This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
The year 2020 introduced foodservice operators to new and unique challenges. But solving for a pandemic really was just a new layer of complexity on the daily challenges operators grapple with. At its most basic: How do you use staff effectively to deliver a quality product and meet customer expectations for speed of service? Rightsizing foodservice facilities can help lay the groundwork to minimize those challenges. Read on for tips to assess your opportunities...
The 10,000-foot-view – Keeping it safe and efficient
Begin with a hard look at the flow of people and products in your facility. Do they logically progress from receiving to storage to prep, cooking, service and warewashing? Are there dedicated and generous pathways for people and products that do not cross into work zones?
Walk your department with a variety of staff and take note of breaks in the flow, obstacles to travel and backtracking. Are there enough parking spaces for speed racks and utility carts or are they clogging walkways? If mobile equipment clutters your kitchen, evaluate how much and what sizes you really need. For example, could a speed rack give you more capacity and the bonus of taking up less floor space than a utility cart?
Take another walk through your department with outside people for a fresh perspective. Foodservice teams are remarkably resilient and skilled at developing workarounds for quirky conditions. Over time, everyone adapts, and no one notices they’re working harder or less efficiently.
The deeper dive – working smart
How does work happen in every workcenter? Do staff have everything they need to work smart? Working smart means having the right space, the right equipment, and the ability to sequence tasks in a way that minimizes staff steps, keep staff safe and keep food safe.
Observe the flow in every workcenter and pay attention to:
- Distance to raw ingredients
- Workcounter space
- Pans and smallwares locations
- Trash location
- Work aisle width
- Distance to prep sink
- Distance to hand sink
- Distance to holding equipment like warmers and refrigerators
Narrow work aisles create bottlenecks and, when hot pans are involved, can be a safety hazard. Setting workcenters up to function ergonomically also protects staff health. Declutter worktops to provide open workspace and set up tasks efficiently. Overshelves, wall shelves, wall grids are great for holding smallwares, labels, gloves and freeing counter space.
Use space below work counters for mobile equipment like trash bins, dish dollies, sheet pan dollies, ingredient bins. These can be pulled out for use and rolled out completely for cleaning. Put equipment that is shared like a mixer on a mobile stand. The equipment can be moved to different workcenters for use instead of staff traveling to equipment with supplies in tow.
The deeper dive – smart purchasing
Smart decisions when purchasing equipment offer big payoffs. Ask questions about durability, cleaning, maintenance and flexibility. Your hardest-working equipment (think hours of use and adverse conditions) needs to be more robust. The initial cost will be higher, but the paybacks will be there in fewer service call.
Following cleaning and maintenance recommendations is critical for extending equipment life. The easier equipment is to clean and maintain the more likely cleaning will happen and be done correctly. Look for features like automatic cleaning and controls that alert you to equipment issues and help prevent downtime.
Much of your cooking equipment has an invisible cost because it needs to be under an exhaust hood. When hoods pull cooking heat and vapors out of the kitchen, they take along heated and/or cooled air. Replacing this conditioned air with make-up air is costly so cooking equipment decisions are important.
Versatile cooking equipment offers more cooking options without taking up more hood space. For example, combi ovens can cook anywhere along a continuum from 100% dry heat (like a convection oven) to 100% steam (like a steamer). A tilt fry pan can function as a kettle to cook soup or can sauté or pan fry or braise. Some cooking equipment offers programmable control panels that execute every step of your recipes consistently. The controls help staff deliver quality food with less effort.
We will all remember 2020 as the year foodservice operators adapted to a pandemic with creativity and heart. As 2021 begins, look inward. Assess your operation and develop strategies to adapt your space and equipment to work smarter and safer.
Connie Dickson is a design principal with Rippe Associates who specializes in healthcare, senior living and corporate market segments. Her culinary and foodservice operations background helps her understand each client’s vision and express it in their design. Connie is a professional member of FCSI and an active member of AHF and SHFM. She holds degrees in nutrition from Cornell University and in culinary arts from Kendall College. She can be reached at [email protected].