How are manufacturers responding to what’s happening behind the kitchen door?
What does the kitchen of the future look like? The answer is that it will look significantly different from the kitchen of today, as manufacturers and operators look to take advantage of new control technologies, IoT and Cloud capabilities.
But whereas the latest tech will capture the headlines and the sector’s imagination, many of the ‘traditional’ challenges refuse to disappear. Labour shortages, kitchen space, and the need to do more with less remain perennial problems for which the industry is seeking innovative solutions.
Much of the new generation of kitchen equipment coming to the market today is ‘connected’ in the sense that it takes maximum advantage of Bluetooth and WiFi communication networks to enable greater control.
This allows the equipment to self-diagnose and remotely send alerts to an operator’s mobile or smart device when, for example, the oil needs changing in the fryer, the chicken needs taking off the rotisserie or a freezer unit is not maintaining the correct temperature. This not only ensures the maximum ‘up-time’ and productivity of the equipment installed, but also identifies an early problem that could, potentially, develop into a more serious and costly crisis.
‘Smarter’ equipment is also helping overcome the labour challenge. Control panels that make maximum use of instantly-identifiable imagery and simple, step-by-step instructions make it easier for less skilled or international (i.e non-English speaking) workers to operate, regardless of the equipment type. It means that operators can focus training on more value-added areas, as well as creating a ‘right first time’ culture. It allows new or amended recipes to be instantly pushed out, enabling an operator to deliver consistent menus that has the twin advantage of maximising profitability while meeting customer demands.
Technology is also influencing the size and sophistication of the equipment being designed, manufactured and installed. Kitchens have downsized, but even where they haven’t, space is always of a premium. Every last square inch has to be catered for.
Advances in engineering have driven designers to find new space-saving solutions, which in turn has led to the development of multi-cook ovens (such as the new Vector® series from Alto-Shaam) that can cook up to four items all at once, at different temperatures, fan speeds and ready at different times. It has also seen the evolution of space-saving display cabinets and warmers, portable and compact food preparation tables, and miniature pizza ovens.
With a trend towards opening up the kitchens for public view, especially at various high-class restaurants, but also at fast-food outlets with menus geared towards ‘grab and go’, manufacturers are taking greater care in how their equipment looks, with the focus for it to be customer facing. The day of a featureless, character-less straight-edged box is not quite passed, but in certain scenarios at least, its day are arguably numbered.
The times, as a famous songwriter once penned, are ‘a changing’ but what never changes is the equipment manufacturers’ endeavours to rise to the next challenge they face.