The Kitchen of the Future

While most operators may remodel their facility out of necessity, they can reap other benefits from the exercise. "As we upgrade and update, the equipment gets more and more efficient, and it has a smaller footprint," Barker says. "Now that we are on a faster remodel, it is beneficial. The operator benefits, and they are doing what's right. They don't want to be educated; they just want the right equipment recipe."

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Determining how long to go between remodels can be tricky and depends on a number of variables. "The longevity of the kitchen really depends on the culture of the operator and how they take care of the equipment," Frable says. "It does vary a lot by segment. I always get a kick out of going into a private school kitchen where 35-year-old equipment will look like it just came out of a showroom. In other places, the equipment may last less than two years. A lot of places, the staff does not look at the equipment like a European chef does. They kick the doors shut."

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Of course, the particular needs of the operator impact the remodel schedule. School foodservice, for instance, which tends not to use the equipment year-round, typically can wait longer than a commercial restaurant, which might need to remodel or refresh more regularly to remain competitive. "I would say waiting ten years to remodel is pretty dangerous for a restaurant. That's the perfect example of why the casual-dining segment had so much trouble," Barker says. "They were building for ten years, and then America changed. Some chains worked on a seven-year touch-up schedule, and that allowed them to remain ahead of the curve."

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Sustainability's Impact on Design

Waste reduction represents another big design issue moving forward. "Municipalities are concerned about what's going in the dump and down the drain," Coca says. "So pulpers, disposers and digesters will become more of a factor. Some of that's here already, but the change in this area will be driven on the local level, not by the operators."

Waste management is really part of the larger movement toward more sustainable design, something that's top of mind both for the operators and the communities they serve. "In the past five years there have been more requirements for including some type of sustainability rating system with foodservice-related projects," Schroeder explains. "It has not always been LEED, but it is more prevalent than others."

Indeed, LEED is a term that most foodservice professionals have heard, but only a few really know what goes into achieving this status. And the path that restaurants might follow to achieve LEED status often differs from how institutions would approach it. "One of LEED's greatest strengths is also a challenge for operators. The U.S. Green Building Council has created such a comprehensive document that it can discourage people from trying to understand it," Schroeder says. "LEED for Retail does incorporate a focus on kitchen equipment selection by including baseline efficiency and minimum efficiency standards in its energy- and water-related credits. But for most institutional projects LEED does not currently require foodservice equipment be included in the documented energy savings."

The U.S. Green Building Council intends to release LEED 4.0 sometime this year, and that should simplify matters. "It will include kitchen equipment process energy and water requirements that are in LEED for Retail in other LEED certifications," Schroeder says. "LEED is a consensus-based rating system, and the USGBC has tried to get a lot of input from people in all different markets who use it. And LEED 4.0 is going to bring kitchen equipment more into the conversation. LEED was created to drive market transformation, and foodservice is a good case study for where that is happening."

Another key component of LEED 4.0 will be utility submetering. Typically, the kitchen's consumption of electricity, gas and water gets lumped in with that of the overall building. This makes it harder for foodservice managers to get a handle on their actual energy use and the impact of their conservation efforts, when appropriate. Having the kitchen on a submeter will help immensely. "You can't control what you don't measure," Schroeder says. "Doing energy and water audits are important to help establish your benchmarks, and that's where submetering will really help."

Designing a sustainable operation is one thing, but making certain that the facility lives up to its environmental promise requires a daily commitment on the part of the operator. "Foodservice operations need more educated and involved staff to work on these more sophisticated systems and to champion sustainability," Schroeder says. "I hope that foodservice operators going for LEED certification will encourage strategies to go beyond LEED. Project teams can focus too much on the checklist and what will get them the credit, restricting creativity and possibly missing solutions that can greatly reduce the impact of the kitchen on the environment.

In addition, sustainable design will extend beyond an operation's facility into partnerships with municipalities, service providers and local nonprofits that can help the foodservice operator with composting, recycling and more. "It's just the natural progression as organizations start to look for ways to be more sustainable," Schroeder says. "The millennial generation is more focused on organizations being more socially conscious. And when that happens they start partnering more with the communities they serve."

Despite the wider acceptance of sustainable practices, the industry still has a lot of room to improve the way it sees this emerging aspect of foodservice. "Some people still see sustainability as a sacrifice as opposed to something that adds value," Schroeder explains. "For that to change it needs to be incorporated into their culture, their mission and their brand. If it's not built in there, it is easy to value-engineer those items out of the equation. What sustainability is asking for is a more informed, educated and engaged staff for the programs to be successful."

As luck would have it, a workforce with similar skill sets is starting to enter the foodservice industry. "We are starting to get people who understand the newer technologies or techniques like sous vide, so they are open to newer types of equipment now. Everyone today knows what a combi oven is, and I am having no issue getting them as part of an equipment package," Coca says. "Five years ago, it was a different situation."

And consumers are not the only ones open to culinary exploration these days. A growing number of operators have more open minds about different technologies and techniques that they might have eschewed a few years ago. "Operators are looking for different ways of thinking, and technologies like sous vide represent one way of accomplishing this," Coca says. "I don't necessarily see it as taking over an operation, but sous vide can be a complementary component that helps address food shrinkage and consistency. Kitchens of the future will have scratch cooking and sous vide."

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