A trio of esteemed consultants engage in a wide-ranging discussion about the issues affecting the foodservice industry both today and in the future. Our panelists share their experiential knowledge to address such topics as consumer-driven trends affecting equipment specification, the evolving role of technology in foodservice design, maximizing labor through creative solutions and much more.
Webb Foodservice Design, Anaheim, Calif.
The chief designer, strategist, and visionary for Webb Foodservice Design, Coca has been with Webb for 18 years. He leads each of the design studios at Webb, including strategic planning, health care, primary education, higher education, and corporate dining.
Rippe Associates, Minneapolis
While working in foodservice management at Iowa State University, Pellegrino discovered she had an aptitude for creating floorplans and managing the flow of operations. She has spent the past 32 years with Rippe Associates planning commercial kitchens and dining facilities.
Ruck-Shockey Associates, The Woodlands, Texas
Shockey has built up an extensive knowledge base in all aspects of hospitality management during her 30 years of operational and project experience. Specialties include operational reviews, assessment studies, service integration, oversight reviews, implementation processes and RFP leadership.
FE&S: What consumer-driven trends impact your projects?
Coca:One of the biggest trends we are seeing across the market is the idea of food as medicine. It's taking the idea of healthy food to another level. We are kind of at the start of this trend. It's been around in the form of healthy as a category and food sourcing, which is a big idea, but the next level is more on the functional side: What's in my food? And how much am I getting out of it?
Pellegrino: Everyone wants things fresh now, without a lot of extraneous ingredients. And, all of our customers want to know the source of that food and see it being prepared.
FE&S: How much of the food prep and cooking process is becoming a show?
Pellegrino: It used to be that cold prep was in the back of the house. Now we are slicing, dicing — you name it — all in the front of the house. People are watching things go from raw ingredients to full, prepared items. Display cooking has become even more important. It's now more like display preparation from start to finish.
Shockey: The question is how to become great transparent operators but not show all the dirty details. I envision that food processor going crazy out front but you still have to keep some of that back of the house in the back of the house. That is really a trick from design and operation standpoints, and how we are going to do all of that going forward.
Pellegrino: I agree, it is a lot of showmanship. The staff issues and labor are a big piece of the concern for a lot of our clients today. Training becomes extremely critical, preparing people to be out in the public eye to be doing all these things. We have to set up the employee to feel comfortable out there, make sure they have what they need at their fingertips and are not stressed when out there in front on stage.
Coca: It's now almost to the point that consumers expect exhibition and it's moving farther toward increased interactions. It brings it back to the people: How dothey interact? Are we allowing for that from a design perspective by thinking about line of sight?
The exhibition is expected, interaction is critical, and we have to find that right balance.
FE&S: How are you designing or cooking differently to accommodate health-driven trends?
Coca: On a university campus, it means creating more dedicated stations, such as allergy-free stations. This can include creating separate kitchens andback-of-the-house areas detached from the rest of the kitchen so the operator can prepare special meals. That means more dedicated equipment and even a dedicated prep process.
We are seeing more stations that can change and quickly modify as trends change, such as pop-up restaurants and food kiosks at the institutional level.
Pellegrino: I echo that. On every college campus we are creating an allergen-free concept that is self-contained right down to its own little dishwasher.
Shockey: The Big 8 Allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans) are becoming much more on everyone's radar. A few years ago, it might just have been a dairy or nut. Now operators must prepare to accommodate many more. It's no longer just a nice-to-have.
FE&S: Are you seeing customer-facing technology pop up more?
Coca: In the corporate dining world we are starting to see new concepts that provide menus from different restaurants. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees order from these off-site companies who deliver the food. One example is Fooda. It works for a smaller group, provides different options and is 100 percent digital. We are also playing around with the idea of self-cashiering. That is a model we are dabbling in and working with operators to figure that out. We are seeing that amp up.
Pellegrino: We have B&I customers doing self-cashiering, there is talk of it in the college setting, but there is concern about theft.
Coca: I think it will be coming to higher ed to some degree.
Pellegrino: In an all-you-care-to-eat setting, as kids come in, they can stop at the checker, where there is a refrigerator and warmer, so they don't even have to go in. We have also created stations at the end of the counter that have a pickup spot so they don't have to queue with rest of the traffic.
Coca: I'm playing around with a self-cashier concept for a B&I project. There is still a bit of a theft issue, but people are willing to take that risk now. In a corporate world, it's more about the culture.
FE&S: Does fresh come first?
Coca: I like to put that type of equipment out front — salad, deli. It does not typically have a lot of hoods or heavy infrastructure. It becomes the anchor, and you can see through it and see other options.
We are starting to look more at how we design and position a salad bar, including where the food is and how well you can see it.
Pellegrino: We put fresh concepts toward the front, so the focus is on the fresher items.
As much as we talk healthy, everyone still likes to eat burgers. But, we like to place the things like the salads and delis, and some of the more active fresh stations, out front. That becomes the focal point as people enter the space.
Shockey: We are looking at the fine details, what kind of equipment keeps the lettuce cold and crisp, not just cool and wet.
The other thing that we are putting emphasis on is lighting and that's not always in our purview to put in — usually the architect does that. You can have a great looking display of food, but if the lighting is 4 feet to the left, it's not even hitting the food.
FE&S: What are some creative ways to get the most out of people?
Shockey: Operators that can give a lot of flexibility in scheduling will probably have the most engaged workforce giving the best customer service. We are also encouraging operators to give employees the ability to job-hop in a department so people don't feel anchored in one spot 40 hours a week. 6 Coca: We are really focused from the design perspective on placement; adjacencies of the stations so they can work together from labor perspective.
Another thing we are working on with some clients is to bring someone out to work on a training program to get people excited about working with foodservice. It's about engagement from a team perspective.
Pellegrino: Having up-front display cooking, the cook can be the server, so that helps; however, at certain times of the day, operators cannot afford to have that many cooks.
Flexible protector shelves mean things can go from serve to self-service. That is one thing we've done so that during slow times operators can change the protector shelves to make them self-service so that food can be prepared in advance or at an adjacent station.
We've also done some things where you can close down part of the service area and have kind of a back-door access or back window serving to the dining room. It is separate, so you can close down the entire serving area and just access a station or a couple concepts after hours.
You have to be able to find ways to scale things down.
FE&S: Do operators reap the benefits of all the high-tech components that equipment offers today?
Shockey: If it's a culinary-trained team, they want and will use and embrace any kind of technology. But, if it's a workforce that is production oriented, say the basic cook, and you throw a lot of technology at them, you really have to ask them if they will be able to handle it. Operators may not need all the horsepower of every piece of equipment with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles.
Coca: We are finding a lack of maintenance and a lack of anyone taking care of equipment. There is not enough after-market support.
We would also like to see that connected kitchen down the road. That's the part that I'm excited about and interested in the future.
FE&S: Projects often lack time or funding, or both. How do you combat that?
Pellegrino: We started developing work plans up front that outline our tasks and deliverables by phase to help everyone understand what we need to do to get the job done.
The funding issue, that is a challenge on every project. Everyone has unrealistic expectations of what their funds are going to buy. Laying everything out early on is extremely important.
Shockey: Clients get a number in their head and it's very difficult to undo that number. We try to work even a year before an architect comes on board. We have done that now on three projects and were able to get a good budget as a result.
Coca: We are super proactive early on developing a budget. Most larger projects on the West Coast are design-build, so you are working for a contractor. Kitchen equipment contractors have to be more flexible for the sake of maintaining the project.