Two of the most impactful changes affecting every foodservice operator are consistent updating of menus and the use of customer-facing technologies, such as mobile ordering, apps and even third-party delivery services. Menus and consumers’ use of technology to order their food continue to shape the industry in ways unthinkable even five years ago.

Take, for example, menus. Most foodservice designers will tell you that sketching out the plans for a kitchen become exponentially more challenging when the operator lacks a clear vision for the menu. Back in the day, if operators changed their menus once a year, save for the occasional limited time offer, that was a lot. Today, operators from all segments change their menus quarterly, monthly or even more frequently. They do so to satisfy consumers’ appetites for all things local, seasonal and ethnic. Operators also do this to keep their concepts fresh and intriguing to customers.

As a result, it’s no longer acceptable to design a kitchen for today’s menu. Rather, designers must gaze into their crystal balls in an attempt to anticipate what might come next for operators. This can take the form of serving a new daypart, adding a new type of cuisine or even augmenting the service style to accommodate customers who prefer to order their food using an app or third-party delivery service and consuming their meals off premise.

So, the pursuit of foodservice flexibility has to be by design, as Amelia Levin points out in her article The Pursuit of Flexibility in Foodservice Design. As the need to become more flexible becomes more acute, operators from all industry segments continue to embrace innovative equipment such as combi ovens, dual-technology ovens and even the various ventless options. While none of this equipment is new to the industry, it tends to be new and eye-opening to many operators, who have been slow to embrace the benefits of technology.

For its part, customer-facing technology affects a foodservice operation in a variety of ways, including spatial considerations surrounding food storage, how a variety of customers navigate the space and much more. Even if an operation does not use customer-facing technology today, they must acknowledge that it could be part of their world in the not-so-distant future.

Ironically, one of the more flexible types of foodservice equipment on the market today happens to be among the oldest. Wood-fired equipment has never been hotter, both literally and figuratively, as Tom O’Brien points out in Warming up to Wood-Fired Cooking. It allows operators to cook a multitude of food items, allowing the menu to evolve over time, and these cooking processes impart unique flavors onto food and the view of flames dancing in the equipment creates unparalleled visual intrigue among consumers.

Customers’ palates and service expectations will only continue to evolve, leaving operators and foodservice designers little choice other than to be flexible by design.