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  • Writer's pictureChad Weiss

Preparing for the Future of Foodservice

Humans adapt. It is in our nature. Earlier this year a pandemic wreaked havoc all over the world. What did we do? We adapted. People social distanced, wore masks, and worked remotely. It became the new normal. In the foodservice industry, dining in was replaced by "curbside pickup" and salad bars became bottled beverage boats. Now more than ever, it is so important that we plan for the future of foodservice and design spaces that adapt with the times. Cafés, restaurants, food courts and spaces alike are big investments. Futureproofing these dining experiences will aid in the ROI for owners and operators.

“Futureproofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events,” according to Wikipedia.

When planning a foodservice space, flexibility is key. Flexibility comes from many different sources amongst a culinary destination. From décor to serving methods, there are several ways to ensure your space is futureproof.

One of the most expensive items in commercial dining experience is the equipment as utilities play a role. With changing menu trends, this is often necessary. However, a big trend elite|studio e has seen over the past half decade is what we call the "flex pocket". A flex pocket is an area of nominal size (usually 3-8'), with multiple electrical or gas connections that allows different types of equipment to be swapped out. See image on right.

For example, grill equipment can be under a hood with universal fire suppression system. One day this station might feature an offering utilizing a griddle and fryer, the next it’s a range/sauté station. Another example is the equipment at a cold station. The operator can swap out the sandwich prep unit for a deli offering one day, and a worktable with sushi case the next day. The combinations are endless and will not only support future trends for years to come, but also reduce menu fatigue for current diners. On the rendering below, the station features multiple flex pockets allowing for a completely versatile experience.

Some of the more common futureproofing items that can be incorporated into a foodservice design are multi-temperature equipment and adjustable food protectors. Recently, the latter has been a savior. Adjustable food protectors allow the freedom to change stations from self-serve to full-serve. With precautions being taken for COVID-19, most locations have been mandated to full-serve only. Many owners and operators have had to spend thousands updating food guards to be compliant. Meanwhile locations with adjustable guards, did not have a compliance issue and simply change the guard to a vertical angle. These spaces will be able to adapt easily as restrictions ease or increase.

Another simple way to plan for the future of a foodservice operation is to incorporate food wells and surfaces that can be hot or cold with the flick of a switch. This type of flexibility is a gamechanger and allows for the support of many different offerings and cuisines at the same location.

It’s been said for years that people eat with their eyes, and how a meal is presented has a huge effect on a consumer. But it is not just the food. It is the environment in which the food is being served. How many times have you walked into a well-designed café with clean modern finishes and thought, "Wow, the food must be good here." The way a space is designed plays a huge role in consumer decision making. Over time looks can become jaded and new trends will emerge. Interchangeable décor is the best solution for this. Removable/replaceable graphic panels can be designed that affix to counters and walls. Looks can be changed frequently or overtime, by swapping out different sets of panels.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for the foodservice and hospitality industry. But there’s one thing I’m sure of ... change is inevitable. New technologies and concepts will come and go, as they've always done. The ability to prepare for and execute them within a reasonable cost, will be paramount to the success of a business. Will your space be prepared for the change?

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