The foodservice industry continues to grapple with myriad issues, all of which impact design, equipment specification and more. Here several consultants from Minnesota-based Rippe Associates share their perspectives on a few of these issues.
All About the Food
Rippe Associates. “It used to just be the hospitality side where we’re doing exciting things with food; now, it’s in every market,” he says. “Nobody is making compromises on food quality or freshness. Nothing is off the table.” Hospitals, for example, continue to challenge peoples’ expectations that the food won’t be good. “Operators are no longer accepting the fact that they have to feed 3,000 people a day so they can’t make their food exceptional,” he adds. “Today, there are no limitations. It really is finally all about the food.”Competition in all segments of the foodservice industry is fierce, observes Steve Carlson, FCSI, president,
In high-volume settings where food quality is still No. 1, Carlson says he sees more constant cooking going on; even if nothing’s exactly to-order, customers will still see all the action and pick up their food while it’s still hot and fresh. “The back-of-the-house space might include pickup lockers to hold food; that’s a change replacing a cafeteria where customers go around to stations and then to a cashier,” says Carlson. “In healthcare, where there’s less time to grab lunch; we’re seeing a lot of pre-ordering and then the food is made just before pickup.”
Equipment and Design Implication: More workspace in the kitchen for plating/experimentation; food cubbies, shelves and insulated lockers for pickup; enhanced hot-holding equipment
Leaning Into Tech
Labor continues to pose problems for the industry, with shortages abounding. That’s where technology comes in; more automation in the back of the house, front of the house and for ordering allows operators to make better use of what labor they do have, requires less labor overall and enhances the customer experience by upping the contactless/convenience factor.
“We’ve seen some hospitality and casino clients that had closed their buffets during the pandemic want to reopen with food halls that deliver food to tables, but they can’t find people to work as food runners,” says Carlson. Instead, many of these concepts leverage technology — perhaps a simple text notification when the food is ready for customer pickup — to get around the challenge. In healthcare, where robots are already used for delivering medicine, some operators use them to deliver patient meals, too.
Carlson also points out the rapid growth of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology to help satisfy consumers’ cravings for convenience by allowing customers to simply walk into a market, grab what they want and walk out the door without reaching for their wallet. “We are working with several clients who want to use this technology for grab-and-go spaces we are planning,” he says. It’s a win for operators, too, who want to see their speed of service and food and beverage sales increase.
Equipment and Design Implication: Technology and implementation decisions must be made earlier in the concept development and design process. That could mean some kiosks for contactless ordering; enhanced refrigerated display and merchandising; and robots for food delivery
Goodbye Gas (Sort of)
Carlson and his team see the “electrification of kitchens” and even 100% all-electric kitchens as something more operators will now explore amid new regulations that pertain to the construction of new buildings and future renovations. “I see this as the wave of the future and it’s already prevalent at the university level,” says Carlson. “Now that we know gas is the source of indoor pollutants, there’s more pressure on manufacturers to offer alternatives.”
Trish Jass, senior operations project manager at Rippe says the “electrification of kitchens is not just limited to California; it’s happening in all areas around the country.” At the same time, she notes, it’s not always an easy switch.
“I still remember those electric charbroilers — you have to really clean them otherwise, you’ll have fires,” says Jass. “But electric fryers are a good replacement to gas; in some cases they have even better recovery time. Maybe the switch to electric will be whatever has the better recovery time and performance, but keep the gas burners, woks and charbroilers if clients still want both so they can have that flexibility.”
Equipment and Design Implication: Increase specification of electric and ventless equipment; potentially reduced hood requirements, more room for plug-and-play, flexible design
The Supply Chain Conundrum
While supply chain delays have gone down overall, some delays continue to linger, particularly with refrigeration equipment and custom fab.
Mike Wrase, senior project manager, Rippe Associates, says he’s seen even underbar equipment posted at 20 weeks out, and most of these delays are caused by delays on certain parts. “It’s a staffing issue for many fabricators — they don’t have the workforce right now,” he says.
The other issue, Jass says, is getting dealers to hold a price if there’s a long lead time. “We’re seeing some dealers warehouse more to buy equipment at a better price now and have the product available. It’s making their cost savings go up by warehousing but at least they’ve secured the product.”
Deadlines are much faster, too, says Wrase. “The turnaround for documentation is a lot tighter and there’s an expectation that documents should go out earlier for bids — especially if there are long lead items.”
“We have had a lot of earlier discussions [about equipment selection],” Wrase continues. “We’re having this talk as the drawings are ready to go out. We’re communicating with the purchaser so they can understand they need to get those orders in right away to get closer to their target open date.”