Developing the kitchen of the future will require foodservice designers and operators to challenge conventional thinking and explore new ways to balance the need for capacity with the need to become more efficient. The net result will be a more thorough and thoughtful design process.

The kitchen of the future was a hot topic earlier this month when the Food Service Technology Center hosted its 25th anniversary celebration in San Ramon, Calif. But the daylong conference did more than just provide an update on the latest and greatest foodservice equipment. Sure, Don Fisher and his team discussed new technologies and efficiency benchmarks in the hot and cold zones of kitchen equipment, but a common theme connected all of the presentations: “The time is now to think outside of the box.” In this case, the box was the back of the house.

In doing so, it is important to question each and every aspect of a foodservice operation’s kitchen to ensure designers strike the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

Questions to ask include: Do we need even a range in our kitchen? Can we use all induction? Do we need a charbroiler or even a convection oven? Can we do all of our cooking using electrical power rather than gas? Why can’t there be windows and natural light in kitchens? Why do kitchens have to be physically set all the way at the literal back of the house? Why do kitchen workers have to slave away in hot, humid climates all day long? Can we achieve zero energy waste? Is it possible? Why not?

In an industry that changes slowly, it’s hard to imagine kitchens much different than they their current set up. The foodservice industry has cooked one way and used that as a guide for designing kitchens for so long, why change now?

With dramatically rising energy, gas, water, food and labor costs many operators find they need to at least begin addressing those questions. And foodservice designers that can tackle those needs set themselves apart from their competition.

David Zabrowski, director of engineering for the center, directly challenged the industry’s traditional notions of what “makes” a kitchen during his presentation about the “cookline of the future.” During the talk, Zabrowski outlined what he sees as the ideal cookline — the type of cookline he’d have at his restaurant — in terms of energy and operational cost saving potential.

And guess what? That ideal cookline doesn’t have a range, convection oven or even any gas-fired equipment. Here’s a breakdown of the varying levels of innovation Zabrowski discussed, ending with the ultimate efficient kitchen.

Level 1: Upping The Basics

Zabrowski started off by describing a traditional cookline; a 21-foot, linear collection typically including a 6-burner gas range with a low-boy oven; a double-stacked convection oven; a 3-foot charbroiler; 2-compartment steamer; 4-foot griddle (with manual controls) and a pair of standard fryers.

Based on a calculation of $5 per unit of water and $1 per therm for gas, this cookline would run an operator $21,000 in operating costs (energy and water) per year. “Not great,” Zabrowski said. “I think we can do better.”

The natural next step toward long-term energy and water savings would be switching to energy-efficient equipment, such as Energy Star-rated items. “The first place to start would be to go with an Energy Star-rated griddle, but then think about shaving a foot off to make it a two-foot griddle,” Zabrowski said.

From there, Zabrowski explored switching the steamer and fryers to Energy Star-rated models for additional energy, water and fryer oil savings. The result? The cookline shrinks to 20 feet with annual operating costs declining to $15,000. Not bad, Zabrowski said, but he felt it could be better.

“It still didn’t really change the cookline that much, and I’m looking into how far we can push this, how far we can go,” he said.