest menu and concept trends.


Consultants' Roundtable

Foodservice designers share insights on kitchen trends, the impact of off-premise dining and other shifts in the foodservice industry.

Consultants’ Roundtable Participants

Brett Daniel, Camacho Associates

Daniel has spent the past 13 years designing kitchens for clients in all industry segments. He was mentored by his late father, Reggie Daniel.Brett Daniel, Camacho Associates. Atlanta

Daniel has spent the past 13 years designing kitchens for clients in all industry segments. He was mentored by his late father, Reggie Daniel.

Tarah Schroeder, FCSI, LEED AP, Ricca Design Studios

Schroeder has been with Ricca Design Studios for the last 11 years and has served as principal for the last 5. She is also one of the authors of the NACUFS Sustainability Guide.

Joe Schumaker, FCSI, foodspace+co

A chef and former owner of a catering company, Schumaker designs kitchens for various business and industry clients. He also serves as co-founder and CEO of foodspace+co, a food business accelerator.

Q: Off-premise eating is huge, even in noncommercial settings. How do you see this affecting design and equipment specification?

Schumaker: This is so true right now. The main reason why companies are investing in catering arms is because people are trying to figure outJoe SchumakerJoe Schumaker off-premise dining. I think we are actually going to see a pivot back to a very old way of doing things, which is commissary kitchens feeding into smaller dining areas that may or may not be kitchen-based. And then instead of shipping the food over hot, I think what’s going to start happening is we will start transporting food cold and then doing the finishing work at the site.

I already know multiple operators in the San Francisco Bay Area who are doing this, where they will mark off a piece of salmon at the commissary, blast chill it and then finish it a la minute at the site as opposed to hot-holding salmon, which turns it into a nasty mess.

Daniel: We’re seeing a lot more online or kiosk ordering, and many colleges and even contract feeders are developing their own online ordering apps. This is all trickling down into our designs such that we’re seeing requests for things like a grab-and-go holding area or cubby or shelf system where you would have normally had a queue line.

Q: Tarah, are you seeing off-premise growth in higher education?

Schroeder: Off-premise is definitely something we’re seeing in higher ed, where there is more investment in commissaries. In looking at the capital funds that are available, the question is, what is the best way to get food to students, knowing that there will likely be increased construction costs and possibly labor shortages during the project? One of the solutions is having a central commissary and then a smaller dining space. This is especially the case if you have a mobile app for students to use to order online and take their food outside of the brick-and-mortar space. Suddenly, the space requirements and the number of employees you need become much less in order to meet that need.

In terms of equipment, in higher ed, we’re seeing more campuses look at using lockers and other methods of hot-holding and food pickup. They might be using an area that’s underutilized, and by adding some hot-holding space, students are able to get food at all hours of the day, even when the main kitchen is closed.

Q: With internet connectivity readily available today, what types of technology and applications are operators investing in? And how does this impact your role as a designer?

Daniel: While I may not specify this technology, I need to know the clients’ plans from a functional standpoint so I can understand how their Brett DanielBrett Danieloperation is going to flow from the time the person walks in the door until the time they leave.

Online ordering and other technology can reduce the need for queuing lines, where traditionally you would walk in, place your order at a counter, and stand there and wait for it to be prepared. With the growth of online ordering, you can just walk right in, grab your food and walk out without even having to talk to anyone. It’s my job to know the ins and outs of the technology and any limitations, as well as do a little space planning if they are using special monitors or kiosk ordering.

Schroeder: I’m actually surprised a lot of this technology hasn’t caught on quicker. A lot of the issue with technology adoption right now is that while there are a lot of educated operators out there, many don’t know what they don’t know, so we have to bring that information to the table so that they can make their decisions. We’re not necessarily the experts in technology, but we have to know the basics to get the conversation started. It’s also important to understand who will speak more specifically to the exact software or hardware they might need and how to implement that.

This is an area that is changing exponentially right now, so it’s a challenge to anticipate what the next three or five years are going to look like. And a lot of the facilities we design will be around for 30 years, so we really have to research and anticipate as best we can.

Schumaker: It also depends on what you consider technology. There are many food technologies that are going to impact the kitchen in a big way. Just look at the alternative protein and meat on the market. The way those products are being made is going to impact the equipment of the future because today’s equipment is not capable of properly cooking and holding an Impossible Burger, which is being tested at Burger King and other chains. Because if you overcook an Impossible Burger or hold it too long, it turns into a crumbly pile of you-know-what.

The foodservice equipment industry is a little behind, but I think what’s going to drive the implementation of higher-tech equipment with sensing and other technologies are Millennials and Gen Zers who are interested in things like personalized nutrition and knowing where their food is coming from.

Q: How do you view the role sustainability plays in your job and in the industry as a whole?

Schroeder: The topic that seems to be coming up in a lot of our conversations these days is decarbonization and zero energy, or close to that. Tarah Schroeder copyTarah SchroederThis means we are looking at what kitchens can do to help with the overall goal of reducing carbon footprint. There are many more energy-saving pieces and different options for electric equipment that all help work toward those holistic goals.

Daniel: We have worked on quite a few LEED projects over the years, but these days, it seems that more of our clients, namely the government projects, want to design in the style of LEED but don’t want to actually spend the money to get the project registered. They just want to understand how much energy and water their kitchens are producing and any associated savings with managing that.

Q: What applications of automation will take hold in our industry? What do you see working right now, and what might actually happen in the future?

Schumaker: I think there are a couple of categories with this. You’ve got one category, which is robotics, that do the job of a human not purely just to replace them but to make us better. Then you’ve got a second category, which is automating tasks, that we otherwise are struggling to get humans to do. With rising labor costs and shortages, we’re starting to see automation being considered more. Maybe you have a partial solution, where you have a robot in the dish room, but it’s not actually washing the dishes; it’s just scraping plates.

I’ve also seen something as advanced as a robot arm equipped with cameras that can watch me cut a tomato and then perform that task using machine learning. I think that example is further off in the future, and that we’re closer right now to automating mundane and repetitive tasks.

Schroeder: The only thing I would add is I read that automation is all about the four Ds — that the dull, dirty, dangerous and dear tasks are the tasks that are most likely going to be replaced by robots in the future. Maybe we’ll start seeing robots as a concierge at a hotel that can offer personalized suggestions. I have not seen any robotic arms, personally, but I have seen a lot of growth in that area when it comes to vending.

Q: More operators seem to be expanding their service to all-day dining outside of traditional dayparts. How do you see this shift impacting design and equipment selection?

Schroeder: So with higher ed these days, the all-access dining room allows for extended hours and students to be able to get the food that they want at any time of day and night. This trend or shift doesn’t necessarily mean we need to build more facilities; it’s more about just looking at the facilities in existence to see if there are opportunities to build in more grab-and-go and quick pickup spots or hot boxes. And I would definitely say that micromarkets are really popular and prevalent. I know that they have been around for a while, but in the past, there was some hesitation in certain markets to adopt them because of concerns of theft. Many colleges and universities have adopted this format, however, as a way to offer more food options outside of what they traditionally offered in the past.

Schumaker: We’re also seeing this shift to all-day dining in the corporate world as more employees are working later or coming in later. As a result, we’re actually seeing a decline in breakfast and operators wanting to expand their lunch and afternoon food offerings.

Daniel: We are also seeing this shift with our clients, whether that’s in the form of some kind of after-hours grab-and-go or self-checkout process or micromart that may have a small microwave for heating up foods, sort of like a convenience store. A couple of projects we designed had a separate cookline that could be kept open after hours and, in the case of a hotel, that could be used for room service after hours for a lot of quick cooking. We don’t go crazy on the equipment for those lines, just a lot of smaller-format speed-cooking equipment.

Q: What are some of the more innovative pieces of equipment you’re seeing these days?

Daniel: Well, there are those robots we talked about, but I am also seeing some combis on the market and even tilt skillets and pressure cookers that can be used to cook a lot of different foods, and with shortened cook times. I also see more operators using blast chillers in the place of an ice bath or to keep food longer.

Schroeder: I think part of it, too, is trying to find the pieces of equipment that can really support an expanded menu. In that case, it’s more of a process-driven approach. This is another example of how we focus on future-proofing and being able to support menus and concepts as they change because they do so frequently these days.

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