Foodservice consultant Joe Sorgent at Cini•Little International Inc. offers a consultant’s take on which pandemic-induced changes will be for good and which may fade away.
Cini•Little International Inc. “There has been a major impact on kitchen design as a result of COVID, but at the end of the day, there’s no need to over-impact in the long run.” In other words, the plexiglass that’s gone up at cashier stations, along salad bars and other areas might not have to be there forever.“A lot of trends were in motion already, and COVID just kicked those down the road faster,” says foodservice consultant Joe Sorgent, director of sustainability at
Sorgent does not think people will continue to be so scared. “We will still want exhibition kitchens, and that interaction between guest and chef I think won’t go away; people want hospitality, it’s human nature,” he says. At the same time, some of the changes designers and operators have made will provide long-term benefits, both for the client and for the consumer.
Three patterns that Sorgent believes will continue to develop post-pandemic:
1. Waste goals will return.
COVID-19 caused many operators to literally push the pause button on their waste management goals when they shifted to all-takeout and had to source what they could in terms of to-go packaging. Prior to the pandemic, a handful of operators had committed to the idea of net zero waste production, or diversion rates that at least got to 30%, if not 50% or more. “I think we will get back to that as awareness grows about the great untapped waste stream, which includes organics and composting,” says Sorgent, who has specialized in waste management consulting for three decades.
Nowadays, haulers pick up not just food scraps from the kitchen, but also other compostable wastes that staff can collect throughout a facility, and then process the scraps through aerobic and anaerobic plants that generate compost and energy respectively. With ongoing mandates by certain states and municipalities (such as California, where Sorgent is based), operators will likely go back to their previous attempts to reduce waste production. “The one thing that COVID has definitely changed in terms of waste management is that I won’t have to fight anyone anymore to put a hand sink in the central waste center,” he says with a chuckle. In addition, Sorgent notes, as more awareness about transmission of the novel coronavirus grows, consumers will likely not flinch at the thought of using permanent-ware again.
2. Sanitation is forever.
Food safety, sanitation and cleanliness have always been integral to all foodservice operations, but now, operators will take an even closer look. “Our MAS [management advisory services] division has been asked to write HACCP plans more and more these days,” he says. “Those safety plan binders that might have been gathering dust on shelves are now getting a second look.” Most of today’s enhanced sanitation efforts are operationally based, but in terms of design, Sorgent sees the growth of touchless in the future — from touchless hand sinks in the kitchen and in the bathrooms to ones, as he mentioned earlier, in the waste room. Some refrigeration manufacturers have even begun developing or released touchless door handles for walk-ins. One technology that came out during the pandemic was a foot-operated UV light scan that checks for hand cleanliness while at the same time, flashes a UV light on shoes to clean them as well. “We don’t have to worry about anyone trying to value-engineer hand sinks or other sanitation necessities out of the project anymore,” Sorgent says.
Along the lines of touchless technology, in the future more consumers will opt to order and pay for their food online and also use tap-technology in self-checkouts. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more businesses go cashless in the near future,” Sorgent says. In terms of design, cashless saves space in a servery because it often goes hand-in-hand with online ordering, freeing up the need for extra physical cashier stations.
Another positive from the enhanced focus on sanitation? Sorgent says this could lead to larger receiving areas — another area that he’s had to fight for in terms of square footage. “We might need separate breakdown areas in the future.” One might be for receiving food and the other for breaking down boxes and handling waste to keep clean and dirty separate.
3. Delivery could expand, even in noncommercial settings.
With everyone more accustomed to getting their food and groceries delivered to their homes, once returning to an office setting, Sorgent says he wouldn’t be surprised to see employees wanting their foodservice delivered to where they are physically located. In some cases it happened during the pandemic. Take, for example, nurses in a COVID ward. Many healthcare operators wanted to keep these staffers in a concentrated area, for obvious reasons. So that led to these operators delivering food to them. This could become more commonplace moving forward. “If people are going to have to take the trouble to go down to the cafeteria to pick up their food anyway, they might just end up ordering while there; but, if they have an option of ordering ahead and picking up food at a nurse’s station or closer satellite kitchen or even cubbies, they might choose that method instead,” Sorgent says. “I look at it as delivery of meals to a facility within a facility, especially in the case of a big campus.”
In terms of design, this means a likely investment in cubbies and lockers that can be placed outside of the main servery but also a need to physically separate cook and/or makelines for in-person or off-premises orders in the kitchen itself. “These were trends that were happening for speed of service and queue reduction, but COVID pushed them further,” Sorgent says. Within the cafeteria, Sorgent wouldn’t be surprised to see more designs including an express pickup line or counter mixed in with the traditional order/pickup spaces. “This is the type of square footage that we had to fight for in the past, but that we might not have to fight as hard for in the future.”