Loma Linda University Health
The kitchen at Loma Linda University Health’s new Dennis & Carol Troesh Medical Campus allowed the dining program to offer room service for the first time to patients from brand new equipment designed to produce fresh meals made to order.
Safety and sanitation.
American Dining Creations
The need to clean and sanitize thoroughly and constantly brought on by the pandemic has put new emphasis on technologies like UV based disinfection units that are effective for non-porous surfaces. The latest developments include UV-emitting robots that can tool around a designated space zapping microbes. In an era of staffing shortages, such automation is becoming more prevalent. In addition, while disposables have taken on increased prominence during the pandemic era, permanent ware is sure to make a comeback for environmental reasons, which puts more emphasis on making sure the products get thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each use. That means more stress on effective and reliable ware washer units.
Pictured is a POS unit with UV-based sanitizing deployed by contract firm American Dining Creations.
While COVID certainly took center stage in operators’ minds over the past two years, commitments to sustainability and sound ecological practices have not been forgotten, which means environmentally friendly waste disposal equipment such as pulpers, composters and bio-digesters continue to become regular features in and around foodservice kitchens.
Another growing exotic area of foodservice equipment is sophisticated vertical garden units growing herbs and greens that can be placed directly in or near serving stations to provide not only ultra-fresh ingredients but a marketing boost through their visibility to customers. The photo shows a Babylon Microfarms microgreen cultivation unit in an Aramark-operated dining center at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Rise of grab and go and takeout
Quest Food Management Services
As more customers look for grab and go and remote ordered takeout, café layouts are having to adjust, shifting some space away from traditional serving stations and into extended grab and go racks and takeout pickup points. Quality grab and go display equipment not only helps encourage sales but maintains product integrity and facilitates efficient restocking. Some operators have even developed grab and go display rack arrangements that allow replenishment from the kitchen-facing back while customers access the prepared dishes from the front, an adaptation of the old automat approach. Pictured is a grab and go case at the Farehouse Market B&I location in Chicago, managed by contract firm Quest Food Management Services.
Fresh Ideas Food Management
The explosion of ghost kitchen operations—foodservice outlets with no customer-facing presence other than a pickup point—has forced rethinking of production equipment strategies as it no longer has to be attractive because customers don’t see it, but it does have to have high throughput efficiency. In a way, ghost kitchens have their onsite dining antecedent in hospital room service programs, which also emphasize quality product turned around quickly after the order is received; hence the equipment focus is on speed and quality, such as with rapid-cook batch ovens, readily accessible ingredient holders like undercounter refrigerator units. Pictured is a ghost kitchen operation at Maryville University managed by contract firm Fresh Ideas Food Management.
A trend that’s been around for a while and drives equipment purchase decisions is the ever-increasing customer demand for authentic cuisine experiences, especially in the college/university and higher end B&I markets. That means investment in premium units like wood-burning and/or stone pizza ovens, tandoori ovens for authentic Indian dishes, pasta machines for authentic Italian dishes and charcoal grills and smokers for authentic barbecue. The spectacle of such impressive equipment in action at food stations also serves as a powerful merchandising tool. Pictured is the Hearth pizza station at the new Travelers headquarters café operated by management company FLIK, which turns out Neapolitan style pies and other Italian specialties from its 900°F+ Marra Forni pizza oven
Rush University Medical Center
As noted above, mass feeding is inexorably giving way to more disseminated service that extends across both time and space as customers look for meal solutions throughout the day—and in some cases into the night—and at conveniently accessible service points away from the central cafeteria. Given staffing shortages, many of these can be expected to be unmanned outlets utilizing a growing set of technology solutions ranging from smart fridges—high-tech enclosed units that are basically grab and go coolers with controlled access—and micro-markets to high-tech vending/robot station units and high-end specialty coffee makers.
Because these satellite outlets generally go into spaces with no foodservice-ready utility access or infrastructure such as vents and hoods, the equipment must conform to the limitations in energy usage, venting, etc. At minimum, such scattered point of service require mobile equipment like carts with some sort of product holding capacity that may or may not be temp-controlled depending on how quickly the food is expected to be distributed. Of course, there’s also that other increasingly popular remote service point—the food truck, which has its own equipment requirements ranging from minimal holding bins for pre-made product to fairly sophisticated equipment extending even to on-board grills and other production units for turning out to-order meals. Pictured is a mobile cart that brings snacks and meals to staff on the patient floors at Rush University Medical Center, which won an FM Best Concept Award in 2021.
Culinary Services Group
Automated points of service aren’t the only areas where technology advances are changing the way equipment is used in onsite dining. From sophisticated waste measurement tools that help operators control production and develop more efficient ways to utilize product with minimal excess, to robots—and even drones—that may make meal delivery feasible even in a labor crunch environment, tech solutions promise to alleviate some of the pressure operators face from consumer demands and staffing challenges. Yes, many of these are currently out of the financial reach of many operators, but like all technology advances, well-heeled early adopters finance the startup and early product development costs, kick-starting economies of scale that then bring the technologies to a wider user base. Pictured is a robot server at the Springwell Senior Living Community in Baltimore, operated by management company Culinary Services Group.