Thriving in a changing foodservice landscape requires flexibility, adaptability

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Foodservice has been forced to reckon with large, systemic changes that require operators to be more agile and ready to manage the unexpected

After almost two years of life surrounded by Covid, the food serving world has been forced to reckon with large, systemic changes that don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. And even as operators shift to adapt, the goal posts keep moving as new challenges, expectations and requirements surface across the industry.

Whether from pandemic or natural catastrophe or economic or cultural forces or circumstances unforeseen or unimagined, continual disruption may very well be the new “business as usual.”

Thriving in these circumstances will demand adaptation from everyone involved in foodservice design and operation. Here are a few ideas.

Consider adaptable equipment

Equipment installed specifically for one set of circumstances — say, a cooking or prepping station that’s designed for specific menu items — may be become at best unwieldy and at worse unusable in the face of intense change.

Consider making adaptability the core of any kitchen by selecting equipment that can flex as needed. For example, rotating stations with supporting prep and hold areas can accommodate a changing menu. Pizza one day, poke the next. This approach prevents future menu fatigue by building for variety from the outset.

Planning for adaptability can also include selecting equipment whose very features provide for flexibility.

LTI’s patented QuickSwitch wells and QuickSwitch Ceran glass shelves allow food to be served hot, cold or frozen with each well (or shelf) controlled independently, so different temperature foods can be held side by side. Hot soup can be safely and conveniently served next to cold sandwiches.

And because wells can change temperature in an hour, converting from a prepared hot food serving counter to one for cold packaged foods can be accomplished with the flip of a switch.

Give equipment more jobs

Equipment that has multiple possible uses will provide savvy operators with more options when it comes to cooking and serving.

Recent years have seen an explosion of equipment like combi-ovens and other multipurpose cooking appliances. Flexible serving options are also available to support changing needs — both in customer-facing and back-of-house operations.

For example, restaurants have undertaken a major pivot to accommodate a dramatic increase in delivery and takeout orders. LTI’s QuickSwitch order assembly table serves as a dedicated station for preparing and packaging these to-go orders, keeping this process from interfering with the main line.

With wells that can easily switch between hot and cold and convenient shelves to hold packaging materials, this self-contained unit functions as a fully equipped, standalone station. If off-premises demand wanes over time (or is just having a slow day), the table can be repurposed to support any normal line.

Portable, convenient ExpressLine and ExpressLine Compact counters from LTI are another option for embracing flexibility.

These mobile counters allow operators to bring food to wherever diners are, rather than vice versa. In corporate environments, for example, ExpressLine can be used as a grab-and-go feeding option to keep employees from congregating in cafeterias or break rooms.

At other times, these counters could be set up as dining “outposts” to make food options more accessible across a corporate campus or used to deliver packaged or catered food to meeting rooms.

Choose changeable equipment

At the outset of the pandemic, the rapid change in safe serving standards impacted many facilities’ basic functions. Schools, hospitals, restaurants and more put away shared utensils to limit the number of frequently touched surfaces. Buffets and other self-serve scenarios were strictly off-limits in most cases.

A lot of traditional serving counters, with their stationary food shields and customer-centric orientation, often weren’t ready for the change and had to be retrofitted, sometimes in less than ideal ways (like one barbecue restaurant in South Carolina that improvised by stretching plastic wrap across the front of its buffet).

To make modifying series easier, operators should consider food shields that can be switched from self-serve to full-serve. Or be prepared with covers or other small tools that make it easy to use existing equipment to display and serve packaged foods, which can be picked up with no interaction between diners and workers.

Adapting to an everchanging dining landscape can make anyone wish for a functioning crystal ball, but foodservice leaders can boost their chances of being ready for whatever comes next by embracing adaptability and flexibility at every turn.

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