Design Masterclass: Tim Smallwood FFCSI on AI technology

In 2030, how far down the AI predictive path will we be, asks Tim Smallwood

The year is 2030, are we still going out to a steak restaurant or have the nutrition police calculated that you have exceeded your protein measure for your biometric data for the day. But if the steak at the restaurant was created by a 3D printer from synthetic protein anyway, you would have been permitted to make the booking.

When you and your partner arrived, the ID scanners at the entry would have adjusted the electronic menu that would show on your digital ID and access device to match the items permitted for your daily calorie limit.

Farfetched, maybe today, but the amount of information and personal data held by public and private entities is now capable of being integrated into a digital model of each of us. We should not be surprised if by 2030 something similar to the Chinese model of a ‘Social Credit Plan’ is not extended by other governments to manage health outcomes “for our own good”. Now ban sugar; next ban meat protein because of the carbon emissions; and then coffee because of the global warming potential of the food miles and roasting process. The Food Police are already here, both literally and as a result of our acceptance and contribution to Facebook, Weibo and other messaging platforms running ChatGPT that soon be allowed to be the source of  the manufactured “facts” that are used to control our lives.

The sector’s gradual evolution

Conspiracy theory, maybe but not impossible and may well inform where our foodservices could gradually be heading in the long term. However, the foodservice and hospitality industry rarely develops through revolution; more like a gradual evolution, so despite the algorithms and AI machine learning, or may be because of them, the industry will remain as a beacon of predictability and the source of relative calm needed to balance the frenetic pace of change in other industries.

In a question related to an ongoing issue: will we have the connected kitchen by 2030? At the current rate of progress and despite the current level or lack of co-operation between equipment brand manufacturers, it is possible that through third party developers who are working on the same ‘connectivity’ issue between competing brands in other industries, there will be communication tools that make it possible. If so, what do we expect it to do for us? Certainly, in large kitchens, production planning and optimising equipment utilisation can be a serious benefit. But in the smaller kitchen, a marginal benefit if at all. Whatever happens, by 2030, the staffing of large kitchens will include an IT integrator to take full advantage of all the emerging technologies.

But all the factors that currently have an impact on foodservices businesses will become even more relevant to the design of the professional kitchen in the future. The availability and cost of space and labor added to the issue of supply and the need to avoid disruption of both ingredients and fuel are but part of a forever issue. And then finally dealing with the detritus created by the catering production and delivery process will have had an impact on the design of the 2030 professional kitchen.

The space allowed for the kitchen has been continually shrinking for the past 40 years and this will continue. With dark kitchens in the 2020’s locating the kitchen in a lower cost area than the “Position – Position” of the actual restaurant or food business in 2030 has developed into a model that harks back to the commissary approach of splitting the kitchen storage and mis en place from the finishing kitchen at the point of service.

The decentralized commissary preparation kitchen 2030 is now a shared ownership between a number of different food businesses. The benefits of combined purchasing, storage and preparation are maximized through the application of AI software that predicts requirements based on input from the point of sale combined with market and supplier inventories to overcome supply side risks: volume purchase and supply to a single destination reduces food costs.

The system of waste

Waste is now less of an issue for the restaurant because the ingredients are delivered ready prepared; plate waste is reduced as well through the measurement of what is remaining on the returned plate, adjusting the portion sizes: helped by the menu offering different portions sizes. The small amount of food waste is dehydrated and reduced to a dry powder in the kitchen. At the commissary or larger kitchens food waste is transported by vacuum waste systems that move the waste from preparation areas to the waste area where similar but larger capacity food waste dehydrators reduce the food waste to the high nitrogen powder which is then recycled back to the growers as a soil enhancer. Other waste systems transport the food waste to holding tanks from which it is used to feed bio generation electricity plants.

Central kitchen preparation equipment generally has become more high volume, high speed, automated and monitored for remote management to minimise the time and labor required. In specialised kitchens the use of 3D food printing is now useful with the development of high-speed printing linked to automated conveyor systems for the production of such items as texture modified foods, pastry and chocolate moulding. Repetitive jobs are now done by Cobots that pick and place these moulded items as well as containers, load shipping carts and load and unload the ware-wash machines.

In 2030 to improve labor efficiency in commissaries and larger production kitchens there is an increasing use of conveyors to move ingredients and food between receiving, storage, work and dispatch areas. These vary from unsophisticated power roller tables to overhead automated conveyor systems the return food pans and containers to the dish room for washing and storing. For more complex travel paths, programmable robotic platforms are used to move work in progress between workstations and packing and storage areas.

Storage efficiency has evolved through the use of modular containers that have enabled the storage density of shelving systems to be maximised. Gastronorm dimension modules have been adapted to integrate into vertical storage conveyor and transport systems.

Automation everywhere

Quantity cooking equipment fuelled by electricity or electrically generated steam has become increasingly automated with measured ingredients automatically adjusting time and temperature. Automatic filling and portioning equipment using pneumatic technology taken from the food processing industry is increasingly being applied. Large batch chilling has moved from air blast chilling to vacuum chilling improving by a factor of 4 the space/time efficiency. Vacuum technology has been increasingly adopted for the preservation of ingredients and Cryovac as well as finished food Sous Vide technology.

The finishing kitchen is all electric and uses high speed batch and portion cooking with each item of equipment either not requiring ventilation or with inbuilt variable demand ventilation. Authorities have finally agreed that overhead canopies are no longer automatically mandatory.

By 2030 the small family restaurant and food business has benefitted from the more efficient preparation and electric induction cooking equipment developed for the large production kitchens. More of them are using blast chillers and vacuum technology to save time and labor costs.

The increasing requirement  of food safety standards and the ability to use AI and Blockchain to manage the traceability of temperature and quality of food from farm-to-fork has been increasingly adopted with the side benefit of the provenance of the ingredients being identified. With the use of more locally sourced fresh ingredients to overcome the issue of food miles as well as managing unreliable supply, foodservices have needed to upgrade their handling and preparation systems and controls to meet food safety standards and to avoid contamination from the garden getting into the kitchen. These technologies as well as the replacement of harsh chemicals for all ingredient and equipment sanitizing and general cleaning in the kitchen now use electrolyzed water green chemical solutions rather than chemicals which are not only good for the environment but also adopted because they show an effective return on the investment of the technology. These cleaning technologies are being complimented by the use of UVC sanitizing light systems, not only for equipment and surface sanitizing but also with the explosion of coronaviruses in air handling filtration systems.

By 2030 all foodservice businesses will have been impacted by the environmental expectations of their customers as well as authorities on what they do. The direct impact through the cost of energy and services used is only partially controllable but through acting proactively by the adoption of technology and systems that deliver a measurable environmental benefit can be a positive story to tell. Many larger foodservices businesses either through being part of a larger entity like a hotel chain or contracting business are being expected to demonstrate how they are meeting their environmental targets, but even smaller standalone businesses will now have to show they are improving their environmental footprint. Regular licensing and permit applications will have increasingly required businesses to report on their GWP reduction strategies. Dedicated reporting programs will be available, linked to the HACCP compliance traceability reports that make the process of being seen as a green foodservice easier to achieve.

In many cases consultants are already designing facilities that will certainly be in operation in 2030 and some maybe in the case of institutional kitchens even a decade later in 2040; all be it with incremental updating. As always, these facilities will need to be designed with the flexibility to adopt and benefit from emerging technologies and designed to enable foodservice businesses to remain both compliant and profitable. 2030: for foodservice consultants the future is already here.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI

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