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


How to Plan for a Successful To-Go Assembly Line

Many operations now have food assembly lines for processing online orders that guests and third-party delivery drivers pick up. These lines shorten ticket times and improve customer service for both dine-in and off-premises guests.

As with any major change to a kitchen, though, operators should consider the operational and service implications of these new lines.

Some considerations are relatively simple and straightforward. While utilities and hood space often come up with new equipment, there usually isn’t much to be concerned about when it comes to lines dedicated to off-premises orders, says Scott Hester, president of Dallas-based Refrigerated Specialists Inc. and Cooking Equipment Specialist. Assembly lines for online orders typically consist of cold tables, steam tables and maybe some small reheating units, like a microwave or a high-speed oven. Such lines don’t require any gas or hood space. In the vast majority of cases, at most they’ll need a new electrical circuit, which is a relatively simple addition.

Placement of these lines represents a more important consideration. Operators should look for more than the linear feet necessary to accommodate a small steam table and cold table. They also need to factor in the immediate surrounding environment, says Hester. This includes the impacts of HVAC vents and heat lamps.

“I see a lot of windows with heat lamps where the radiant heat overflows the shelf where you lay the plate. The glow comes off of the window … if you lay it out in a way so the heat lamp is radiating down on the cold plans, you are not going to be compliant,” says Hester.

Similarly, operators should consider how these pieces impact and are impacted by nearby equipment. The location of a new assembly line, for instance, could make servicing existing equipment for repair more difficult by cutting off access panels or simply not leaving a service technician without enough room to work.

When creating to-go assembly lines, factor in the equipment, Hester says. Operators should pay attention to access panels for these pieces and work with their design partner to specify equipment with key components accessible from the front, making these items easier to repair. Similarly, having units put on casters makes them easier to move. This can speed up repairs and limit disruptions to a kitchen when a piece needs emergency service.

When a piece does go down, operators should think about the best time to have a field technician in their kitchens. While a broken unit is never easy on a business, many foodservice operations can have the primary line absorb to-go demand. This could provide flexibility in scheduling service.

And flexibility might be necessary, simply due to square footage. Adding a to-go line to an existing kitchen may crowd an already crowded space. Putting a repair technician in the mix might not be possible during peak hours. Operators should consider this when placing a service call.

“Think about the small footprint,” Hester advises. “There are a lot of situations where the lesser of two evils is to tell the technician to come later.”

With the explosion of online and app-based ordering, assembly lines dedicated to these customers can support efficient operations. To make kitchens with these lines work as well as possible, operators should be thoughtful about how they are set up and serviced.