web analytics
Tracy Diaz
September 13, 2021
The Not-so-Sexy Drain
The Not-so-Sexy Drain

Drains are not sexy. They are not shiny, like a new combi oven. They do not stand out in a room like an 80-gallon kettle. They cannot wash racks of dishes at the speed of light. But what they can do is save you a huge headache when located and coordinated appropriately.

Let’s Talk Drain Basics

There are two different types of waste connections:  indirect and direct.  An indirect waste pipe does not connect directly with the drainage system. It discharges into the system through an air gap.  Imagine your three-compartment sink….at the bottom of the sink are your pipes emptying out soiled water. There is a physical “gap” between the end of that pipe and the floor drain below it. This “gap” prevents contaminated water from backing up into your water supply.  These indirect waste connections are seen mostly with prep sinks, dishwashers, and combi ovens. In case you are wondering why an “oven” would require a floor sink, combi ovens also utilize a wash cycle that dumps water.  A direct waste is just that – it connects directly to the sewer line in one continuous pipe. This is seen with hand sinks and is typical in residential homes.

Location Counts

As underrated as drains are, it is a costly mistake if they are not located appropriately.  It is good practice to place area floor drains (sometimes just called floor drains) every 12 feet.  (Check with the local jurisdiction to confirm your project’s code requirements.) Typically, they are a 4-inch diameter grated hole that is flush with the floor. They are used to remove free-standing water/grease.

A floor sink is normally a 12” x 12” basin, installed in the floor structure. It is connected to a waste pipe.  They can be partially covered with grating or even supplied with a dome to prevent back splash. A floor sink is used where a piece of equipment requires an air gap and dumps a significant amount of water.

Volume Matters

While floor sinks can hold some capacity as it drains, it is not capable of holding an unlimited amount.  One must consider how the operator will be using the equipment, how many pieces of equipment will require drainage, and where they will be in the facility.  If you have four combi ovens, do you really want them all routed into the same floor sink? While the sink may not overflow during service, someone will inadvertently run all the wash cycles simultaneously causing a potential flood. Will the operator dump all filled compartments of a three-compartment sink at once? Normally someone only does that once – and then they realize their feet are wet and they have a mess to clean up.

A floor trough acts like a drain or channel for water/waste but on a grander scale. They can be seen in front of an ice machine, kettles or in dish areas…to name a few places. They are designed for more volume than a typical floor sink. Just because a floor sink/trough is located per the equipment specs, it does not necessarily make it an ideal location. Structural issues play a large factor in locating floor troughs and floor sinks. For example, will duct work run under your location? What is the slab depth? Will the building have nearby columns that interfere with your proposed location? The list continues.  Regardless of whether this is an existing building or new construction, this is where diligent coordination with the Plumbing Engineer and Structural team must occur.

Some Good Tips

Keep in mind some of these tips to avoid coordination pitfalls:

  • A floor trough should cover the full pour path of the equipment it is servicing.
  • The floor should be sloped 1/8” per foot towards the drain to prevent water from pooling.
  • The legs of the equipment should never sit on the trough or floor sink grating. This equipment is especially heavy and can break through the grating.
  • Grating should be removable for maintenance and cleaning access whether it is a floor sink or trough.
  • Drains should be located close to the equipment. This avoids long, expensive copper line runs.
  • The use of a smaller funnel floor drain should be considered instead of a floor sink when possible. This minimizes cost.
  • And always think through drain location as it pertains to foot traffic to avoid potential trip hazards.

Avoid the Headache!

What do you do when your drains are not located properly? Throw up the white flag and surrender? There is no such thing as surrender in the foodservice world!  If it is a minor infraction, the operator can create a work-around.  So, for example, one can clean a kettle and pour soiled water into a drain caddy to be dumped elsewhere.  Not a perfect solution but adequate for the situation.  If it is a big “oops” and the slab is already laid, then it may have to be dug up and repoured. The jack hammer breaking apart the slab will not only give you a headache, but it will also have you crying in your sleep from lost revenue. Coordination is the key to a good night’s sleep.

By:  Tracy Diaz, Project Designer | Germantown

Read More
No Comment 0
Lisa Paige-Pretorius
August 17, 2021
How Do Virtual Brands Relate to Foodservice Design?
How Do Virtual Brands Relate to Foodservice Design?

I know you are asking yourself, how does this work? What is a “virtual” brand – is it real? What is virtual food? A ghost kitchen? If I drive over or have it delivered, will there really be a bag waiting with my name on it? Good news, the answer to all these questions is YES!

What Exactly is a Virtual Brand?

Let’s start with what a virtual brand actually is.  A quick Google search provides this definition… “A virtual brand is one that exists digitally, but with no physical presence. … Virtual brands have been around for a few years, but the global pandemic, with its resulting forced restaurant closures and massive increase in food delivery, has seen them proliferate rapidly in 2020.” For anyone wanting to order some lunch, dinner, late night snack or cookies at 2am, there’s an app for that and someone is working behind the scenes to satisfy your hunger pangs.

Tech Meets Food

Foodservice design covers all areas of the kitchen, front and back of house — drive through and pick up counters included. Food is the glue that keeps us all together.   People enjoy being with one another around the table sharing a meal together, be it at the restaurant or at home.

While the pandemic intensified the need to pivot to different foodservice options, tech had already exploded on the convenience-to-life balance ratio, forcing the savvy restaurant operator to make changes to their business models to retain existing customers and build business.  Many have adapted their dining rooms to pick-up areas or curbside service or to new menu items that are more travel container-friendly.

Virtual brands are providing operating kitchens a way to offer customers new and different options, revitalizing the restaurant industry at a time when new movement is critical to the industry’s future success.  But how is this done?

The Kitchen Design….

How do we get from the “virtual” idea of producing the food to the “actual” process of getting the food into the customer’s hands?  This is where the foodservice designer steps in.

Designing a kitchen and planning for a virtual brand means we must plan for the virtual kitchen or ghost kitchen with some of the tightest budgets, equipment shortages, and time frames that are ever decreasing.

A virtual kitchen is a current restaurant that is making and selling a brand that may not have their own brick and mortar storefront as an additional service point via delivery services (by app or online ordering portals) … think DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, etc.

A ghost kitchen is a professional facility that creates delivery-only meals for various brands and packages them for delivery to off-site facilities.  They have actually been around for ages; you might just not have recognized them.  Your favorite Food Truck will most likely be required to prep for their day in a commissary kitchen (a ghost kitchen).  Meal prep services are in this same category.  They are required by law to work in a certified kitchen that is inspected by the local Environmental Health Department for sanitation and preparation practices approved by local and state jurisdiction.

It’s All Relative

Designing for the virtual brand is an essential part of planning for your client’s budget, space and flow to the kitchen itself.  Does this brand need special equipment to achieve the final product – a tandori oven, for example?  Does it require a large number of sauces that have to be freshly prepared everyday?  What would that entail for the refrigeration needs?  A ton of questions come to mind about the menu for the brand and every one of them plays into how we would layout the kitchen space to accomodate it.  Is Foodservice Design relevant to Virtual Brands? Absolutely!

Distribution Plays a Part

One of the latest ways many across the country are approaching the distribution of the huge growth in online orders are “cubbies”, food lockers, and an old friend call AutoMat.  In New York, circa 1936 , when the world was young and growing with the first thoughts of touch screen smart phones, people were grabbing some lunch or dinner from a wildly crazy new concept, the Horn and Hardart AutoMat. This was automatic vending at its finest for the times.  The last one in operation closed in 1991.  Check out this image…

Look vaguely familiar to what we see today…minus the hat and overcoat?

Today, while our old friend took a sabbatical from popularity for several decades, the concept is back, just a little more streamlined and certainly more high-tech.  Behind every food locker or cubbie, however, a ghost kitchen exists to provide the food offerings filled by kitchen staff, much like postal workers fill individual post office mailboxes from the central distribution facility.  Brands are able to fullfill orders quickly and in a timed fashion to ensure the quality of the product.

Another method of distribution is the food hall, the fastest growing trend of the last decade.   Virtual brands can feature new items on their menus without a huge roll-out, while achieving maximum exposure to the throngs of people looking for a quick bite in a place with ever-changing options.  The design of these spaces generally is compact as the hall will give the vendor a designated amount of space to create their concept.  The kitchens that help support these concepts are geared for larger boxing/assembly areas.  Technology infrastructure for orders and additional sanitation protocols are all taken into consideration.  How far away is this kitchen from the hall?  Available space to create and/or service the kitchen that is supporting the virtual brand is a very large factor in how well the brand will be able to perform.

Design is Paramount for Success

The stream of new ideas is endless.  Foodservice design is needed as the partner in virtual brand evolution to ensure every step forward is a success.

By:  Lisa Paige-Pretorius, Project Manager | Charlotte

Read More
No Comment 0
Daniel Kwon
July 14, 2021
The Supply Chain Conundrum
The Supply Chain Conundrum

There is a serious supply chain crisis that continues to disrupt many industries and the foodservice consulting industry is not immune from this.  The pandemic has negatively affected the foodservice equipment supply chain from manufacturer to end user.

How does the foodservice consultant deal with this?  What strategies should we implement to efficiently source materials and equipment for your project?  How do we cope with rising costs, lack of product, indeterminate delivery time frames as we all navigate the supply chain conundrum?

Dealing with the Supply Chain Crisis – What’s the Problem?

The most notable problem we face currently is the frustratingly long lead times for equipment that we have specified and the subsequent issues this causes in terms of adherence to the design schedule.  It used to take about 4 weeks to receive a piece of equipment.  It has increased to 8 weeks if you are lucky; 16 weeks isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  What is causing the delay?  There is no single what.  There are a collection of issues causing a domino effect and resulting in delays and backorders.

Global Sourcing

Equipment, even those “made in America,” are made with parts sourced globally and those parts are taking longer to get to the production line due to shipping container shortages, the unavailability of the desired part, or pandemic-related reduced operations capacity by the parts manufacturer or the shipping company.

Supply and Demand

Raw materials are in low supply and high demand, creating inflated costs which drive the end product’s price higher.  Add to that the fact that there is a hefty price increase on the shipping containers.  The Asia-US West Coast container prices increased 4% to $6,861/FEU (Forty Foot Equivalent Unit), a rate 178% higher than the same time last year, and the Asia-US East Coast prices climbed to $10,002/FEU, a 215% increase compared to rates for the same time last year. (AJOT)

Non – Negotiable Delivery Dates

James Lee, a spokesperson for James Worldwide, a freight forwarding service company, and colleague of mine, explained that the biggest challenge for all the members of the supply chain is not knowing what is going to happen. There is no negotiating on the delivery dates and how many containers to ship. “Once you start to negotiate, you will miss your turn and wait another 4 weeks to get your turn back,” said Lee.  He also mentioned, “Last year, manufacturers and dealers started to change their purchasing patterns by buying 2 months of supply at a time rather than buying 10 days at a time.”  Today, you are at the mercy of the shipping container company and their scheduling.

Think S.M.A.R.T.

The crisis will undoubtedly end.  But when and at what cost is the big question.  Forecasts indicate that disruptions will impact the supply chain through next year.  So, how do we implement effective strategies to neutralize the situation and create workable solutions?  We need to think S.M.A.R.T.:

SPEED

Given the parameters of long lead times and equipment delays, it might make sense for the project team to put the equipment package out to bid earlier in the project timeline.  With this preemptory strike, unavailable equipment or equipment with questionable delays can be taken out of the design equation and revisions can be made to incorporate available equipment without jeopardizing the overall facility design or the client’s needs.  This proactive approach will not only save on schedule delays but also will allow the project team to stay on budget.

MANAGE

As the project team collectively and independently manages their portion of the project, it is essential to continually ask ourselves supply chain questions throughout the duration of the project.  Some questions might be:  Do we have enough visibility of the equipment’s supply chain to properly assess the overall impact? Did we explore our alternatives? Do we know which equipment will potentially be impacted?  How will alternatives impact our design, if at all?  Will the cost of the project be impacted?  Will there be disruption to the goals of the project?  How can we effectively design without compromise?  Today, supply chain leaders are reassessing their new realities and trying to forecast what the future may bring. It is time for us to do the same so that there is a Plan B to avoid supply chain problems when they crop up.

ACCURATE

It goes without saying that accuracy is imperative in most situations, especially in the design industry.  Imagine what could happen if building specs weren’t quite accurate.  Accuracy doesn’t happen by chance.  Among the obvious skill of expertise within your discipline, it also takes knowing your project inside and out, being able to anticipate issues before they become a serious problem and having alternate solutions in your back pocket.  When supply chain disruptions occur, accurate information and advice shared with the entire project team is essential to the project’s success.

REMAIN FLEXIBLE

We might not have any problem today, but tomorrow, we might have a big challenge waiting for us.  While we can’t control getting unfortunate news about equipment backorders or delays from kitchen equipment companies, we can stay prepared by consistently and continuously keeping tabs on which manufacturers are experiencing disruptions and where our specified equipment is in the process.  The earlier we discover a problem, the sooner we can address it and find a solution.

TRUST

We can complete the project on time and even on budget if we plan ahead, stay flexible and utilize effective strategies to offset problematic supply chain issues.  But equally important is the trust between all project team members.  Open and direct dialogue in the kick-off meeting about how to deal with potential supply chain issues will foster effective contingency plans should the need arise to use them.  Collaborative strategies will enable the project to move forward without the burden of endless redesigns.

The Finish Line

Supply chain disruption isn’t a new phenomenon.  Lots of factors play into this current conundrum we all find ourselves in and it can wreak havoc on the best project plans.  But by thinking S.M.A.R.T., effective strategies can move your project to the finish line on time and on budget, making it a win all the way around.

By:  Daniel Kwon, Project Manager | Atlanta

Read More
No Comment 0
Kevin Banas
June 14, 2021
By Design
By Design

Whether big or small, on a restricted budget or a princely one, no project succeeds without proper coordination between all the stakeholders.  As foodservice designers, our first point of coordination is usually with the ownership:  What sort of facility are they developing?  How many guests are they targeting?  What will the hours of operation be?  The menu?  These questions only begin to scratch the surface, and we’ll no doubt have dozens more for the architects, engineers, and operators.

All too frequently, however, we allow interior design to become a stumbling block in our efforts to coordinate.  Aesthetic considerations can clash with equipment practicalities in open service spaces, while budgetary concerns can raise issues of who owns what items in a project’s scope.  But whatever difficulties arise, proper coordination with the project’s interior designer has a tangible and significant impact on the pleasantness and function of a foodservice space.  As you ponder how to lay out your commercial kitchen, look out for issues that can arise between our trades, and give some thought on how to turn these stumbling blocks into opportunities to build a better facility.

Kitchen Finishes

Health code requirements for surface finishes are frequently a little ambiguous, in many areas providing guidance as sparse as “smooth, non-porous, and easily cleanable” and nothing else.  In many cases this leaves interior designers wondering what the best options are for floors, walls, and ceilings, and how to balance them against their budget.

Your foodservice designer should be well equipped to discuss with you what surface materials work best in specific areas.  Options such as tile, Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP), or stainless-steel wall flashing have wildly divergent price points, and what works in your dish room might not be best for what works on your production line.

We are often asked how high the smooth, non-porous, and easily cleanable finish must extend on a wall and the answer is floor-to-ceiling.  The cooks I’ve worked with have yet to find a wall tall enough that they couldn’t splatter food residue up and down its entire surface.

The surface material on a kitchen floor is often decided by budget but when there is room for flexibility, this is an excellent area to coordinate with interiors.  Flooring options can be matched to a kitchen’s purpose:  vinyl installations work great for spaces that anticipate future reconfiguration, while monolithic poured floors made of polyurethane or epoxy can be better suited than tile or vinyl for heavily trafficked areas or punishing environments.

A frequent stumbling point to watch out for is your back-of-house storage spaces.  Most municipalities require these to meet the same standards for surface finishes and lighting as a food preparation space.  Over the years we have seen more than one project built out without knowing this, only to be docked for it on their health department inspection.

Smaller Back of House Considerations

There are a number of smaller considerations for back-of-house spaces that are often neglected, particularly in larger projects.  But as they say, the Devil is in the details, and remembering these (and others) can help improve quality of life in the kitchen and better preserve the space as the years go by.

Corner guards should be specified for all corners in the kitchen to protect from collisions with carts and speed racks. Cini-Little typically recommends corner guards at least four inches wide and to a height of 48” AFF.  Similar in purpose, rubber wall-mounted door stops should be provided in areas where coolers, holding cabinets, or other equipment with doors are adjacent to the walls, or you will quickly find yourself with unsightly dents or cracked wall tile.

Doors in the kitchen, and particularly between front and back-of-house spaces, should be equipped with windows to help prevent collisions between busy staff.  In heavily trafficked aisles and pathways where deliveries are received, doors should have rubber stoppers to allow them to be temporarily propped open.  In bathrooms, we recommend hands-free door pulls to allow employees to exit without cross-contaminating their recently washed hands.

The Big One:  Millwork Counters

For the sake of durability and longevity, foodservice designers usually advocate for metal framed construction on front counters in a servery.  However, budgetary considerations often make wood construction counters an attractive option.  Millwork is loosely defined as any wooden fixture fabricated in a mill, and in a front-of-house setting, this usually includes doors, molding, trim, and often furniture like custom seating.  Because of this, it is usually under the scope of the interior designer or architect.  Millwork shops often provide simple counters for functions like trash drop-offs, but when it comes to larger service counters with a lot of equipment to coordinate, many millwork fabricators will need to partner closely with the foodservice designer to get things just right.

We have seen an unfortunate number of relatively recent installations requiring renovation designs because of millwork service counters that were not properly designed and coordinated.  When working with your interior designer and millwork fabricator, keep these critical considerations in mind:

  • Support Structure:  The counter must be designed with properly sized cut outs for drop-in equipment and with adequate support for the weight of the equipment, or you can expect to quickly develop cracks in any solid surface countertops you use.
  • Solid Surface Requirements:  Different types of natural or engineered stone will require different supports within the cabinet body and will also have different sensitivity to heat and cold.  Although some engineered stones sell themselves based on their resistance to temperature, it is still advisable to provide insulated bezels for chilled or heated equipment to prevent temperature gradients from cracking your surface materials.
  • Air Flow:  Cabinet bodies will need to be designed to allow ventilation as equipment dictates.  Compressors on cooled equipment are the most common pieces to require this, but foodservice designers should be prepared to alert millwork fabricators to sensitive pieces of equipment you might not suspect of needing proper airflow, such as induction burners.
  • Moisture Control:  Millwork cabinets being made of plywood, even marine grade, makes them vulnerable to encroachment from water. This can be fluids spilled from service equipment but is often also water that works its way into vertical panels from mopping around the counters. Millwork counters should be sealed inside and out to satisfy NSF requirements, and should be mounted on curb bases to protect from spills or mopping on the floor.

Apart from these, foodservice designers should partner with and review millwork counter plans to help provide those small touches that make foodservice easier:  convenience outlets for portable equipment, glove dispensers, foot pedal activated access to trash bins, slide-out housing for refrigeration condensers, and other such considerations.

A Marriage of Talents

It is a lot of work making sure your foodservice designs mesh with architectural, engineering, and interior design plans.  But this marriage of talents is what produces exemplary foodservice spaces that not only look great but function well and stand the test of time.  By staying alert and seeking out opportunities to share expertise with all of our partners on a project, we can be sure we’ve delivered the best possible kitchen under every circumstance.

By:  Kevin Banas, Project Manager | Chicago

Read More
No Comment 0
Barry Skown
May 19, 2021
How Does an Industry Re-Staff Itself?
How Does an Industry Re-Staff Itself?

The Trials and Tribulations of the Foodservice Industry in 2021

Nearly every single person in the world agrees that the year 2020 was one of the worst on record.  It was certainly the worst year most of us on this planet have ever experienced.  Yet, as bad as it was for everyone individually, I cannot recall a year that was as devastating to any one business segment as it was to the Foodservice & Hospitality industry.

But Wait!”, you say…”What about 2008-09 and what that did to the economy?”  Fair point.  But let’s think about that for a moment.  The last half of 2008 and all of 2009 were indeed devastating to a lot of people and professions.  Architecture firms folded, construction slowed to a trickle, financial institutions laid off thousands of staff, and real estate took a nosedive.

And while all of those were bad…everyone in the U.S., and the world, still had the opportunity to go to their favorite restaurant, bar, pub, sporting event, convention, wedding, funeral, birthday, anniversary, graduation anytime they wanted. In one word…we could all “congregate” whenever, and with whoever, we wanted.

All of that went away through 9 and a half months of 2020.

Suddenly, no one could get together with…anyone! …outside of your own home.  And because no one could congregate, that also meant that the venues that host get-togethers could no longer stay open.  That meant that every office building, every hotel, every restaurant and bar, every classroom, every church, every country club, every stadium had to close for an undetermined amount of time.

So, in April 2020, hundreds of thousands of hospitality and foodservice workers across every state in the country were either furloughed or completely laid off.  Retail restaurants struggled to stay open offering only take-out food or delivery.  But the contract food segment…meaning foodservice operations within a completely different type of  business or facility…had to shut down completely since there were no employees at work and no students at college.  Fast forward to one year later in late March 2021 with vaccines approved and being distributed in a constantly increasing pace, and offices, universities, and retail restaurants and bars making concrete plans to reopen…finally.

The Catch?  No one seems to want to apply to return to their old restaurant or contract foodservice job.  Last week, Cini-Little moderated a panel of contract foodservice industry professionals to discuss the unprecedented challenge of hiring back hundreds of thousands of employees amidst a reducing timeline before businesses and universities reopen, as well as trying to ensure worker safety and addressing other challenges that have been part of the industry for many years.

A number of potential variables have been cited by industry professionals as to why former workers are not lining up to return to work in droves.  These include, but are not limited to, reasons such as:

  • Concern for worker safety as customers may, or may not, be vaccinated when they dine out again
  • The level of hourly wages and employee benefits traditionally offered by the industry
  • The current unemployment benefits that most states offer their citizens during the pandemic, along with periodic lump-sum federal stimulus payments
  • Former foodservice workers taking this opportunity of “unemployment” to learn a new skill or trade or further their education, which then leads them to obtain a new job in a different industry altogether
  • The demands on family and personal life that a “hospitality” career and weekly schedule requires
  • And a few others

It is likely that each former foodservice worker has a slightly different reason for not wanting their old job back right now…or ever.  Regardless of the reason though, the deadline for office buildings and university campuses reopening is getting closer and closer…and quickly.  Already, both retail restaurants and contract foodservice operations are openly complaining that they cannot get anyone to even submit an application for employment…let alone actually show up for an interview.

Meanwhile, national labor statistics continue to report that the unemployment rate remains at, or above, the 6% mark.  Clearly, there is a big disconnect between the two that has to be bridged in order to get the overall industry staffed to a healthy level again.  It may not be as simple as vaccinating every living person.  And it also may not be as simple as increasing hourly wages by 50%.  But an answer (or, several answers) must be found to help the industry rebound to its former self.

From a human resources perspective, the contract foodservice industry has put in place various employee search and recruitment tactics to attract former and new staff.  They have considered the concerns mentioned earlier and worked to assuage them through hiring incentives, flexibility in schedules, ongoing training, and continuing education and benefits incentives.  But the contract foodservice segment, and the overall industry, may need to consider a larger reorganization as well from an operational standpoint.  For example, can new technology help reduce the need for specific staff positions while simultaneously addressing social distancing protocols for some operations?  Can production efficiencies in the kitchen  — and the front of house –reduce the number of staff required?  Is it time to re-visit business models to identify the caliber and number of staff required before charging headfirst into re-hiring the workforce to pre-pandemic levels?

But the point we are trying to convey is…there is no one definitive answer to the question of how this industry re-staffs itself.  No one has a “silver bullet” answer.  The foodservice industry has been notorious for having a much higher employee turnover rate than almost any other type of business.  But they’ve never had any trouble in attracting employees to work…. until now.  The goal moving forward must be to create a valued partnership between contract foodservice companies and their newly acquired staff to ensure high retention rates with a balanced life-work environment, appropriate wage structures and benefits, and mutual understanding so that people want to stay in, and return to, the industry even if another major interruption in service occurs (hopefully) many years down the road.

By:  Barry Skown, Director of Management Advisory Services

Read More
No Comment 0
Katja Beck
April 6, 2021
Food Lockers or Cubbies – Food Vending of the Future is Here
Food Lockers or Cubbies – Food Vending of the Future is Here

You might have seen them at your local quick service pizza restaurant.  On-call vending machines that hold your pre-ordered meal and let you pick up your dinner within a certain window of time.  These food lockers, or cubbies for short, offer contact-free food ordering and pick up with ease…and without hassle or long wait times.  But is it as easy as throwing in a bank of cubbies and presto, you’re good to go?  Not quite.  Sure, the technology is available but savvy facility design strategies must be considered for a profitable return on investment.

Why Now?

Cubbies are gaining popularity at the present time not only with fast casual restaurants offering the service, but also with corporate dining, healthcare, and educational facilities entertaining the idea of including cubbies into their business model.  Who can blame foodservice operators for wanting to keep customers and staff safe by offering a socially distant dining experience or process for pick-up?  Cubbies provide the operator with peace of mind by offering the opportunity to remain in business even during the worst of pandemic times and selling food without any personal interaction between members of staff and the customer.  Customers feel safe and can reduce touch and exposure while still enjoying their meals.  It’s a win-win strategy.

Careful…and Essential Planning

Cubbies are trendy …the perfect answer for a new facility and an attractive option for existing facilities.  However, before a cubbie system is installed, careful planning should be conducted to ensure a design that integrates the priorities of the client with smart operational efficiencies to make the ROI feasible.

Quantity Counts

Peak demand times will drive the quantity of food lockers.  Because each cubbie will be dedicated to a specific food order for a specific customer and this cubbie will not become available again until the customer has picked up the order, a sufficient number of units must be available to satisfy the potential demand during peak meal serving times.  A customer ordering a take-out meal will only be completely satisfied if their order is prepared and ready for pick-up within a short amount of time.  Not having an open cubbie available might cause loss of sales to the operator.

Location, Location, Location

The cubbies also must be strategically located within the dining area.  Ideally, the best scenario has the operator loading the units from the back-of-house without having to enter public space.  However, this might not always be feasible.  A corporate dining setting might prefer to locate the system near the entry points to the dining room so orders can be picked up without the customer having to travel far into the traditional dining space.  Often, the entry to the dining room is not directly adjacent to the kitchen.  The foodservice designer must coordinate with the operator to find the best location to ensure safe loading of the cubbies with short food travel distances by foodservice staff while providing convenient access for customers as well.

Other workplace goals might need to be reviewed as well.  For example, a corporate campus might consider splitting up the food lockers and offering several remote locations close to employee workstations, increasing the opportunity for socially distant pick-up.  An educational facility might consider remote cubbies near communal campus hangouts or residence halls to increase student participation in university dining options instead of off-campus offerings.  In these cases, however, an efficient plan for moving food from the central kitchen to the remote locations must be established into the design as well.

Menu-Driven Considerations

Another aspect to consider when planning for food lockers is the menu.  What types of food will be offered?  Will both refrigerated and heated units be needed?  How will orders that include both hot and cold items (think… a hot entrée with a side salad) be stored until pick-up?  Will there be any food safety or even spoilage issues if it is stored longer than anticipated? Ideally, different temperature units are assigned side by side to avoid confusion for the customer, so possible heat transfer must be considered.  Will beverages be offered along with the meal?  If they are, will they be offered pre-prepared by the operator and placed inside the cubbie for pick-up, or will a separate more traditional beverage station be available for the customer?  Beverages offered through cubbies must be bottled or canned because of the relatively quick loss of quality of fountain or brewed drinks.  If alcoholic beverages are on the menu, extra consideration must be given to the control of distribution to minors.

What about Labor?

Business owners regard meal service through food lockers favorably because the number of labor hours can be trimmed by reducing or even eliminating service staff, thereby improving the bottom line.  But it is important to remember there must be staff to adequately handle the loading of orders into the cubbies in a timely manner as well as transporting the orders to the cubbie locations, especially if they are remote.  Again, careful analysis must be done to ensure you are not replacing one type of labor cost for another.

Upsides and Downsides

Both customers and operators can appreciate the opportunity and flexibility to serve meals without any personal contact between the foodservice operation and the customer.   However, the upsides also bring downsides.  A large part of the “eating out” experience is great service and personal interaction, which we will all expect again once the pandemic has been overcome.  Will food lockers become obsolete at that moment?  I wish I had that crystal ball.  My personal opinion is that while restaurants will return to normal, pre-COVID ways of handling business, corporate and educational facilities might want to keep food lockers in addition to their cafeteria offerings due to the time-saving opportunity it offers their staff or students and where personal contact is less important to the dining experience.  Another aspect worth considering is that the older generation who might not be technically savvy will be excluded from this kind of dining experience because of the inability to manipulate an app on a phone or website.  This could potentially equal lost income to the operator.

Questions to Ponder

As with any new(er) invention or work process, open questions remain.  What will happen if meals are not picked up?  Will a refund be provided to the customer and how long does food remain in a cubbie before it is removed by the operator?  How will immediate customer questions or complaints be addressed?  Will there be a point of contact onsite if the order is incorrectly prepared or loaded into the  wrong cubbie?  How can last minute requests by customers, such as additional condiments, be satisfied?  What happens in the case of equipment failure, such as the cubbie not opening for the customer?  Operators will have to create a procedure of handling eventualities before diving into this new opportunity to serve food.

The Take-Away

Cubbies are a viable option for most foodservice segments.  The most important “take-away” is that careful planning and coordination between the end user, the operator, and the design consultant early in the process is paramount for the seamless and successful integration of food lockers into any foodservice operation.

By:  Katja Beck, Senior Project Manager | Ft. Lauderdale

Read More
No Comment 0
Kip Serfozo
March 15, 2021
The Case for a Ghost Kitchen
The Case for a Ghost Kitchen

Ghost kitchens were gaining in popularity before the pandemic.  Now they are even more important; in fact, they have leapt from trending to mainstream in the matter of months instead of years.  Many foodservice operations already have access to a ghost kitchen and just about every operator should consider aligning with one.  That is, of course, after weighing the pros and cons for your unique goals.

Simply put, a ghost kitchen is a kitchen without a dining room. Think of it as a catering kitchen that can be utilized as a powerful revenue generator and a solution provider…especially for foodservice operators such as college campuses, medical centers, larger corporate work campuses, and quick service restaurant chains.  That said, even a smaller operation should investigate if a ghost kitchen is the right answer for you.

The explosion of food delivery technology and equipment has set the ghost kitchen up for long-term success. Let’s explore four key components to a successful integration of a ghost kitchen in your operation, namely the revenue stream opportunity, the solutions a ghost kitchen can offer, the importance of a well-executed operations strategy, and key design aspects.

When a Bakery isn’t Just a Bakery

I walked into a ghost kitchen last week by accident. I was checking out a new bakery near my house that a friend mentioned. I entered the front door to find an assortment of activity: a coffee bar with pastries, fresh bread loaves to go, retail foods, grocery store items, a virtual menu posted for order pick-up, and a back kitchen that bakes breads for high end restaurants in town.   This wasn’t your basic bakery.  This was a ghost kitchen masquerading as a bakery with a good number of revenue streams. And, like this one, the sky is the limit to your imagination. Cooking classes, corporate cooking events, pop-up dinners, culinary incubator, commissary for any food production, mail order foods… The revenue streams can be broad, and no idea should be negated without investigation.

Providing a Solution

A ghost kitchen can provide an effective solution to the three biggest challenges that managers and owners face:  labor shortage, expensive real estate space in “great restaurant locations,” and the lack of kitchen space in current operations.

Ghost kitchens can centralize meal production so that overall labor costs systemwide are lower. In addition, many operators report a more consistent food product and quality. The ghost kitchen also allows for “smaller” retail outlets in high rent areas by moving some of the food storage and production to the remote kitchen.  In fact, many owners report that they can have more retail outlets in key locations knowing they can service them with one central kitchen. This is helpful with today’s customer who expects food to be available at their fingertips.

Limitless Options

We know we want to maximize revenue streams.  Now we need to figure out which ones will be most profitable given how the ghost kitchen will be used.  A qualified foodservice design consultant will be able to assist you by listening to your needs, assisting you in prioritizing your goals and identifying your options.  Ask yourselves, what do we want to achieve and how can we get there?  For example, if the kitchen is part of a large campus then we need to ask, what is its primary use? How will it support the overall food program and how will it achieve maximum efficiency?

We just read that the sky is the limit…but what are some options?

Ghost kitchens can be a catalyst to:

  • Reach out to the local community to provide foodservice for profit or non-profit
  • Prepare home meal replacements and mail order foods
  • Prepare pre-packaged food items
  • Research and develop menu items
  • Work with hunting organizations and local farms to provide butchery services
  • Provide emergency preparedness
  • Work with local fisheries to promote sustainable fishing practices
  • Work with local organics companies to promote sustainable agriculture
  • Work with other campus schools like Ag and Animal Science to provide kitchen support for making ice cream and local food products
  • Use the kitchen as a teaching platform for students and the community
  • Market the kitchen to national and regional food delivery companies to provide virtual restaurant meals to the local community
  • And the list goes on…

Identifying the type of ghost kitchen necessary is critical in the effort to maximize profits. Managers must execute a cost benefit analysis to strategically position their ghost kitchen for success.

Form and Function

There is no one-size-fits-all design.  Instead “form” follows “function,” which is why we need to first figure out the ghost kitchen’s intended use.  We can, however, group ghost kitchens into the following more popular types:

  1. Food storage and rough cold prep only | Ready to ship to food outlets for final cooking and service.
  2. Bakery commissary | Focused on baked goods and shipping to outlets for final sales.
  3. Full-service kitchen, with food storage, prep, and cooking | This kitchen is set up for maximum flexibility, including meal preparation and delivery.
  4. Hybrid | Any combination of the above based on the business model

The experienced foodservice design consultant knows the important key features of these kitchens and can be a significant asset to your design team.  Some key features include but are not limited to:

  • Flexible open prep areas with few walls
  • Mobile equipment
  • Flexible equipment systems – plug and play
  • Storage areas for maximum density and room for easy expansion should the kitchen demand grow over time

It is important to design an ergonomically friendly kitchen within budget and with on-time construction.  The efficient and well-designed ghost kitchen will be an effective vehicle to maximize your operation’s profits now and in years to come.

By:  Kip Serfozo, FCSI, LEED AP, WELL AP
Director of Design – East Coast | Atlanta

 

Read More
No Comment 15
Barry Skown, Khaled Halabi
February 15, 2021
Foodservice for Thought – The Hybrid Workplace
Foodservice for Thought – The Hybrid Workplace

A tumultuous, and unprecedented, year has passed.  What used to be every employee’s fantasy is now gone.  The part of this country’s workforce who were able to work remotely have now seen and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of what it is like to work from home.  The impact of a remote environment on company productivity and the wellness of our workforce is finally here for us to analyze by reviewing a company’s key performance indicators (KPI’s) and determining what worked…and to what extent.  A clear picture should emerge of what the new norm will look like as companies choose later this year to either begin going back into the office environment or remain remote.  Or…for some companies… some sort of hybrid work model might become the new norm?

One Size Fits All?

Diverse market segments, as well as varying job roles, mean there is not a one size fits all solution.  Differing needs with regards to the nature of the company, the job role, personal interaction and in-person collaboration muddy the equation and dictate what would best suit the workforce as well as optimize efficiency to find the perfect balance. Flexibility becomes paramount to this new workplace culture, with some studies showing that most workers still prefer to work in an office setting to a certain extent, while also having the flexibility to work remotely some days of the week.  It is important to understand, now more than ever, that each company may implement some type of hybrid system different from other companies.  We also recognize that some work environments…such as the manufacturing or “service” industry sectors…may not have much, or any, flexibility at all when it comes to the choice of working at a company site or remotely. They pretty much have to be “on site” to perform their jobs.

A Deeper Dive

Designing an on-site dining facility that caters to an employee population will require the consultant to take a deeper dive into the new working culture of the client as well as to understand the scheduling aspect of this hybrid office-remote work model.  Understanding these factors is critical to being able to deliver a functional space that accommodates the needs of the workforce while at the same time, allows it to be adaptable and flexible enough to function just as well with the high fluctuations of occupancy during any given week.  With time, there will be some factors that become common, but flexibility and adaptability will always be key to future designs as these hybrid models get tweaked on a constant basis.

As we write this, we realize that some Chefs or F&B professionals might read this and think, “So what’s new?  That’s what we’ve always done.”  The truth is these elements were always at the heart of the F&B industry and its levers for success.  At the core of a profitable operation is a robust, finely-tuned schedule that accounts for peaks and troughs of the week and plans resources accordingly.

Or you might think, “How does this transfer over to designing and planning a corporate dining space?”  Typically, foodservice consultants like us plan and size dining facilities to handle demand from the “peak meal period” for any given day/event/function.  For an employee dining facility, that “peak meal period” is typically the lunch period.  But there is also an old adage in the design industry that says, “Don’t build the church for Easter Sunday.”  So, designers and consultants always strive to balance those two premises.

But in a new hybrid work model…where many or most employees can choose which days they are on-site and which days they work remotely, and that can change from week to week…how do you plan and size a dining facility for a population that is constantly fluctuating day by day?

Much like, historically, Monday is a slow day for retail restaurants and Thursday through Saturday is busy, the same could be estimated for a new hybrid work model.  For example, it could be estimated that the workdays of Tuesday through Thursday of each week will see the largest number of on-site employees at the workplace, with Mondays and Fridays being the lightest populated days.  While no one can predict this work pattern for certain or every hybrid work model, there is one market segment that gives us a historical glimpse into this pattern…the Higher Ed market.

This segment has traditionally built many of their class schedules around having the bulk of classes occur Tuesday through Thursday…with the lighter class days being Monday and Friday.  This may have evolved over time for various reasons, but regardless, a “life schedule” has been created around the busiest days for classes being Tuesday through Thursday.  Why wouldn’t it make some sense that a new hybrid work model might follow this same pattern?

One thing is certain though (in our opinion) …companies adopting a new hybrid work model where employees can choose which days they will be on-site and remote, and who also have an on-site dining program, will need to implement a scheduling model of some sort to give their Foodservice Operator time to accurately plan inventories and menus to meet the demand each week.  Without a scheduling model/system, the Operator could easily have either way too much wasted inventory that translates into a much higher food cost and operating cost transferred to the client or get caught vastly understaffed and without enough food to feed a sudden daily surge of on-site workers, thereby creating a negative service experience.

Having a sufficient understanding of the weekly population trends and fluctuations will help the Operations team, and more importantly, the facilities team to design the right amount of space.

The Crystal Ball Dilemma

During the past 11 months, there has been a great deal of hypothesizing…maybe even pontificating…around various notions that the future of the foodservice industry will be “X” or will see the removal of “Y.” These notions include, among others, an increase in the grab ‘n go share of the pie; or that ‘curbside’ pick-up will become the favored method of food delivery; and a host of other trends dictated by the current pandemic constraints.  In truth, no one really knows what the future of the foodservice industry will look like exactly in the next 2-3 years…especially for the contract foodservice segments of employee dining and university dining. While all the hypotheses may be valid perspectives on the current F&B industry based on what we know from science and the current situation, none are a silver bullet for every situation.  Adaptability and flexibility are the key to design success.  Trends are just that…trends.  They may become a constant, a norm, or they may be replaced by the next best thing.

Some new technologies that have been, and are still being, developed for the contract foodservice industry setting may be innovations that stand the test of time and adaptability.   And that is a good thing.  Innovation questions such as:  How can food be delivered to employees/students at all hours of the day and still maintain as much food quality and safety as possible?; Are large dining spaces still required for every type of food outlet, or is it better to set it up for take-out only?; How can robotic technology help with any of this and yet not sacrifice the true spirit of “hospitality” (or even the number of available jobs) in the process?; are all extremely valid questions to be explored, and will need to be applied on a case-by-case basis.  But, in our opinion, to make sweeping statements like “all self-service stations are gone forever, or we’ll never see that again” is both misleading and short-sighted.

In the end, it is every consultant’s goal to make each employee or Higher Ed facility as flexible and adaptable as possible because, as time and history have proven, consumer tastes and dining trends change.  That’s one of the advantages of engaging a design consulting firm like Cini-Little… so that a new facility is designed to be flexible for any Operator to manage, and not geared towards just one Operator’s menu concepts, service style, or way of doing business.  Can future changes be made in a physical facility to accommodate new dining trends without undergoing a massive, and costly, renovation project?  Absolutely!  For example, menu stations can be modified by incorporating “plug and play” equipment stations, pop-up stations, and/or mobile food units to change the offerings in a dining facility without renovating the entire space.  It is likely that as these innovative technologies evolve further, they too may become permanent fixtures that help the foodservice industry improve and enhance the services they bring to an employee or student population.

Moving Forward

Only time will tell for sure on the latter.  And time will also be a telling factor in how work models evolve for each company…unique to each company and culture.  One thing is for certain though…the proverbial work-from-home Genie has been let out of the bottle and there is no going back to the 1970’s work model.  Now it just comes down to, how does each company make the new model work to maximize their productivity and employee retention at the same time?

By:  Barry Skown | Director of Management Advisory Services

Khaled Halabi | Director of Design, Northeast – Central

Read More
No Comment 0
Kip Serfozo
January 11, 2021
Foodbots are Here!
Foodbots are Here!

What is a foodbot?  In simple terms, it’s a robot that assists foodservice operators to deliver high-quality food and beverage and customer service to guests.  There are kitchen robots that specialize in prep and cooking, and dining room robots that specialize in service aspects.  Sometimes the robots can do both, food prep and serve!

This blog explores the why’s and what’s associated with foodbots… Why are they popular? What are the architectural design implications of their use?  What markets are ripe to utilize them?  And what’s next for the industry?

Why now?

There are several shifts in the current environment that are creating the intense demand for robotics in general.  A shortage of qualified labor is the number one factor. Next, there’s financial pressure, in terms of both capital and operational costs, to achieve better overall ROI for owners. This is a complicated calculation that considers real estate costs, human resource investment, and competitive edge in the marketplace.   And finally, recent technology has hit a home run, enabling the market to turn to robots as a viable solution to these factors.

Robotics technology paired with recent advances in AI application, and 5G cellular infrastructure have enabled robots to hit the scene.  And the cost of robotic technology is decreasing, allowing it to become a reality.  On the foodservice equipment technology side, advances in heating and chilling allow foods to be held at exact temperatures, the key to fresh and better tasting food.   So, now we can deliver very high-quality food and beverage directly to the customer in an extremely efficient manner.

Owners and operators are discovering how to integrate robots into their service model. How can they leverage the technology to create a better overall foodservice experience? How can they increase sales and lower costs? Keep in mind that all foodservice operations run on razor thin profit margins. The business model needs to have a short return on investment.

Customers welcome technology and what it can do to make their lives easier and more enjoyable.  Today’s customer wants food at their fingertips with touchless, frictionless transactions.  Post pandemic, we need solutions that minimize touchpoints and increase sanitation. Foodbot technology provides a solution to all of this and more.

Meet EAT!

Our team at Cini-Little is currently designing a prototypical foodbot, named EAT, for the hotel market. Our concept received an award at the recent HX The Hotel Experience Conference.  EAT is the ultimate foodie concierge, capable of delivering a food experience to any location on the hotel property.  We think of him as a roving “farmer’s market,” carrying fresh foods and beverages on board!  EAT travels to your GPS location and is powered by your smart phone.  Full transactions – order, pay, delivery — are made through your phone and then posted to your hotel portfolio.  Imagine you crave a fresh local craft beer with your dinner experience.  EAT is parked in the kitchen where he is loaded with fresh foods and beverages, including the local craft beer you desire. He then travels to you, wherever you are on the property!  Managers can activate EAT to assist in any food and beverage outlet, even serving as back-up bartender on those busy occasions.

Design Implications

Robots create many architectural design challenges. First, where do you store and charge the robots? Space needs to be allocated for this. Can the facility’s technology support robots? Then there is the big issue of safety. How do robots and humans co-habitate in a safe environment? The facility should be ergonomically friendly for both. Finally, there needs to be a conversation about the functional areas that may not be needed anymore, such as traditional vending. Can the robot replace vending? Possibly.

What markets are ripe for robots?

There are robotic opportunities in most foodservice markets.  We believe the first to enter the market will be high-volume, quick-service concepts — think McDonalds, Chipotle.  Another market is large population/campus clients, like hospitals, colleges, convention hotels, and amusement parks.  In addition, the health care market is looking for higher levels of hygiene and less human contact within their environments; robots are the ticket here. The business models and historical data will power entry of robotics further into foodservice markets over time.

Case in Point

Our client, Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the largest college campuses in the United States to release a fleet of foodbots. We recently completed the design for their new Memorial Student Union Food Hall, which includes a 7,000 square-foot support ghost kitchen. Purdue’s foodbots interface with the entire retail program. Students and staff consider the robots to be an added foodservice amenity.  The robots are a high-tech solution for increasing sales and improving customer satisfaction. The pandemic has increased participation due to the touchless operation and social distancing attributes. Robots deliver food 24/7 to any location on campus. Purdue reports great success with the program.

What’s next?

Most foodservice professionals agree the big challenge is how to integrate robotics technology into an industry that prides itself on hospitality and the personal “experience.”  We want robots to help maintain and heighten our love for food, culture, society, celebration, and discovery. Seamlessly integrating robotics into the “customer service model” will be the challenge for hospitality owners and managers.

As for robots in the kitchen, many of the larger quick-service restaurant chains are in the game. They are finding similar ROI experiences. There is “Flippy” the burger assembly robot and “Bussy” the food runner robot, to name a few.  Robotic baristas and bartenders are popping up across the country. And other applications are entering the marketplace including “sanitizing” robots that travel kitchen areas, cleaning the facility.

Designers, consultants, and owners working on large building and campus master plans are having the robot conversation.  Integrating robots into the built environment will be the new normal.

By:  Kip Serfozo, LEED ID&C AP, WELL AP

Director of Design – East | Atlanta

 

Read More
No Comment 15
Recipes
December 14, 2020
Crabbies
Crabbies

For the Marylander at heart…this easy appetizer can be frozen ahead and pulled out in a jiffy…it’s a crowd pleaser!

Ingredients

1 jar Old English Cheese spread

1 stick butter (softened)

1 T. mayonnaise

1 T. garlic powder

1 small Can Crabmeat

1 package 6 English Muffins

Directions

Mix the first 5 ingredients together and spread on English Muffin halves.  Arrange on a cookie sheet.  Broil until the cheese mixture is hot and bubbly.

Freezer Directions

Mix the first 5 ingredients together and spread on English muffin halves.  Freeze for 2 hours.  Cut into wedges.  Place in airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.  When ready to use, arrange wedges on cookie sheet.  Broil until the cheese mixture is hot and bubbly, about 8 minutes.

Shared by:  Mike Perigard, Director of CAD/BIM

Read More
No Comment 0