Tracking 10 years in foodservice

As FCSI’s Foodservice Consultant magazine turns 10, we look back at the years since launch in 2013 and consider the major influencers and genuine gamechangers in the hospitality and foodservice sector

How much really does change in a decade? While lots has happened since 2013, little seems to have changed. It may feel like a distant past and the memories might be vague, but a read through the early editions of FCSI’s Foodservice Consultant reveals that the watchwords of the day were not much different from what they are today. 

Anybody who believes that the term “the new normal” was brought around by the Covid pandemic, would be wrong. As the magazine launched in early 2013 the sector was grappling with the fallout of a severe financial crisis, which hampered businesses for years after. In fact, the very first edition, as we considered what the future years might look like in the sector, cites the new normal and it reappears frequently.

At launch the task was to provide industry insight, analysis and opinion while showcasing the excellent work of FCSI members across the globe. “FCSI constantly strives to lead the industry in knowledge and skill in both facilities design and management advisory disciplines,” wrote Ed Norman, then president of FCSI Worldwide in that first edition in 2013. “Our members have designed some of the most complicated and challenging projects around the world and our advisory consultants go the distance to ensure that clients fully enjoy the profitability of their operations.”

Top influencers

Sustainability features heavily throughout the 10 years. In Q1 2013 the explainer “what is sustainability?” helpfully listed the main areas to consider:

  • Nutritional wellbeing
  • Environmental wellbeing
  • Sustainability of local economies
  • Social justice

Today we may add care for staff and financial stability. These continue to be a challenge. But in 2013 we had not yet heard of the largely social media driven Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns for social justice and a global pandemic was predicted by few.

And there’s little point in pretending otherwise: the Covid-19 pandemic must take top billing when considering the main influencers on foodservice in the last decade. It may only have started in earnest in 2020, but the impact is such that the sector continues to be affected by the fallout and in many ways has changed forever as a result.

As Laura Lentz FCSI, design principal at Culinary Advisors says: “It definitely feels like the bulk of the change has happened just in the last few years.”

William Taunton FCSI, the owner of Gastrotec foodservice consultancy in Chile and FCSI Worldwide president between 2016 and 2017 echoes her words, saying the pandemic first and foremost increased awareness and changing habits where health and cleaning routines are concerned. “I think the major change was in the way all of us looks at hygiene nowadays and of course the solutions to this issue that were adopted by the different operators,” he says.

Additionally, operators were forced to change the way to serve and distribute their products. “Due to that situation, manufacturers were forced, also, to help their clients by redefining the way the shapes and functions of distribution equipment were presented, especially for delivery, waste management and robots,” he explains.

Technology in design

The pandemic accelerated many trends that were already happening and technology was central to everything, from the introduction of touchless technology and contactless payments to delivery apps and smart equipment. 

“Technology has changed how we design – we are either designing for a particular technology solution or for all possible options making the flexibility of a design more important than anything else,” says Lentz. “The creation of Revit and implementation of this software in our industry, and professional services in general, has left the way we used to design in the dust. We require more of manufacturers and in turn more is required of us but we have adopted a great tool that is better at communicating a design than anything before it. This has changed our work flows, our product and how our designs are understood by others. Its power is awesome.”

The outcome is straightforward, she adds. “Revit has fundamentally changed how we do our work. Those that adopted the software will succeed, those that did not are likely struggling. And next we will migrate to a full VR-based design world.”

Sustainability: spreading awareness, improving practice “The foodservice equipment sector has been moving towards energy efficient models in the past decade and the issue of sustainability is no longer to be debated – it’s a path we all must pursue to save ourselves before our planet can no longer sustain us,” says Hong Kong-based consultant Clara Pi FFCSI. “Covid has further accelerated the sustainability progress especially in the area of sustainable food packaging and up-cycling of food waste to consumable foods.”

On the manufacturing side, increasingly sophisticated technology has enabled a genuine lift in sustainability best  practice. Where foodservice equipment is concerned, this has 
been front and centre of the past 10 years, according to Keith Warren, chief executive of the UK’s Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers (FEA). “Manufacturers have invested heavily in developing technologies that save energy, water and cleaning chemicals and reduce or repurpose food waste”

He says the 2016 introduction of the EcoDesign and EcoLabel directives indicate the direction of travel in the future, even if they only apply to refrigeration for now. “They are making a difference – refrigeration is significantly more energy efficient than it was in previous decades,” he says.

Connectivity technology has played a major part in improving equipment performance and highlighting good and bad practice through the monitoring facilities. “One of the biggest shifts over the past 10 years is the increased acceptance of connected commercial foodservice equipment – the Internet of Things (IoT),” says Charlie Souhrada, vice president, regulatory & technical affairs, the National Association of Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM).

“NAFEM has long maintained that connected equipment allows operators to collect and share data to control processes, manage operations and make strategic decisions,” he adds.“Over the past decade, the foodservice industry has increasingly come to realize that smart commercial equipment integrates perfectly with multiple needs including the use of BIM standards to deliver high performance, carbon neutral and net zero energy-based facilities and operators’ workforce challenges.”

Labor shortage solutions

“Digitalized technology is managing linen inventory and automatic uniform distribution, which saves labor costs, a solution to the shortage of skilled labor – apparently caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Michael Flatow FCSI, of Flatow & Drews Consulting in Germany. “Intelligent energy optimization and demand-controlled ventilation systems contribute to a sustainable use of our resources. Sustainable operations are also supported by fully automatic food waste systems, which provide a hygienic solution following HACCP rules and result in operational cost and space savings.” Internet of Things (IoT),” says Charlie Souhrada, vice president, regulatory & technical affairs, the National Association of Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM).

“NAFEM has long maintained that connected equipment allows operators to collect and share data to control processes, manage operations and make strategic decisions,” he adds.“Over the past decade, the foodservice industry has increasingly come to realize that smart commercial equipment integrates perfectly with multiple needs including the use of BIM standards to deliver high performance, carbon neutral and net zero energy-based facilities and operators’ workforce challenges.”

Plant-based future

Partly brought about by the changing consumer profile, partly by reducing consumption of animal proteins to look after the planet, and accelerated by the pandemic, a move towards vegetable-forward menus and meat alternatives has continued apace.

Clara Pi FFCSI, a pioneer in the quest for a zero carbon foodservice community, says that during the pandemic some Covid virus was found in meat packing plants while almost none appeared in plant-based production facilities. “This boosted consumer demand for plant-based meats and the development of plant-based meat alternatives has gained momentum across the globe,” she says. “This is evident in the incorporation of plant-based meats in major fast-food chains such as ‘La Vie’ vegan bacon at Burger King in the UK in January 2023, following success at Burger king’s  meat-free popups in Bristol and London in 2022.”

In 2018, during a year-long look at the future of foodservice, the items dominating foodservice were sustainability, veg-forward menus and meat alternvatives, technology, automation, cultural identity. Artificial intelligence was tipped as a gamechanger.

Adjusting to smaller spaces

In Q2 2019 the Foodservice Consultant cover story was all about the challenge of designing in smaller spaces. A combination of factors mean that restaurants capitalize on space for diners while reducing the size of the kitchen.

“Consultants need to think like operators,” said Arlene Spiegel FCSI, president of Arlene Spiegel & Associates in New York City. “They need a broad knowledge of the challenges operators face as it relates to the cost of space, the cost of labour and the capital expense 
of build out. They also need to develop a strategy for optimizing output by putting forth all the options and thinking outside the box.”

Multifunctional equipment

From a design perspective, a competent consultant should always be the key driver to shrinking commercial space by eliminating spaces and workflows, said John Thomas FCSI, director of Sangster Design in Sydney Australia. “Additionally, the client has increasing costs of delivery, be it cost of ingredients, labor cost, or utilities expenses. They are searching for effective ways to do more with less.”

The challenges have pushed all stakeholders to innovate and come up with solutions. For manufacturers this takes the shape of multifunctional equipment, says Warren. “The combi oven has been around a while, and is probably the archetypal modern multifunctional appliance, but the variety and sophistication of these do-it-all machines has increased exponentially over the decade,” he says. “With time, kitchen space, labor and skills all in short supply, multifunctional equipment is supplying solutions. They are helping solve the 20:20:20 kitchen conundrum, where operators are seeking 20% more productivity from 20% less space, with 20% less cost.”

Social media: a shift in communication

Communication with customers directly has been transformed in the past decade, chiefly due to the advance of social media platforms. Instagram is the media of choice for chefs, allowing them to share photos of their food and, to an extent, control the narrative. In Foodservice Consultant we first covered Instagram and social media coverage in Q1 2014, exploring concepts including hashtags and the best way to use them.

At the time of the original publication there were 17 million posts on the platform carrying the tag #foodporn; today this stands at 294 million posts. 

Later on in 2016 we explored how social media has changed the way in which chefs operate and even has an impact on the design work carried out by foodservice consultants. Some professional kitchens are now designed with more emphasis on plating space, and less on cooking space. Many restaurants are also designed with Instagram worthy moments. 

“More and more kitchens are open for a voyeuristic look and feel,” said Keith Short FCSI, senior associate/project manager of Cini Little International. “The plating areas have become food altars, where chefs can flaunt their skills and immerse themselves with their chosen brand of equipment as a beautiful backdrop.” 

To underline the significant growth of Instagram consider the Danish chef and man behind Noma, Rene Redzepi – in 2016 he had 282,000 followers on Instagram. Today he has one million.

The march of the ghost kitchens

In Q1 2020 just as we were approaching a time of unprecedented disruption with the arrival of the global pandemic, we tracked the evolution of ghost kitchens, a concept that was rapidly gaining traction and has since become widespread.

While the concept of food delivery stretches back a long time, the article explained that December 2016 saw the opening of the first ghost kitchens run by food delivery company Deliveroo. Highlighting the potential of a ghost kitchen as the a stepping stone for an embryonic brand hoping to get a toehold, they soon became essential for thousands of operators all over the world when they were forced to close the dining room and looking to pivot.

2020 was also the year that market analyst Euromonitor predicted ghost kitchens could be worth $1trn by 2030 and there is no doubt this is a trend that is nowhere near a peak just yet.

“While ghost kitchens have been around for some time, it is only the last 10 years that have seen the boom that is bringing every large QSR player into the ghost kitchen sector,” says Mark Dempsey, head of insight for market analyst Global Data. “Significantly reduced costs and incredible new consumer reach define the opportunity.”

He says the benefits of the ghost kitchens, also known as dark kitchens, are threefold. First, staffing costs: “they can be cut by up to 80% when compared to the normal shift patterns in a standard QSR outlet,” he says, adding that a second benefit is the reach ghost kitchens can bring to an operator. “This generally brings thousands of new potential customers to the brand,” he explains.

Finally, he highlights the operational efficiencies. “There’s no customer interaction, making the employees more efficient, and significantly reduced costs, given that ghost kitchens located out of towns, see rents of two to five times lower than a standard high street restaurant.”

Job savers

Related to the ghost kitchen trend, Clara Pi FFCSI, in Hong Kong, highlights the spike in central production units (CPUs) in China, partly driven by the three-year long Covid lockdown. The trend, she says, has led to the development of ready-to-eat food packages by branded restaurants to support their online sales platform and home deliveries.

“The branded restaurants send their executive chefs to these production centers to fine tune recipes, production methodologies and packaging to ensure food safety, taste and quality of the final menu item upon delivery, storage and reheating,” she says.

As with ghost kitchens these units save on operational costs and can move staff from closed restaurants into processing lines, thus keeping them employed. Along with the evolution of the ghost kitchen, these are symbolic of a sector that is forever innovating, where agility is key and stagnation can mean the end. Reflecting on this last decade in foodservice should give cause for excitement for what’s to come in the next 10 years. It may be hard to predict, but it’s sure to be another great ride.  

Tina Nielsen

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