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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

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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

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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

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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


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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

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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


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December 14, 2020

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


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


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

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December 14, 2020
Jubilee Jumbles
Jubilee Jumbles

When you are wishing for a “taste of home,” this delicious cookie does the trick…

Ingredients for Cookies

1 c.         shortening

1 c.         brown sugar

½ c.        sugar

2             eggs

1 c.         milk

1 tsp.     vanilla

2-½ c.    flour

½ tsp.    baking soda

1 tsp.     salt

1 c.         walnuts

Ingredients for Glaze

2 tsp.     butter

2 c.         powdered sugar

¼ c.        undiluted milk

Whole walnuts

Cookie Directions

  1. Pre-Heat Over to 375°
  2. Cream shortening & sugars, stir in milk & vanilla.
  3. Sift in dry ingredients & add nuts.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes; cool.

Glaze Directions

  1. Heat 2 tsp. butter until golden brown.
  2. Add powdered sugar & beat until smooth.
  3. Spread on top of cookies.
  4. If desired, garnish with whole walnut on top.

Shared by:  Kathleen Held, CEO

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December 14, 2020
Candy Cane Martini
Candy Cane Martini

Nothing says the holidays, like this tried and true recipe…


3 oz.       gin

½ oz.      dry vermouth

1 tsp.     peppermint schnapps

Candy canes for garnish


Pour the gin, dry vermouth and peppermint schnapps into a cocktail shaker half-filled with cracked ice. Shake well (don’t stir) and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Garnish with a candy cane and serve.

Note | To rim your martini glass with crushed candy, simply dip the martini glass in water then dip in a bowl of crushed candy canes.

From our Cini-Little Family Cookbook

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December 14, 2020
Frikadellen (German Meat Balls) with Leeks in Cream Sauce
Frikadellen (German Meat Balls) with Leeks in Cream Sauce

This is a typical German dish and growing up in Hamburg, I ate it often.  Frikadellen are a very popular meal and are eaten warm or cold, with sides or on their own as a snack.  The cold version is often served late at night on New Year’s Eve as a pick-me up snack while waiting for the new year to begin.  To this day, I love them as they remind me of my childhood and growing up in northern Germany.

Ingredients – Frikadellen

½ lb. Ground Beef

½ lb. Ground Pork

2 Slices Day-Old White Bread

1 Yellow Onion

1 to 3 Cloves Garlic (depending on your preference)

1 Large Egg

2 T. Chopped Parsely

1 tsp. Hungarian (Sweet) Paprika

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika



Butter and Olive Oil for the Pan

Ingredients – Leeks in Cream Sauce

3 to 4 Leeks

1 T. Butter

1½ tsp. All-Purpose Flour

½ c. Vegetable or Chicken Broth

½ c. cream


White Pepper

Nutmeg (freshly grated)

Frikadellen Directions

  1. Finely dice the onion and garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic until just translucent.
  2. Soak the bread in lukewarm water, squeeze dry and pull into small pieces.
  3. Into a large bowl, add the ground beef and pork, onion, garlic, bread, egg, parsley and both paprikas. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Mix all ingredients with your hands until well combined.
  5. Form small burgers.
  6. Heat olive oil and butter in a large frying pan on high heat. Add the burgers and turn the heat to medium.  Cook burgers on both sides for approx. 5 minutes or to desired doneness.

Leeks in Cream Sauce Directions

  1. Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Slice leeks into half inch rings.  Wash leek rings thoroughly.
  2. Heat butter in a dutch oven on high and add leeks. Turn heat to medium-low and sauté for about 3 minutes.
  3. Dust with the flour and stir well.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add broth and cream and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, turn heat to medium-low and cook for 10-12 minutes, while stirring every couple of minutes.
  6. Add a pinch of nutmeg and stir before serving with the Frikadellen.

Shared by:  Katja Beck | Project Manager, Ft. Lauderdale

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