Restaurant operators have never faced so many challenges over the past 12 months, from opening and closing kitchens at short notice, to transitioning to delivery and click and collect, as well as managing social distancing from a back-of-house perspective. How much of a profound impact will it have on the way kitchens are designed this year? We canvassed a range of sources to find out…
1. Focusing on where the money is made
A whole new generation of takeaway and delivery operations are putting pressure on working space in kitchens and refrigerated storage. Some chains will maintain their growing delivery and ready-meals businesses — spurring demand for central food processing kitchens — but with the focus on maintaining food consistency as well as volume, creating an environment that chefs will be happy to work in will require operators to furnish kitchens with quality equipment.
“The mantra was always how to design a successful kitchen within an ever-smaller footprint, but one factor which will influence design is where the money is made,” says Ian Clow, sales director at Charvet.
“It always used to be predominantly front-of-house. Now, with delivery, takeout and ready-meals businesses developing via the back door, so to speak, operators are asking how they can add more production in-house, which leads to enquiries about CPUs, but also about how to increase production from the same footprint.”
Anticipated growth in out-of-home eating doesn’t only have implications for the way the cookline is organised. It also impacts other equipment choices, such as warewashing.
“For example, there will be less — if any — requirement for daily washing of dine-in designed crockery, cups and glasses,” says David Glover, UK and Ireland country manager at Wexiodisk. “Instead, daily washing of larger pots, pans and prep equipment will become the priority. This means that investing in a warewasher that can be seamlessly loaded with the most-used pieces of equipment and utensils will be hugely beneficial for kitchen efficiency.”
2. Kitchen traceability — at least in the short to medium term
Any operator reviewing kitchen facilities over the past year will have taken a look at different designs and workflow structures to ensure those in the kitchen can safely distance from one another by way of segregated cooking sections, without impacting the overall operation too greatly.
“Currently, it’s the smaller, more compact kitchen units that are definitely more preferable for operators, because if there are large swathes of people simply coming and going it’s harder to achieve full traceability of personnel, which is going to be critical for some time yet,” says Tim Bender, sales director at Hobart Equipment Division.
“Other than that, it’s about trying to future-proof the entire operation, understanding what might happen with menus and food supply post-Brexit.”
Outside of this, an ongoing focus on sustainability is likely to prevail, with the latest equipment on the market helping operators save more money than ever. Greener kitchens can come from minimising plastic usage to lowering energy usage, but it is an increasingly important theme for operators to consider.
“A more sustainable kitchen can ensure lower running costs, support wider sustainability targets — particularly in public sectors — and can also attract customers,” says Edward Palin, commercial director for Filta Group, which recently launched the GreaseMaster Cyclone, a highly efficient grease recovery system that addresses one of the biggest environmental issues facing kitchens. “With increasingly stringent legislation and the ongoing threat of costs if left untreated, fats, oil and grease management will almost certainly continue to be a key issue in 2021.”
3. Connectivity will unlock untold efficiencies
Connectivity was a big trend last year and there is absolutely no reason to think it is going away. For a growing number of operators, internet connectivity is now vital in the kitchen to help optimise efficiency, monitor performance, undertake remote diagnostics, download recipes and much more.
“Whether it is ovens, refrigeration or dishwashers, the more we can connect devices, the more efficiently the kitchen can run,” says Unox managing director Gary Nunn. “At Unox, we call it Data Driven Cooking — making best use of the data to improve productivity, optimise efficiency and deliver more consistent results.
“Ultimately, data driven cooking is about helping staff to get the most from their equipment. The possibilities with this level of analytics are endless but even in its most basic guise, operators can enhance safety and transparency, optimise water and energy efficiency, and even eliminate waste to maximise profits. All of which points to a more cost-effective, time-efficient kitchen with complete peace of mind over food safety and compliance auditing.”
One word of warning, however — connectivity simply isn’t possible without a good internet connection!
“A lot of kitchens are inevitably below ground level, in the basement or tucked around the back of a building. At older sites, in particular, this can present challenges when users want connectivity but can’t facilitate it with their existing internet supply. But greater usage requires more reliable internet supply and the demand is only going to increase going forward,” says Nunn.
4. Making kitchens smaller and more mobile
The provision of both outdoor dining and takeaway are key challenges that have impacted on kitchen operations over the past year.
Add to this the space issues within kitchens, or the complications that arise from setting up an outdoor area, and it is clear that operators need cooking equipment that is compact and can multi-task, says Steve Hemsil, sales director for the UK and Ireland at Welbilt.
Consequently, its own portfolio has grown to accommodate this trend, including the launch of Merrychef eikon e1s ovens with ventless operation and Convotherm Mini combi ovens that can be used with a 230V power supply.
“Even when restrictions are lifted and businesses can open as normal, it is highly likely that we will see the continuation of outdoor dining and takeaway as operators will be keen to keep these revenue streams,” he says.
5. Flexibility in equipment and service style
The past 12 months have demonstrated how adaptable the foodservice industry can be. Now it’s all about flexibility — whether that’s in terms of equipment or service style.
“Customers are definitely considering the flexibility of the equipment and their operations,” says Graham Kille, technical sales director at Rational UK.
“Multifunctional appliances, such as the Rational cooking systems, offer a real benefit here. They are also showing an increasing awareness of sustainability and utility costs, and giving them much more importance within the decision-making process. In the changing work environment, flexibility is the key to many people’s kitchen plans.”
6. Taking hygiene to a new level
Hygiene will be an even bigger priority for operators this year. Companies such as Meiko report rising demand for information not just around dishwashing but areas such as food waste handling.
Managing director Paul Anderson explains: “The key to the buying decision is two-fold; the desire to achieve a sustainable solution to food waste, and the improved hygiene from removing waste bins, wheelie bins and leaky black sacks. The virus pandemic has delayed progress in this area, but the fact that the UK government has since highlighted biomass as its preferred food waste handling option can only lead to more interest in the technology,” he adds.
Another noticeable trend is that customers are switching from using plastic disposable bottles to hard glass and washable plastics.
“This has prompted demand for Meiko bottle washing systems and the baskets needed to transport them safely,” says Anderson. Kristian Roberts, marketing manager at Mechline, believes Covid has permanently changed attitudes towards hygiene.
“At the start of the pandemic, businesses reacted quickly to install short-term measures to become Covid-secure and open safely after the first lockdown. Now, nearly a year down the line, seeing that these concerns, and to a degree the restrictions, are not going anywhere, we expect businesses will be looking to invest in longer-term solutions — with a greater focus on sustainability and cost efficiency.
“This includes the installation of more permanent hygiene-promoting fixtures and technology, such as more hands-free handwash stations and air and surface sterilisers, such as our HyGenikx range, which covers both front and back house, and washrooms.”
7. Financing offers will make equipment instantly accessible
One thing that we shouldn’t forget is how tough it will be for some operators to find the cash needed to make the equipment investments they really want. Fortunately, manufacturers have been working extremely hard to remove that obstacle by creating a raft of financing, leasing and interest-free packages.
“The financial effect that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on many hospitality businesses has been draining to say the least, hence why an increasing amount of operators are now looking to lease equipment models rather than pay for a new unit outright,” says Simon Frost, director UK and Ireland at Hoshizaki UK.
“This shift in purchasing patterns will, without a doubt, impact the way kitchens are designed in 2021 given that many operators may only be able to invest in a new kitchen refurb if financing options are available.”
In the refrigeration manufacturer’s case, it now has a leasing scheme in place, allowing restaurant customers in the UK to spread equipment payments from as little as £50 per month on terms of up to five years.