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KITCHEN EQUIPMENT: OBSERVATIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE POND

Every two years the North American Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) organization hosts its premier event somewhere in the United States – the NAFEM Show – where manufacturers throughout North America display the latest and greatest foodservice equipment they have to offer.  On the other side of the pond, in Italy, there is another biennial event – the HOST show – where the latest and greatest European kitchen equipment is showcased, offering industry professionals an opportunity to “kick the tires.”  This past fall, these two tradeshows were held back-to-back in Atlanta and Milan, and I was fortunate to participate in both.  

Separated by less than a week, attending these two shows one right after the other highlighted clear similarities and differences between trends in the two regions.  I would like to briefly address the commonalities first, as analyzing the differences is far more revealing.  Generally speaking, walking around the more than 20 combined exhibit halls, just about everything I saw was “familiar.”  There were a few new, truly innovative products at both shows, but even these were often improvements within a pre-existing category.  In other words, there were some different style ranges with very unique features – but they were still ranges.  Pressurized braising pans had an increased presence and seemed to be growing in popularity – but they were an improved version of the familiar piece of equipment we have been using for decades.  I think you see my point.

The differences between equipment displayed at these two exhibitions, however, were more intriguing to me because I believe that they convey a great deal regarding trends, preferences, health codes, and priorities within each region.  Certain products – even product categories – that were on display in Atlanta could not be found in Milan; and the reverse was also true. The remainder of this column highlights some of the key divergences I observed between the goods on display at these two events.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • As a general rule, the European equipment featured a higher quality of fit and finish.  Craftsmanship of the equipment was typically superior to their North American counter parts.  The polishing, welding, corners, and overall design of the European equipment seemed to receive more attention and consideration.  The Europeans are more thoughtful about the design of their equipment, with a better understanding of how the equipment is actually utilized within commercial kitchens.
     
  • The European equipment featured a number of little details that had been carefully conceived to improve the European products’ function, cleanability, and durability.  Here are just a few examples of what I am referring to: Manual cranks for tilting equipment that featured a recessed handle which could be “stowed” when not in use; pre-determined access points within lids on kettles and braising pans to ensure that the fill faucet would not be damaged; a recessed griddle top to help keep food in one place, as opposed to raised shields on three sides (also much easier to keep clean).
     
  • The Europeans use far more induction tops.  A heavy duty induction range – built to match a full bodied range line – was a standard at the HOST show.  A similar piece of equipment could not even be found at NAFEM.
     
  • Food guards (also referred to as sneeze guards or breath shields) were a standard in the United States, and even the sole or primary product line for several manufacturers.  These items were much harder to find in Milan.  While they were incorporated into some of the buffet and serving equipment, they were far less prevalent.
     
  • Many of the cooking suites (pianos) on display in Milan featured an open bottom with no ovens or storage cabinets below.  While this does make cleaning much easier, I was a bit surprised given the limitations on space throughout Europe and traditionally smaller footprints for kitchens.
     
  • Speaking of smaller footprints, I saw range line-ups, complete with cabinet and oven bases, that were only 550mm deep (less than 24”).  This seemed to have some possible application for venues where variety is desired, but volume is low and space is at a premium.
     
  • The popularity of different cooking methods was evident in the equipment on display.  In Italy, combination oven-steamers have become the norm in what is now referred to as “vertical cooking.”  While combi-ovens, as they are commonly called, are continue to gain popularity in North America, they are not nearly as common as they are in Europe where nearly every corner bistro employs a combi-oven in the kitchen.  Conversely, charbroiling is still a very popular method for cooking in North America, but few charbroilers were exhibited at the show in Italy.
     
  • Due primarily to health code requirements in the US, temperature controlled food holding equipment was far more common at the NAFEM show.  More specifically, I am referring to equipment that is designed to hold food product – either hot or cold – that is ready for service.  Drop-in hot food wells, refrigerated cold pans, induction heated chafing dishes, and other such comparable equipment on display in Atlanta was specifically designed to hold food products either above 140F or below 40F.  The equivalent equipment in Italy did not focus meet the same temperature requirements.  This is most likely due to differences in code requirements and preparation methods.  I can only remember seeing one manufacturer in Milan showcasing hot food wells, and I did not see a single drop-in cold pan.  Frost tops were utilized in most of the cold serving equipment, a method which is slowly being phased out in the US. 
     
  • The European equipment placed far greater importance on limiting the usage of energy and water.  Of particular interest was a manufacturer of dish machines who has a worldwide presence.  During the show, they unveiled a new flight-type dish machine that can operate on just 50 gallons of water per hour.  This machine, however, is not available in North America; the comparable unit that is available uses approximately 400 gallons of water per hour.  

Within these observations there is a story being told.  Different regions have different requirements and priorities, which impact the design and function of their kitchen equipment.  What is important in one region may not be as important as another.  Cooking methods, local health codes, cuisine, manufacturing processes, and local customer expectations all work to shape the type and style of equipment being offered in each region.  

In my experience, the lines between European and North American foodservice practices are blurring more and more each day.  North American based hotel and restaurant brands are expanding globally while European culinary practices are being sought out more regularly throughout the United States as food preparation and consumption continue to play a more important role in everyday life.  Taking time to explore and consider practices from the other side of the ocean – regardless of which side you live on – could result in a few good ideas that might improve your operation. 

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HEY KERMIT, BEING GREEN IS GETTING EASIER (PART II)

In the last installment, I began to refute the well known claim made by Kermit the Frog that “it’s not easy being green.”  Actually, it is getting much easier with every passing moment.  It is becoming more popular.  Your guests are beginning to weigh your environmental philosophies when selecting a hotel or restaurant.  And, might I suggest that green initiatives can even be profitable.  

To briefly revisit my position, I believe that there are three key components to a green program for any hospitality or foodservice operation.  First, there are the operational practices and decisions.  Second, there are the building related practices which have been developed by other industries and which can be readily adopted.  And finally, there are the initiatives, both operational and building related, which are specific to the hospitality industry.  These are programs and practices that we must develop – because no one knows our industry better than we do.  In the first installment, I explored some simple operational initiatives.  This time, I want to explore initiatives related to the building and physical infrastructure.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel 
Nearly every restaurant and hotel has at least one thing in common – they are housed in a physical structure, a building of some sort.  Fortunately, there are experts who have been working for years to develop green building practices which consider the environmental impact of the initial construction phase as well as the upkeep and maintenance throughout the building’s life cycle.  These guidelines are the result of countless hours of work and research which can be readily adopted by the hospitality industry.  There is even an accreditation that has been established for professionals who are skilled in the specific art of helping to create environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings called LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  

Green initiatives that have already been established for other building types can be implemented for both new construction and renovation projects.  Below are just a few examples of green building practices that any foodservice or hospitality facility can implement.  Please note, however, that there are many others which can be found both on-line and in printed literature.  

  • Selection and use of energy efficient appliances
  • Use of sustainable building materials
  • Use of building materials that are derived from recycling of other products
  • Construction using materials that use reduced or no toxic chemicals in fabrication
  • Use of energy efficient light bulbs, such as compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Implementation of energy management systems that lower energy usage, especially during off-peal periods
  • Use of water conserving devices

Taking the Next Step
While the implementation of general green building practices is a great first step, to rely solely on these existing initiatives for foodservice and hospitality facilities would, in my opinion, be a half-hearted effort.  Our buildings are unique.  Specifically, per square foot (or square meter), commercial kitchens are one of the highest ranking users of energy.  Consider that according to the Green Restaurant Association’s “A Guide to Creating Environmentally Sustainable Restaurants and Kitchens,” the restaurant industry accounts for a disproportionate one-third of all retail energy use in the United States.  The same guide also indicates that restaurants produce an average of 50,000 pounds of garbage per year, of which 95% could be recycled or composted, and use nearly 300,000 gallons of water annually.

It is my belief that we need to begin looking at commercial kitchens in a completely different way – through green colored lenses, if you will.  We need to evaluate the kitchen as a complete system, carefully scrutinizing what is going in and what is coming out of our establishments.  Because our operations are so distinctive, we cannot simply rely on others to develop a system specific to our needs.  We know hospitality operations better than anyone else.  It is our responsibility to develop our own industry-specific green practices.  We must take the initiative, and we need to do it now.

Sounds Great, But I Need Specific Examples 
Okay, all of this may sound great in theory – but let’s talk in specifics.  What can we really do?  Where would we start?  How would we implement these new solutions?  These are all valid questions, so let me start the discussion right here, right now by proposing a few such initiatives:

Recycling:  It sounds so basic.  Many of us recycle at home, where it has become second nature.  But how many of us recycle in our restaurants?  Why should the restaurant be any different than your home, when the restaurant is generating far more waste?  It may be as simple as installing recycling bins, setting aside the space for them in the ware washing area, and training the staff.  This is an easy first step.

Packaging:  A significant portion of the waste generated by restaurants is from food packaging that has been discarded.  Cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, and plastic strapping all contribute this waste.  When was the last time that the operations community challenged the packaging decisions made by food manufacturers and purveyors?  A comprehensive evaluation of current packaging practices would yield better alternatives that could reduce the amount of waste, and potentially reduce waste related cost at time of purchase and discard.  The use of alternative packaging materials combined with new equipment that might be used to reduce the volume of packaging waste could save the environment and perhaps a few pennies at the same time.

Composting: With an estimated 50% of restaurant waste being food, it is quite shocking that composting programs have not become commonplace.  This raw food waste, if properly separated, would be quite valuable to growers.  Valuable enough, perhaps, that this waste might be removed for little or no cost, thereby reducing the volume and cost of standard waste removal.  Who knows – it may even be valuable enough for operators to get paid for their garbage!

Biodiesel: With the “green buzz” in the air and the rising cost of fuel in recent years, you have likely heard about cars which have been converted to run on spent restaurant oil.  Did we ever stop to think that there might be a way for us to use that spent oil instead of just giving it away – or even paying for its removal?  What if we were to develop an appliance that ran on spent oil?  Perhaps it is a water heater, a compressor, or a cooking appliance.  Consider that doing so would save energy usage and reduce waste and costs all at the same time.  This certainly sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

Energy Efficiency: There is no polite way to say this – modern day cooking equipment is incredibly inefficient.  A handful of manufacturers are focused on energy star ratings, but for now they are still in the minority.  Consider that the gas used by a six burner range with an oven base may have an hourly gas rating equivalent to two residential heating units.  US equipment manufacturers are some of the worst offenders, promoting quantity of BTU’s over efficiency and falling significantly behind their European counterparts.  In exploring energy efficiency, we need to look beyond more efficient ways to do what we are doing now.  We need to explore different ways to do what we are doing now.  

Energy Harvesting: Even with improved efficiency, nearly every piece of commercial foodservice equipment will still reject some energy, often in the form of heat.  Consider that gas fryers, quite common in kitchens throughout the United States, typically hover around 50% efficiency.  That means that roughly half of the energy these appliances require is being wasted, sent right up the exhaust hood.  Now let’s take it one step further and analyze the additional costs associated with this inefficiency.  The hood must exhaust the heat and effluent, which increases the quantity of air that must be removed.  When more air is removed, more air must be replenished, thus increasing the size of the fans and energy used.  It gets worse.  Often the fresh air entering the building must be conditioned (i.e. heated or cooled), which results in more energy usage.  This same snowball effect exists for nearly every appliance in the kitchen, impacting an operator’s costs to bring energy into the building as well as its removal after use.  Here is another example – fluorescent lighting.  Have you ever noticed that a solar calculator works just fine indoors, powered by fluorescent lighting?  This means that we are literally raining down energy in our buildings that could potentially be used for other purposes. 

Green(backs) Make Sense
These are just a handful of suggestions that could be further explored, and there are numerous other comparable initiatives.   But did you notice a common denominator with these proposed ideas?  In one form or fashion, they all yield potential cost savings for the operator.  By going green, you can actually save the environment and some money at the same time.  Further, those with an entrepreneurial spirit will identify business models that capitalize on the new opportunities created.  It is very simple – the greening of hotels and restaurants is happening.  It has already started.  So why not jump in and help develop these industry-specific initiatives?  What are you waiting for?

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HEY KERMIT, BEING GREEN IS GETTING EASIER (PART I)

With a melancholy melody in the background, our muppet friend shared with us through song that being green was not easy.  In fairness to Kermit the Frog, his plea may have been accurate back then.  But times have changed.  Being green is getting easier.  It is becoming more popular.  And, dare I suggest, it is even becoming profitable.  If you have not already noticed, the green movement has – to use a current buzzword – “tipped.”  Environmentally conscious policies are further penetrating the hospitality industry with every passing moment.  Hotels and restaurants alike are working to implement green practices.  Environmental sensitivity will have a profound effect on the way that hospitality facilities are designed, built, and operated over the next decade.  

Experts have concluded that humans are consuming one-third more natural resources and ecological services than the earth can regenerate in a sustainable manner.  In other words, we are running an ecological deficit.  It is time to further explore what we can do as members of the hospitality community to implement existing practices, and, where possible, take the initiative to develop new practices on our own.

Three-Legged Approach 
In my view, there are three key components to a green initiative for any hospitality and foodservice operation.  First, there are the operational practices and decisions.  Second, there are the building related practices which have been developed by other industries and which can be readily adopted.  And finally, there are the initiatives, both operational and building related, which are specific to the hospitality industry.  These are programs and practices that we as the hospitality industry must develop – because no one knows our industry better than we do.

In this installment, I want to focus on the first leg of this three-legged stool – operational practices.  I have chosen to incorporate a selection of facts that will likely convince you of the importance of this issue, and certain practices that you can implement immediately.  The next installment will address opportunities for exploring the hospitality environment, and developing our own industry-specific initiatives.

Operators - Could You Help Me Place this Call? 
The beauty of these operational initiatives is that they require little investment or modifications to existing facility for implementation.  They can be started almost immediately.  In conducting my own research, I came across a simple pamphlet from the Green Restaurant Association (www.dinegreen.com).  It costs only $10 USD and is full of interesting facts – many of which I will share with you here – that may help you better appreciate the importance of these green initiatives.  So, here are some suggested green practices for you to consider:

Reduce, re-use, and recycle:  The three “R’s,” as they are known, are classics, but their importance is underlined when you consider that the average restaurant in the US produces 50,000 pounds of garbage every year.  It is estimated that 95% of that trash can be recycled or composted, but is unnecessarily thrown away instead.  In 1997, a study found that less than 1% of disposable packaging in quick service restaurants was recycled.  Consider the financial impact that this has on an operation as food and beverage operations are actually paying for this waste twice – when it is purchased and when it is discarded.  

Purchase environmentally friendly paper products: Typical mills that use chlorine to bleach their paper products and produce the bright white napkins we have come to know and love use 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of fresh water per ton of paper pulp.  This water is contaminated in the process and discarded into the environment, often introducing harmful contaminants.  Chlorine free mills use only 2,000 gallons of water by comparison and do not introduce harmful toxins into the environment.  Purchasing non-bleached paper products or those with recycled post-consumer content can dramatically help the environment.

Phase out Styrofoam and other polystyrene products: Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene foam, is a non-biodegradable substance that is derived from petroleum.  The average American throws away 100 styrofoam cups every year.  Now consider that the average expected life of every one of those cups is 500 years, and that most waste management companies are not capable of recycling styrofoam.  This is a product that is subject to the price sensitivity of oil on the front end, cannot be recycled, and is often discarded shortly after use.  It is easy then to see why we should explore the elimination of Styrofoam in the hospitality industry – especially because viable alternatives for nearly every Styrofoam product already exist.  

Demand green practices from your purveyors: Your support of green initiatives need not start and stop at your back door.  Question your purveyors about their environmental standards to see what they are doing.  Are they purchasing local foods?  In the US, the average calorie travels 1,000 miles between farm and plate, which has a tremendous adverse effect on the environment.  Are the food producers that they are purchasing from implementing green standards on the farm?  In the western US, livestock grazing near rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, has introduced large and unnatural amounts of animal waste into the water, resulting in the degradation of water quality and local wildlife habitats.

Consider “green” menu selections: Even the selections on your menu can have an impact on the environment.  Organic food is not just for tree-hugging types anymore.  The reality is that organic food is what humans have grown for most their existence.  It is only in relatively recent history that we began using chemicals and unnatural products to enhance the appearance or yield of a particular crop.  This short-term benefit, however, has a long-term cost on both our environment and our bodies that is extremely detrimental.  

Did you realize that vegetarian dishes are actually better for the environment?  Raising red meat require twenty times the land required to raise grains, and causes far more water pollution and emission of greenhouse gases.  In another example of green menu practices, offering only sustainable fish species can help support the environment.  Scientists now contend that overfishing of certain species by humans may be the single largest factor impacting the health of our oceans.  It is perfectly normal to see a variety of “healthy” selections on a menu in a casual dining restaurant.  I see the day where another symbol, one indicating an environmentally conscious menu selection, will be as commonplace.  There is no need to modify an entire menu; offering a few green selections may be fine.  In fact, you may already have them on your menu – you just need to identify them and promote them to your patrons.

Evaluate the chemicals you use: Surprisingly, relatively little is known about the possible effects on human health from most of the 17,000 common chemicals used in hospitality and foodservice operations.  Further, the impact from using a combination of chemicals is even more uncertain.  From routine cleaning to pest management, consider the chemicals that you are using in your operation and see if there is an environmentally friendly alternative.

Reduce water usage: Kudos to the hoteliers who long ago placed signs in their guestrooms indicating that only the towels left on the floor would be replaced. Other towels could be hung up and used again.  What these hotel operators learned was this little secret – helping the environment can also save you money.  It can be a cost effective platform and simultaneously help reduce operational costs when implemented strategically.  Because the average restaurant utilizes 300,000 gallons of water per year, there are plenty of places to conserve.

Use alternative chafing fuels: Many of the chafing fuels used by operators emit similar byproducts to those which are emitted from the burning of diesel fuel.  It is estimated that roughly 30% of the candles on the market have core wicks that contain lead.  Now, consider that these byproducts are being released indoors, in a controlled environment not typically engineered to handle these pollutants.  Non-toxic fuels and electric chafing dishes can be considered as an alternative.

This Stuff is WAY Too Expensive 
Granted, some of the ecologically friendly products are more expensive – in the short term, anyways.  However, once you consider the “total” cost of many of the operational decisions discussed above, you will find that the green approach is often less expensive – in the long run.  Environmentally sensitive options are subject to the same laws of supply and demand that apply to other products.  

As demand increases, so will the number of green alternatives.  Manufacturers will begin to see that there is profitability potential in the segment, and then begin to shift their resources towards the development and marketing of environmentally friendly products.  In fact, this is already happening.  Have you joined the effort, or are you still sitting on the sidelines?

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DESIGN WITH A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

During the last several years I have had the privilege of working on an increased number of international foodservice design projects. With projects throughout North America, Central America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, regular exposure to different cultures, customs, health requirements, and operational preferences has allowed us to maintain a truly global perspective. 

A wide variety of geographical conditions that must always be considered also forces us to maintain an open mind and remain flexible with our approach. As a result, we often become the catalyst for cross-pollinating ideas from one region to another. In this installment, I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few of the more interesting design requirements to which we have been exposed. You may find them intriguing - no matter where your operation is located.

No Boxing Allowed
While working on a project in the Middle East, we learned of a local regulation that required all food products to be removed from their original packaging, washed where applicable, and stored in approved food transportation containers before entering the facility. The original packaging must be discarded and was not permitted into the main building under any circumstances. I must admit that I had never considered such an operational requirement, but it made complete sense from the moment I learned of it. 

If you think about how food is typically transported, the food is protected by the outside packaging - perhaps a cardboard box or a plastic bag. But doesn't the outside packing often get wet, attract dirt, or in some other fashion become exposed to "undesirable elements?" And since this is often the case, why would we then volunteer to store the food, in contaminated packaging, inside the walk-in cooler, freezer, or dry storage room? With an ever increasing focus on food safety, wouldn't a ban on outside packaging within a food storage room make sense? After all, cross contamination is the leading cause of foodborne illness. By regulating a ban on outside packaging in the food storage areas, the integrity of the facility's food safety program is significantly enhanced. 

Where this is not a requirement, the operator always has the option to implement the standard as an operating procedure. In fact, a well respected and world renowned operator that we work with has done just that. They have implemented breakdown stations for cleaning and re-packaging directly adjacent to the receiving dock, regardless of whether the local authority has such a requirement. This offers a valuable lesson. Operators need not wait for the local authorities to impose regulations. Through the sharing of local mandates and operational procedures, hospitality operators all over the world have the unique opportunity to learn from one another and proactively improve upon their own way of doing things. 

A Step Above the Rest
While reviewing pictures from an existing hotel in a region where we had begun working, I noticed that the chef and management offices within the kitchen footprint were raised approximately one foot above the main floor. The light bulb light up over my head. Of course! The first thing I considered was the fact that this level change would help keep food waste and water out of the offices and make the adjacent area easier to clean. The second thing I realized was the office, when properly placed within the main kitchen, would have improved visibility for security and general observation. I had never considered raising the office before primarily because most jurisdictions in the United States would oppose such a design. Still, there is a great deal of validity to the design technique. 

Separate Spaces, Separate Places
Some cultures require the strict separation of food types, which is based largely in religious custom. But even if religious practice is not the underlying driver, doesn't complete separation make a whole lot of sense? In the Unites States, food safety regulations either suggest or require the use of separate cutting boards, utensils, and specific storage arrangements to promote separation and safe food handling. But wouldn't physical separation be even better? And not just from a food safety standpoint, but from a food quality standpoint. 

Some regions, where separation by food type is mandated, require separate rooms and refrigeration units for vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, and pork. These rooms are completely separated, each with their own entrances, and in no way come in contact with one another. Again, there seems to be validity to this practice, whether on a small scale or larger scale, even where separation is not a regulated requirement.

Don't Drink the Water
On one project in Africa, I had made the mistake of showing a standard soda system, which mixes local water with carbon dioxide and soda syrup to produce the beverages that we are all familiar. Quickly, I was directed to remove the soda systems by the hotel's food and beverage director. The water in the local area simply was not safe enough to drink. Sodas and other beverages were all served from a bottle or can which allowed for better control and ensured a safe product for the consumer. This was an instance that underlines the importance of exploring local conditions in a region, and then considering the impact results from such an exploration might have. 

So Much in Common
Despite all of the regional differences, the one thing that has amazed me most when working on projects internationally is the fact that design of food and beverage facilities truly is a universal language. I find it astounding that a design team comprised of members from Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East all share a common language. We look at a particular design and can see similar things. The objectives of designing a commercial hospitality facility are surprisingly consistent from one culture to another. 

Our collaboration and experience from working in different regions produces remarkable results. Shortly after I began working with project teams that featured a greater international composition, I was reassured when I presented a design concept to an architect based half way around the world. Immediately following my review of a proposed layout, he replied by stating "well, that makes total sense. Let's make the necessary changes to incorporate your design." 

In parting, I would encourage you to seek out operators from other regions and other cultures to see what they do differently. Perhaps they will be able to offer you an idea or two that will significantly improve your operation. But trust me on this - the differences you find will be minimal in scope, because all of us in the hospitality industry have developed a unique and universal language.

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THE SIMPLEST KITCHEN ON EARTH

Last summer, my family and I spent a week vacationing in the Rocky Mountain resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado. After a long day's journey, my children, then six and two years of age, were exhausted. They woke early, tolerated two planes that carried them half way across the United States, and then finally endured a ninety minute car ride before we reached our destination. We quickly dropped off our luggage and immediately left in search of somewhere to eat. We needed something simple and quick. The kids were fading fast.

Witness to an Operations Miracle
We found a local restaurant on main street called Rasta Pasta. They had a variety of pasta dishes. The restaurant is small, about 60 seats, but the menu seemed to offer a few dishes that were kid friendly and we were not in the mood for a restaurant scavenger hunt. Just as we had finished reviewing the menu posted outside, it started to rain. We headed inside and were seated in the restaurant which was a little less than one-third full at the time. But with the rain came an onslaught of patrons. By my estimation, there were about thirty people who were seated at the same time. I began to cringe.

There I was with a tired family in a small restaurant. Thirty patrons seated simultaneously. A very small kitchen. Only two servers were on the floor. For those of you with hospitality experience, you can appreciate the mental math that was going through my head. I could not figure out how they were going to pull this off, and to be honest I did not give them very good odds of doing so. I braced for the worst, keeping the kids entertained to the best of my ability, and then hoped for the best as I watched the two servers go to work. 

Our salads and garlic bread arrived quickly, as they were prepared in advance. That helped to keep the grumbling tummies in order for a few minutes. With the kids content, my attention began to shift more towards the actions of the two servers and two cooks. The servers moved through the restaurant with incredible precision, while the cooks were busy but not out of control. My attention bounced from family to restaurant staff, back and forth. Within just ten minutes, our food had arrived. I thought we were fortunate to get our meals first, but when I scanned the restaurant, nearly every patron already had their entrée. It truly was an operational miracle, or was it?

Dissecting a Miracle
When our server had delivered food to all of her tables, she checked back to ask us "so, how is everything. Is there anything I can get you?" My response caught her off guard. "That was a thing of beauty," I told her. I then had to explain my hospitality background and congratulate her and the rest of the restaurant's staff on their recently completed performance. And a fine performance it was. Thirty people fed in just over ten minutes in an a la carte, full service restaurant. 

Before leaving, I took a closer look at the "kitchen." This was the piece of the puzzle that pushed my astonishment over the top. The entire equipment package consisted of two countertop six burner ranges, a single six-foot refrigerated preparation table, and a conveyor toaster. That was it. End of story. Being the sick, hospitality geek that I am, I arranged a time to return the following day to the restaurant, during off-peak hours, and interview the manager to find out just how they did it. I wanted to know how they made it work. 

The interview was great and incredibly enlightening, because the system was so simple. They had implemented terrific menu planning and cross utilization of product. They had developed a menu of hot entrées that could all be prepared in a similar manner - by sauté on the range. They prepared cold entrée salads from the same refrigerated preparation table used to support the hot a la carte station. The salads were pre-made and the garlic bread was run constantly. With just three pieces of cooking equipment and a refrigerator on the line, they were able to offer incredible service. 

And not to be overlooked, I believed that the attitude of the staff played an essential role in the restaurant's ability to perform. Let me give you one quick example. During my interview with the restaurant manager, I asked what they did when the single conveyor toaster went down. How would they produce their garlic bread? He said that they were pretty fortunate. The toaster was extremely reliable and did not go down much - maybe once or twice in a season. Usually, he shared, damage to the toaster was a result of an impatient server poking the conveyor to try and get their bread out quickly and, in the process, destroying one of the heating elements. "What would you do then?" I asked as a follow up question. I was then informed by the manager that there were three simple steps to remedy the situation.

First, he would berate the server (half jokingly, half seriously) for being so impatient. Second, he would take an unused sheet pan and throw it on top of the back burners, which were raised, on one of the countertop ranges. Finally, when the shift was over, he would spend thirty minutes unsuccessfully trying to find the element he ordered before season for an event such as this before giving up and calling a service technician to repair the unit. I think you see what I mean by attitude playing an important role. The staff all took their jobs seriously enough, but not too seriously.

Lessons from the Miracle
So what can we learn from this dining experience? Plenty. But there are two primary lessons that I derived. Let's start with the menu planning. The restaurant featured a menu and an equipment mix, despite being limited, that worked well together in total harmony. Both cooks could work on hot or cold entrées at the same time. The method of production was similar for most dishes. The cross utilization of food ingredients had been well conceived. When the menu and the equipment mix are not in harmony, seamless production is a near impossibility.
The next lesson has to do with the planning process as well - planning and design of the restaurant. What helped their success was thinking through the operation during the initial restaurant planning process, but not over-thinking. 

Some of the clients I have worked with in the past insist that the kitchen will "never work" unless they have every single piece of equipment they can conceive in exactly the right place. I am not sure I agree with this, as kitchens always evolve, and often do so between the time the design is completed and the time the restaurant opens. Then, I have had other clients that have not thought through their operation enough before engaging in the planning and design of their facilities. This is not good either. I do not mean to sound like Goldie Locks, but the level of planning needs to be just right. Think through the operation, but don't over-think. Keep things simple and logical. Whether in a quick service environment or a five star luxury resort, just the right amount of planning will increase the likelihood for success exponentially.

 

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SET UP YOUR SERVERS FOR SUPER SERVICE

When you get right down to the basics of any design effort for a foodservice establishment, the same objective exists with each and every project: design an efficient and effective system to prepare and deliver food and beverage to the guest. That's it. Nothing too fancy. But it is much easier said than done. 

In previous columns, I have focused heavily on design techniques within the back-of-house. But design techniques in the front-of-house, specifically those related to service, are equally dependent on both design and execution. Unfortunately, many overlook the importance of design as part of the service equation, and attribute the service performance almost exclusively to operational execution. In this column, we will take a look at some front-of-house design techniques that can help promote quality service. To clarify, I want to focus on the functional aspect of the front-of-house, not the aesthetics. Although good design cannot ensure good service, bad design will almost always result in bad service.

Designing for Service: The Basics
One of the primary rules in designing an efficient front-of-house is to make sure that the service staff meets the kitchen team (cooks, dish washers, etc.) where ever necessary, but they never cross paths. Any conflicting flow patterns, where the movement of back-of-house and front-of-house staff overlap, are disasters waiting to happen. Accidents, employee injury, breakage, slower service, and lower morale are all potential outcomes. Design should start with the general flow patterns of both food and product. When travel patterns are used as the basis of the overall layout, these potential "danger zones" are reduced or completely eliminated.

Another important rule of thumb in designing for effective service requires the designer to study the service sequence. The steps of service should be identified and used as a guide for the front-of-house planning and design effort. Common activities for servers include order entry, food pick-up, food delivery, beverage service, bussing (in some cases), and drop-off at ware washing. Consolidating the areas associated with these functions will help reduce the distance of travel. All necessary support equipment, ranging from coffee brewers to refrigeration, must be grouped together wherever possible. Reducing the distance of travel promotes efficient service and frees up time for the server to spend in support of their guests. The ability for a server to move easily between these functions, in any order, will result in better service.

Positioning Your POS System(s)
While the points listed above are what I consider to be the basics of designing for efficient service, there are other design techniques that, when implemented, can further enhance the service system. First, let's look at the point of sale (POS) location(s). When a POS system is located near the food pick-up area, it requires servers to walk by the food pick-up window on a regular basis. This promotes more frequent food delivery, as a manager or expediter will ask servers to run food in the window whether it is for their tables or not. This scenario encourages a team environment, with servers learning to look out for one another. 

Another school of thought is that the POS terminals should be located remotely, closer to the dining room. When this occurs, the servers can enter orders and "fire" their next courses quickly. It tends to promote better management of the dining experience, and often provides the server a greater level of control. There is, of course, the possibility of combining these two theories and locating POS systems in both locations - near the food pick-up window and in the dining rooms, depending on the number of POS systems required.

Though they have been on the market for several years now, wireless POS entry devices (often a modified PDA) are becoming more attractive with better durability, greater capabilities, and lower costs. When a wireless POS entry system is installed, each server is provided with a wireless device that they can use to manage their orders - enter, fire, and in some cases close out checks and accept credit cards. I will be honest. I did not fully understand the impact of these wireless systems until l experienced them myself, first hand. What they really do is ensure a well timed dining experience. Let me share with you an example of what I mean.

Assume for a moment that a server has two 4-top tables, both of which are full. The first table is in the midst of enjoying their appetizers while the second is just beginning to place their order. The server, however, stumbles upon an indecisive patron who can't seem to make up his mind. Our server, who does not want to be rude, is forced to remain engaged with the guest while he makes up his mind when an offer to return in a few minutes is rejected. At the very same time, our server notices that her other table is now finishing their appetizers and will soon be ready for their entrées. She needs to fire the next course, but can't break free. 

With a normal POS station, the server would remain at the mercy of our indecisive guest. When a wireless POS entry system is implemented, however, the server is able to multi-task. She can fire the next round of entrées for her second table without ever breaking a connection with the indecisive patron at the first table. The service steps are seamless, and the guest is completely unaware. Overall service quality is improved. Though there are other attractive features of these wireless devices, their impact on the pace of service seems to be the most impressive. 

Transparent Service
Transparency is typically the goal of food and beverage service. Think about it. If the guest has everything that they need, then they really won't have to engage their server during the course of a meal except perhaps to answer the obligatory "how is everything?" question. From a design perspective, there are some techniques that we can use to assist with this transparency. Consider service stations in the dining room. When located and configured properly, the server can keep an eye out on their patrons without appearing to hover. Also, the type of equipment located in these service stations can impact the guest's experience. Is there a coffee brewer, or just a warmer for coffee brewed elsewhere in the restaurant? What are the sight and sound impacts that this equipment will have on the dining environment?

In the dining room, the seating configuration will create the aisles and passages used by the servers to travel throughout the restaurant. These aisles are an incredibly important component of the service function. When I design a seating layout, I always work to ensure that there are two ways in or out of any part of the dining room, whenever possible. This prevents traffic jams and allows the servers to move more freely through the dining room. It also helps with service transparency, as servers are better able to maneuver around guests that may be in the way.

Finally, there is a technique that I use to design service bar stations that again is based in this idea of transparency. Remote, dedicated service bars are great, but require space and labor that many operations simply cannot afford. As a result, many bar service stations are physically connected to a main bar. In most cases, however, the pick-up station is directly adjacent to customer seating, inevitably exposing the customer to banter by the service staff that is often inappropriate. 

At best this is intrusive and distracting. At worst this is extremely offensive and off-putting to the guest. To combat this scenario, I strive to create a physical separation between the guest and service area. In some cases, I am even able to tie the bar pick-up area to a service station. This has been a successful tactic, especially in country clubs, where members will want to linger at the bar. A service bar and pick-up window can be located on the back of the bar to completely separate the service function from the guest's experience.

Any of these simple techniques can greatly improve the quality of service in your foodservice establishment. If quality service is expected, then the front-of-house must be designed to support each step in the service sequence. Take a few minutes to analyze your facility and see if you are set up for great service.

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CONSISTENT HEALTH CODE ENFORCEMENT? YOU BET!

I started my day early, boarding a plane knowing that after a full day of flying and meetings I would eventually end up in the gambling capital of the world later that evening - Las Vegas. Now, I am not a big gambler. It seems that every time I place a bet, I lose. This is probably a good thing, as losing consistently makes it hard for me to even envision the possibility of winning at the tables and likely has saved me a lot of money over the years. But despite my limited affection for betting, recently I have found myself spending more and more time at the tables gambling - the drafting table, that is. 

Go Fish!
In the game of poker, as is the case with many other card games, a key aspect of the game's strategy is to anticipate or determine the cards held by the other players. This is even the case with some of the most basic card games, like "Go Fish" which I play with my six-year-old son. "Do you have any Twos," he may ask. "Go Fish," I respond. Why do I bring this up? Because designing kitchens for restaurants, hotels, country clubs, universities, health care facilities, and other such facilities these days to comply with local health departments often resembles a game of "Go Fish." It has become very difficult to anticipate the requirements of the local health inspector.

Code compliance seems like it should be something that is pretty cut and dry, but this is unfortunately not the case. I am not even talking about the differences in code requirements from one jurisdiction to another. Rather, I am focusing on interpretation of the code which is often left to the individual inspector at the local level, and can result in inconsistent enforcement. This may not be the case all of the time, but it does seem to be a growing problem that can impact the design process and, in the end, the owner's bottom line. While our designs comply with the FDA regulations, interpretations at the local level have become the "X" factor, more frequently resulting in additional costs to the owner and construction delays.

A Sinking Feeling
So, why am I fired up about this? Well, let me give you a few tangible examples. First let's look at the required locations for a hand sink, which should be relatively simple to figure out. In my experience, however, there is little consistency in the enforcement of hand sink locations. The code talks about hand sinks needing to be "readily accessible" but what does that mean? The way the code is drafted leads to a variety of interpretations. 

Some say that there needs to be a hand sink, generally speaking, within twenty feet of a food handling area. Others, however, have told me that it is fifteen feet, not twenty feet. On one project, the inspector's review revealed that we were short five hand sinks in a restaurant kitchen of about 1,800 square feet. This did not include the seven hand sinks that had already been provided. By the time the restaurant opened, there were more hand sinks than kitchen staff. Seriously. 

In another instance, I had a hand sink strategically located between two adjacent areas in a hotel kitchen. These two areas were split by a walkway. Upon review, the inspector determined that the aisle would be subject to significant traffic (even though it was not a primary access in the kitchen), and therefore the single hand sink was not "readily accessible" to both areas. In the inspector's opinion, the "constant traffic" would deter the culinary staff from washing their hands as frequently as was required. Based on this interpretation, the owner was forced to provide two hand sinks, one on either side of the aisle - just five feet apart. 

In yet another hand sink interpretation conflict, I had what I believed to be a sufficient number of hand sinks for a restaurant kitchen, all with fifteen feet or less of the prep areas. The comments following this submission, however, revealed that not only did this inspector want the hand sinks to be "readily accessible," but they also had to be within a clear, unobstructed line of sight from anywhere within the food preparation areas. In one instance, a hand sink was only 24" from a cooking line, but, in the inspector's opinion, did not comply because it was around a corner and not visible from all of the food preparation area. This was yet another interpretation of the code which resulted in a cost impact to the owner. Hand sinks were relocated and added to meet the demands of the inspector.

What Else is in the Cards?
These types of instances are by no means limited to hand sinks. There are plenty of other examples. Upon submitting an outside bar for approval, I was recently informed by one particular inspector that three compartment sinks were no longer permitted in outside bars. Surprised by this new regulation, I called the state's main office to confirm the requirement, only to receive differing feedback from two different officials. Finally, I reached the head of the department who confirmed the new ban. She could not, however, point me to a single document that identified this new regulation. 

After inquiring why a method for sanitizing wares in a remote location had been prohibited, I learned that the ban resulted from a concern about keeping the three compartment sink sanitary in an outdoor environment. The health department officials were worried that bugs and vermin might contaminate the very vessel that was intended to sanitize glasses, plates, and utensils. The concern seemed reasonable, but the resolution was short sighted. 

"Instead of eliminating a three compartment sink, why not require that all three compartment sinks located outside have covers when not in use," I inquired. This code interpretation would also have impacts elsewhere in a foodservice establishment. If the three compartment sink was banned outdoors, what about the hand sink? Isn't the hand sink also designed to sanitize? And then there was the impact on inside bars. Some inspectors have indicated that a dish machine is sufficient within a bar area, while others have required a three (or four) compartment sink. But if the three compartment sink was not required outside, why would it be required inside? My line of questioning was not well received. These are the inconsistencies which leave owners and designers baffled. 

The challenges in meeting the expectations of an inspector are not limited to the design phase. A client of ours who recently opened a central catering commissary ran into problems with his local health official during an opening inspection. The commissary was designed with three dish machines and an oversized three compartment sink - plenty of capacity to clean, rinse, and sanitize the soiled wares that would be produced. During the inspection, however, it was revealed that one of the purveyor supplied dish machines was not reaching the proper temperature. 

The inspector threatened to fail the owner because of the problems with this one dish machine, despite the fact that the other machines were working just fine. The owner even offered to disable the machine so that no one could use it, but that was not good enough for the inspector - at least initially. With a full slate of catering events over the next three days, the owner was over a barrel. He begged and pleaded, and eventually the inspector allowed him to open, provided that the machine was disabled until it was repaired. With sufficient ware washing capacity elsewhere in the same facility, why was this even an issue?

We Are All on the Same Team
There are countless other examples I can share, but this installment is already running long. It is my belief that the inspectors, owners, designers, and contractors are all on the same team. We all want the same thing - to ensure that foodservice facilities are developed to best protect the interests of the general public. In some instances, the codes are ambiguous. In other instances, interpretations by the inspectors are just that - interpretations. What we need is consistency based in practical, real-world scenarios. It would be advantageous for the health inspectors to set up an advisory panel comprised of foodservice operators. This would have several important benefits, including operator buy-in and input, which in turn would lead to better understanding and application of the principles behind the codes. Until that time, I will be at the table gambling - the drafting table, that is - to figure out what is in the inspector's hand.

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SYMPTOM SOLVING VS. PROBLEM SOLVING

I began strolling towards the front door of a waterfront restaurant, already in operation for years, at about 10 minutes before my meeting was scheduled to start. Like clockwork, all of the design team members started to file in and our meeting began at 10:00am sharp. We initiated the get-together with an introduction of the team members and quick review of initial concept drawings and renderings that had been completed to date. Several conversations ensued, as did questions regarding the design. We broke from the initial part of our session and began to walk the facility as part of our site evaluation, when we stopped in front of the display kitchen.


Often, as part of my information gathering effort, I will ask a client "if you had three wishes to improve this facility, what would they be?" This is a technique I picked up from a colleague long ago. Without hesitation, the operators unanimously agreed that they needed more heat lamps for staging meals in the pick-up window. And before they could finish this request for additional heat lamps, puzzling music began playing in the background. Wavy lines blurred the room - just like a television show transition. I soon found myself in a totally new wardrobe, dressed like Sherlock Holmes. Pipe, hat, and all. Another mystery had fallen in my lap. There was a need for additional heat lamps, but why? Fortunately, I had solved similar cases before. 

Today's Episode: Heat Lamp Hysteria
I have heard this request from other operators, and, just like the previous instances, this plea for additional hot holding space sent up a red flag in my mind. Let me show you why. First, let's look at the real purpose of these heat lamps. These heated elements, which typically hang or are mounted above the pick-up window, are designed to keep appetizers and entrées warm after they have been plated, but before they have been delivered to the guest's table. The time that a plate spends below the heat lamps should be minimal. In fact, in a perfect world, heat lamps might not even be required, as the food would be delivered to the guest immediately after it was prepared. A request for more heat lamps would indicate that additional space was required for staging dishes between plating and service, and that the time between delivery and service would likely be increased as well. 

This is an opportune time to share with you one of the most valuable lessons that I ever learned in college: there is a huge difference between a symptom and a problem. The difficult task is identifying which is which. Often times, what we believe to be a problem is really just a symptom of a much larger problem. Solving a symptom will usually not solve a problem. Rather, if the root problem remains unsolved, additional symptoms can pop up - which we may mistake for another problem. Seem a little confusing? Think of a weed in the yard that grows tall above the rest of your grass. When the lawn is mowed, the weed may seem to disappear, as the visible portion of this backyard invader is no more. However, you and I both know that the root of the weed is still there. In time, the root weed will grow again. 

In order to solve the root problem (a little pun - see where I was going with this whole "weed" analogy?), we need to kill the weed at the root. Once the root is eliminated, the weed cannot grow again. In other words, solving the problem eliminates the chance for additional symptoms to occur, but not vice versa. Taking another look at the need for additional heat lamps, was a shortage of heated storage for items in limbo between preparation and service really the problem, or was it the symptom of a much bigger problem? That was the real question, and one I would seek to answer.

The Investigation
There were numerous possible problems that could be leading to what I believed was, in fact, a symptom - a requirement for additional heat lamps. Here are just a few scenarios that could have led to this perceived need:
- The kitchen might have the wrong equipment.
- The kitchen might have the right equipment, but in the wrong location.
- The menu mix might be overloading one station, slowing down production from this portion of the kitchen and holding back the rest of the order.
- Disproportionately fast or slow production from any of the stations on the cooking line could also be holding up orders in the pick-up window.
- There could be a problem with the expediter.
- The problem could stem from the service staff. They could be unnecessarily burdened with extra steps, as a result of an inefficient facility, left with little time to keep tabs on the food in the window. Additionally, the staff may not be trained to deliver food residing in the window, regardless whether it is for their customer or not.

The real problem could exist as a result of the facility's configuration, the operational team, or a combination of the two. But I am confident, based on previous experience, that having too few heat lamps was not the problem. 

A couple of years ago, I was having dinner in a restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant had about 185 total interior seats, a full bar, and roughly 30 seats outside. Being the restaurant geek that I am, I seized the opportunity to sit at one of the two dining counters on the perimeter of the display kitchen. The a la minute line was about the size that I would have expected, and really featured what I would consider to be a standard equipment mix. The real surprise was in the pick up area. There was a counter top, about 60" long, situated between the two dining counters. I was more amazed by what was not there. There was no double overshelf. There were no heat lamps. Just the 60" counter. 

Amazingly, each and every order came out together, in its entirety, and sat on the pick-up counter for no more than 60 seconds before being picked up and delivered by one of the service staff. Intrigued by this display of efficiency, I asked to speak with the manager and ask why they decided to abandon the typical pickup configuration and how he was able to execute service with such efficiency. He explained that the pickup counter had been strategically placed to ensure that the servers would constantly be walking by, and all servers were trained to run any items sitting on the counter to the appropriate table, whether it was their table or not. Granted, this would not have been possible if the kitchen had not been properly designed, the culinary staff were not delivering all items in perfect synchronization, and the expediter were not conducting this effort with the efficiency of leading an orchestra. Nevertheless, I was observing a fine tuned machine working in full harmony.

Defining the Problem
Feeling as though I had missed part of the conversation while all of these thoughts were whirling through my mind, I re-engaged in the discussion with the five members of the operating team who were standing before me and the adjacent display kitchen. With each of them awaiting my thoughts on their request for additional heat lamps, I advised them that "there might be a need for more heat lamps, but there is also the possibility that the need for additional room to stage between preparation and service might be the symptom of a much larger problem." Sensing their intrigue, I elaborated on my hunch, and indicated that we would conduct our detective work during the course of the pending design process. 

I would challenge you to consider whether the problems that you face on a daily basis are truly problems, or merely symptoms. If they are only symptoms, identifying and solving the true problems will be the next task at hand.

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IF GOLDIE LOCKS WAS A DEVELOPER

Goldie Locks was quite selective, one of the pickiest fairy tale characters ever. She had no tolerance for anything that was too hot or too cold, too big or too small, too firm or too soft. She wanted everything to be just right. You know what? Goldie Locks may have been on to something. Hospitality developers should be just as picky. 

The development industry is humming these days. Most of the design and construction world is pretty busy. This is the result of several factors, including, but not limited to, relatively low interest rates, a strong global economy, and new methods of financing projects such as the recent popularity of condo-hotels. 

And while we are in the midst of a very positive climate for development, the increased number of projects currently under development means that owners (and owner's representatives) have to pay particularly close attention to the progress of their own projects. One way that an owner can accomplish this is to monitor the pace of the design and construction process. A project that moves at just the right speed will yield a better end result, and likely save the owner some money at the same time.

Not Too Fast
About half of the projects I have been associated with over the past couple of years have had time frames which were unrealistically aggressive. Having held the role of owner myself in the past, I understand the ever-pressing urgency that owners feel to speed up the development process. I also understand that there are certain business factors, which the owner may not always be able to control, that can impact the development schedule. However, there is a threshold that, once crossed, negatively impacts the entire development effort. Fast-tracking is okay. Derailing is not. 

In many cases, the schedules I have received did not accurately consider the time required for each task listed. More importantly, these schedules often did not consider the impact that each task would have on other disciplines or development milestones. In other words, each task seemed to be considered independently, not collectively. 

For instance, while independent completion dates might allow all work to be completed, the absence of a comprehensive joint review would increase the likelihood of errors and poor coordination between the various team members. As a foodservice designer, we typically need to complete our work in advance of any stated deadlines so that the engineers have time to incorporate and coordinate the information we provide. Sometimes, the schedules we receive do not allow for this "luxury," which is not really a luxury at all.

Does the owner have ample time to conduct a review of their own, and coordinate their findings with the operations of development teams? In one instance, there was a very large project that only allowed an owner three days for a full review. The end result was that the owner discovered many of the coordination items after the allotted time period. This led to expensive changes during construction and delays of the project. As I have preached before, design is a linear process. It is like a razor blade. If you go one direction, everything is fine. If you go in the wrong direction, it can be rather painful. 

There is another common symptom of projects that move too fast. Though a schedule may dictate that the process is at a certain stage, the development effort has a pace which it cannot physically exceed. In other words, just because a schedule requires the completion of Design Development drawings, and the team issues a package labeled 100% Design development, it does not mean that the drawing status actually matches the label on the front page. 

Citing yet another recent project, the team issued a set of Design Development documents that were incomplete. But the derailing did not stop there. The schedule had dictated for the team to be well into construction documents, but in reality we were still working out design issues that had not been completed. I explained to the owner that regardless of what the schedule called stated, the actual status was determined by the activities of the team.

Not Too Slow
With all of this focus on not going to fast, it might seem like a wise idea to slow way down and go slow. Actually, there is a danger in proceeding too slowly as well. When this occurs, the owner often loses the attention, commitment, and focus of the development team. Whether it is a design team that is delayed or a contractor that pulls off of a job site, these sorts of disruptions to the natural flow of a project are usually detrimental. Besides, there are hidden costs to "remobilizing" that are often overlooked. 

When a development team is engaged and a project remains current, the entire team is focused. That is when the ideas come out and the best coordination occurs. Conversely, a project that goes too slow or is delayed for a long time can lose that same focus from the development team. Other more pressing projects may take precedence and require greater attention. The energy spent on your project may be redirected, and spent elsewhere. Critical details associated with the project may fall through the cracks. Previously completed work may become outdated, needing to be scrapped and started again from scratch. Each of these scenarios can lead to further time delays and additional costs that must be absorbed by the owner.

Just Right
The development team is like a car. It has the ability to get you from point A to point B, but without a driver the car will sit idle, and all of that potential will remain stationary and untapped. If we explore this analogy a little further, it is the driver that must control both the direction (steering) and the speed (gas or accelerator) of the car. The owner, or the owner's representative, has similar responsibilities in the development process, needing to carefully monitor the direction and speed of the development team. So if you are in the midst of a development project, or are considering one, be prepared to get in the driver's seat, buckle up, and drive your team safely. Oh, and before you buckle in, you may want to re-read Goldie Locks and the Three Bears … just as a refresher. Goldie Locks was on to something.

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SMART BUSINESS DECISIONS, BY DESIGN

Two women walked into a restaurant equipment showroom. No, this is not a really bad joke. It is a true story. Full of energy and excitement, they were planning to open a new restaurant and had done some homework on the equipment they thought might be required. It is a common place for aspiring restaurateurs to begin the development process. They had an equipment flyer full of notes, circled items, and folded pages that had clearly been well used.

As they entered the store, they asked to speak with someone about the design of their new restaurant. That is when they met me, and the conversation took a turn that they never expected. These well-intentioned women started showing me each piece of equipment that they had selected. They were quite confident about the options and finishes that they would need. But in reality, they were far less prepared than they realized. I allowed them to finish sharing their equipment selections, and then explained that I wanted to focus on some questions that were not directly related to the design of their new restaurant. Here are the questions I asked, and the answers I received.

Question: Are you planning to lease a location for this new restaurant?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Have you signed the lease yet?

Answer: No.

Question: How long is the term of the lease the landlord is offering you?

Answer: One year.

Question: What kind of tenant improvement (TI) allowance is the landlord offering?

Answer: None. I did not know that was an option.

Question: What type of business last occupied the space?

Answer: A bookstore.

With this information I abruptly blurted out "Don't Do It!" before one of the kind women could even finish her last answer. I had heard enough. These two women were shocked, to say the least, and had a look of bewilderment that they found difficult to shed. They were clamoring for a more detailed answer and an understanding of why I wanted to squash their dream with such conviction. After all, they came in asking about design and equipment, not leases and TI allowances. They, unfortunately, did not see what I saw.

The Stop Sign
Restaurant development can be tricky, particularly for first timers like these two women. It was clear that they had never developed a restaurant before. In a nutshell, this is what I read from the situation. The space was previously a bookstore, not a restaurant. That meant that there was a significant amount of building improvements that would be required to support a restaurant. The underground plumbing system would have to be added, the electrical system upgraded, and the HVAC modified to accommodate the new hood system. There was a lot of work to do. 

With no offer of TI dollars for building improvements from the landlord to offset some of the construction costs, the tenant would have to pick up all expenses for the building modifications. Finally, the one year lease option would place all of the funds utilized for building improvements at tremendous risk, many of which would be permanent and not transportable. 

It was pretty clear to me that the landlord did not believe that these women would succeed. This was evidenced by the offer that the landlord presented. Furthermore, he was placing nearly all of the risk on his potential tenants. If the restaurant were to succeed, the landlord would win because he would have a tenant at desirable rates and bumps in the rent scheduled to follow a very short initial term. 

If, on the other hand, the restaurant were to fail in the short term, the landlord would win once again. With a building full of recent improvements and an infrastructure required to support a restaurant - funded by the tenant - the landlord would be free to lease the upgraded space to a new tenant at a higher rate than the facility would have retrieved before the improvements. The tenant would have no ability to recapture the money used to fund the building improvements. In this scenario, the tenant would carry a disproportional amount of risk, and I felt obligated to point this out … before these women made what I felt would be a horrible mistake.

Supporting the Business Decision
I could have developed the world's greatest design for these two women, but if the design did not support the business decision, then even a great design would have been a waste. The design needs to support the objectives of the business, not the other way around. This is true not only on small restaurant projects, but on projects of every shape and size. 

Too often I have seen designers obsessed with the design objectives related to a project, and blind to the business decisions behind the project. Often, this has resulted in designs that may look great, but do not work … for the business. This is a variation of a common theme I have shared in the past - form follows function. 

These design professionals must remember that their purpose is to develop a design that will support the objectives of the owner. Granted, sometimes the design style may in fact be an integral part of the business objective, which is perfectly acceptable. The scenario I am concerned with is when the design objectives begin to override the business objectives. To ensure that the design stays on the right track, it is incumbent upon the owner to clearly share the business objectives with the design team on a regular basis. 

The owner (or the owner's representative) should take a hands-on approach to ensure that the design process is headed in the right direction. Also, the entire development team should schedule dedicated times during the design process to stop and review the current direction versus the business objectives. If all is well, then by all means - proceed. If corrections need to be made - make them. 

A Sobering Experience
So, you may be wondering about the final decision made by the two women in my earlier story. Well, I successfully talked them out of pursuing that opportunity. Eventually they saw the potential risk associated with the scenario presented by the landlord and determined that the risk-reward scenario was not favorable. It was the right decision. Once the initial shock wore off, they realized that I was trying to act in their best interest. 

Though these ambitious, aspiring restaurateurs were in search of assistance with equipment selection and design, our discussions were focused on more pressing needs of the business they were looking to start. We never did discuss the design. Before they left, I asked if they had perceived my approach as negative. "No," they told me, "it was sobering … exactly what we needed." They thanked me for helping them avoid what could have been a very big mistake. No problem. It's all in a day's work.

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HOOD PROBLEMS: NOT JUST SMOKE AND MIRRORS

Normally I try to avoid discussing technical subjects in this column, but there is one subject that I just could not hold off on any longer. Exhaust hood systems, located in all types of foodservice establishments, are incredibly complex. The design of these systems can significantly impact a building in a number of different ways. 

To cite one example, I had a client whose hood performance was so terrible that the excess heat which was not being captured by the hood system was chewing up an estimated 15 tons worth of air conditioning. In other words, a 15 ton air conditioning unit was required just to offset the amount of heat that was escaping from the hood system. If you translate the equipment cost, operating costs, and maintenance costs into real dollars, it is not hard to figure out that the owner was almost literally watching his money go up in smoke.
 

Signs of a Hood Problem
Even if you are not the technical type, there are some easy ways to determine if you have a hood or ventilation problem. The first is the presence of excessive heat in the kitchen. Though many of us understand that hoods remove smoke and grease, they also remove heat. If you can feel significant heat outside of the hood, then your hood may not be working properly. This escaping heat can hit an operator directly in the wallet, either through increased utility costs as described above or even by increased turnover rates if the environment is too uncomfortable.

A second way to self-diagnose a hood problem is by looking for roll-out. Roll-out is the escape of smoke from the hood cavity. If such a condition exists, the smoke will typically rise off of the cooking equipment, and overwhelm the exhaust system, spilling out into the kitchen. What this means is that the amount of smoke being produced is too great for the amount of exhaust from the hood. It is comparable to a sink that overflows when the volume of water far surpasses the capacity of the drain size. Hoods are, in essence, just like a bathtub turned upside down. They can "overflow" as well, which results in roll-out.

If your floors or equipment are regularly greasy or slippery, this may also be a sign that your hood is not working properly. Slippery floors or "coated" objects within the kitchen could mean that the grease laden vapor (a technical term for the little grease particles that are so hot and so small that they are carried through the air) is condensing and settling. The problem is a result of inefficient grease removal by the hood. If the hood was doing its job properly, then there wouldn't be enough grease left to settle. 

Okay, here is one more. Can you recall ever going into a restaurant (or any building for that matter) where the doors were hard to open, or the second set of doors opened by themselves when you opened the first set of doors? Have you ever entered a restaurant and seen the doors sitting open just slightly? These are all problems indicative of unbalanced pressure within the facility. If the doors are hard to open, it means that there is too much air being pulled out of the building or not enough air being replaced in the building. This is called negative pressure. 

On the other hand, if the doors are resting in a slightly open position, just the opposite could be true. There may be more air being pumped back into the building than is being pulled out. This is called positive pressure. These are just a few ways to identify a potential hood problem. There are others.

Pressure problems within a foodservice facility, which ties directly into the hood system's performance, can represent a complicated physics problem. The issues can become extremely complex, and the entire building must be considered. Let me share a quick story. One manufacturer told me of a call that they once received from a customer who indicated that their hood wasn't working and they wanted the manufacturer to fix the problem. The manufacturer's response was "that's perfect, because it didn't work when it left the factory either." 

Though this was a rather brash response with a little dose of humorous sarcasm for the hospitality techno-geek, what the manufacturer was trying to convey was that the hood is just a box - a part of a much larger system that "works." Consider the bath tub example again. Does the bathtub "work," or is the bathtub tied into a drain system that allows the evacuation of water from the tub? Obviously, the bathtub is not very effective all by itself. Instead, it is an integral part of an overall system.

Where Hoods Go Wrong
So far we have established that hoods can be a problem. We have also looked at some ways to self-diagnose a problem and explored the reasons why answers to the problem may be a bit more complex than most owners and operators realize. Now, I want to take a look at some of the reasons why hoods tend to have these problems and look at potential ways to avoid these problems in the first place.

Let's start with the equipment under the hood. Whether most operators realize this or not, the amount of air exhausted from and returned to a space by a hood is specifically designed to correspond with the equipment below the hood. As the equipment changes over time, the incorrect assumption is often made that the hood, in its current configuration, can accommodate the new equipment layout without a problem. This is not the case. 

If a convection oven (low smoke, heat, and grease output) is replaced with a fryer or charbroiler (high smoke, heat, and grease output), then the entire system must be re-adjusted to accommodate the new equipment. Of the hood problems I have seen, this is one of the most frequent causes of sub-par hood performance. Owners assume that the hood is a constant and can accommodate any changes made to the equipment below. This is not the case.

Maintenance is another frequent cause of hood problems. Filters need to be cleaned regularly. The fans which are part of the hood system require regular maintenance. If a belt becomes loose, the performance of the fan can be altered and the actual volumes of air being removed or returned to the kitchen can be impacted. A regular maintenance program can help prevent this from occurring.

Sometimes, the hood problems are a result of the original equipment selection and have nothing to do with changes over time. In particular, I am referring to "short cycle" or "short circuit" hoods. Evidence has shown that short cycle hoods don't work. To briefly summarize a fairly complicated issue, short cycle hoods bring return air - or "make-up air" - directly into the hood, and exhaust that very same air out of the hood before it ever mixes with the space. Think logically for a second … why would you want to bring air into the hood only to exhaust it before it ever even reaches the space within the building? Answer - well, there is no justified answer. 

Short cycle hoods were invented for the sole purpose of getting around certain mechanical code requirements for hoods that did not appropriately consider foodservice applications. Rather, these codes were written for hoods in industrial settings, where materials such as paint and plastics are used. Most foodservice hood manufacturers have obtained UL listings that allow the hoods to be more accurately designed for foodservice applications, making short cycle hoods obsolete. Even the hood manufacturers - the reputable ones, anyway - will tell you that short cycle hoods don't work. They only sell them because customers are willing to pay for them. They would prefer not to make them. Honestly. 

In summary, it is pretty easy to overlook the impact that a hood system can have on a foodservice facility. Keep an eye out for potential indicators of a hood problem and stay on top of regular hood maintenance. Taking these steps can significantly impact performance, functionality, and ultimately … the bottom line.

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OWNER'S REPRESENTATIVE: THE MISSING LINK

Once upon a time … most design teams included a professional called an owner's representative, or owner's rep as they are more commonly referred to throughout the design and construction industry. That time, however, is no more. Rather, the role of this individual in the design process, much like the way I began this column, is reminiscent of a fairy tale. Although the owner's rep was more commonly involved in larger or high profile projects, their role was (and still is) extremely valuable for projects of all shapes and sizes. 

Beginning in the 1990's, primarily as a result of pressure to cut development costs, the owner's rep was more frequently being excluded from the design team. Some experienced owners felt that they were able to manage those tasks typically handled by an owner's rep themselves, and in some cases they were right. 

As other developers caught wind of this trend, however, they also began to exclude the owner's rep even though they did not possess the necessary skill set to replace this professional. This second wave of developers realized initial cost savings for the development process, but what they did not understand was the long-term cost, or downside, resulting from elimination of the owner's rep.

I can tell you from personal experience that nearly a decade and a half after the elimination trend began, the all too common absence of this vital team member is taking its toll. The design process, in far too many instances, has drifted from organized effort into anarchy. It has become dominated by personalities, and not by issues. The communication, generally speaking, has deteriorated from its earlier state. 

What does all of this mean? Well, it means that coordination has suffered, more changes and conflicts arise in the field, and the cost of construction rises with each of these occurrences. In the end, the owner foots the bill. So what was really saved in the end? Was it worth it?

What is (was) an Owner's Rep
In a nutshell, the owner's rep controls the design and development process, making sure that the owner's best interests are at the heart of every decision made. These professionals are typically versed in both design and construction, pulling from their varied experiences to solve problems and offer creative solutions. The owner's rep will control the overall coordination effort between the design team members, ensuring that the most important topics receive the proper attention and resolution. 

During the construction phase, the owner's rep will spend significant time on the construction site, again recognizing and solving conflicts. When complicated issues arise, the owner's rep will explore all of the options, distill the information, and provide the owner with a concise set of options, clearly defined, along with a recommended course of action.

You may be wondering why I am such a strong proponent of the owner's rep. Do I have an ulterior motive? Not really. My position on this subject stems from seeing so many projects go awry due to the absence of this critical team member. I have seen poor decisions made by owners simply because they did not fully or accurately understand the issues. I have seen landscape architects influence interior design because of their strong personalities, and not because of their skills in the area. I have seen qualified professionals retreat into doing only what they have to do, and not what they could do during the design process, fearing the potential fallout of future liability from their actions. An owner's rep is focused on fighting for the owner, making sure that the owner wins.

Tangible Example
On a recent project, our firm was asked to join the design team late - I mean really late - in the design process. The rest of the design team had just completed their 65% Construction Documents issue to the owner, with construction documents being the last major phase in the design process before submitting for final permit. In other words, the entire hotel was practically completed and we were just being brought on to begin our work. To further complicate matters, this particular property had an aggressive food and beverage program which, due to our lack of involvement to that point, had not been considered in the design effort. 

When I first looked at the space that was earmarked for food and beverage functions (i.e. the kitchens, dining spaces, bars, and support spaces), it was painfully evident that the space allocated was insufficient in size, configuration, and location. It was one of the worst spaces I have seen, and this sub-par design was clearly the result of our absence until such a late stage in the design process.

Though the situation was less than desirable, we had a job to do. We jumped in and began working with the owner to implement the desired food and beverage program in the designated space. The space was full of columns, had a single narrow access to and from the restaurant and banquet areas, and even had a stairway in the center of the space for access to a second floor mechanical mezzanine. As we began developing possible conceptual designs (yes, I said conceptual designs in the midst of construction documents), it was clear that the obstacles - or design drivers - in their existing configuration were too limiting. Something would have to change. 

The designs that we forwarded to the rest of the team were quickly met with resistance by the other disciplines. They were just about done with their work and did not want to make any changes to the drawings that, from their perspective, had been resolved long ago. 
In one specific instance, I recall an inquiring phone call that I placed to the architect which quickly turned confrontational. One of our designs (which had received approval from the foodservice operator) would have required the relocation of a column in the kitchen. Though it was undesirable to relocate columns at this stage of the game, it could be done. In fact, several columns throughout the property were already being relocated at the time. I do not suggest relocating a column on a whim, realizing the impact of time and cost for all involved. In this instance, however, the relocation was justified. 

As my the architect grew more intense, and more heated, during our conversation, I tried to explain my justification for the design and the proposed column relocation. Following the presentation of my logic, I was met with a hostile "why should I move my column just to accommodate your ware washing layout. Whoa, whoa …. time out! His column? My soiled dish table? Isn't it the owner's? His response, whether he realized it or not, was a classic example of how the design and coordination processes deteriorate when the owner's rep is removed from the equation. An owner's rep, had one been involved in the project I described above, would have redirected the team's focus based on the best interests of the owner. 

Bring 'em Back
Maybe the layout I had proposed was so critical to the execution of the food and beverage program that the relocated column was justified. On the other hand, maybe the cost of relocating the column and the delay for re-engineering the building was not justified. I am less worried about the answer and more concerned about the process. In the example I have shared, the one who lost was the owner, regardless of the final outcome. Why were two members of the design team left to "battle it out" over an issue, isolated from the rest of the development team? Who is to say that we were basing our decisions on the most relevant criteria?

I believe that it is time to bring the owner's rep back, or at least someone qualified and designated to fill that role. Their insight, experience, guidance, and complete loyalty are essential to ensure that the owner's best interests are always the prime consideration for every decision throughout the development process. Even one of these issues can result in impacts of six, seven or eight figures. To be honest, I have rarely seen a project where a qualified owner's rep's fee was not justified. Excluding the owner's rep is short-sighted. Generally speaking, the quality of the design process has steadily declined since their wide-spread absence in the mid-1990s. I for one am anxiously awaiting the return of the owner's rep, the missing link.

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UTILITY FOR YOUR FACILITY

Foodservice design is a lot like interior design in that there really is no one right answer. There are health codes and specific design standards which must be adhered to in every design, but generally speaking, no regulatory agency is going to dictate whether the cooking line is running north-south or east-west in a kitchen. 

They will not be concerned whether the office is located at the front or rear of the kitchen, or whether the service station is in the dining room or in front of the chef's counter. So much of foodservice design is based upon opinion, experience, or preference, and nothing more than that.

Where foodservice design differs greatly with interior design is the ease with which changes to earlier decisions can be made. For instance, let's say that the owner of a restaurant no longer likes the tables and chairs in a dining room, or a hotel property owner no longer likes the drapes, curtains, or furniture in the guestrooms. Changing these pieces out for new ones is relatively easy and can completely change the design impact of the space. In fact, making dramatic changes, including the style or even the placement of these furniture and fixture items, is relatively simple. 

Making similar changes in a kitchen, however, is far more complicated. The main limiting factor is not the equipment, but rather the utilities (i.e. gas, water, electrical power, floor sinks, floor drains, etc.) and infrastructure that were originally provided to support that equipment. The placement of utilities in the original design of a kitchen space can not only impact the initial layout, but also impact future changes and modifications to the kitchen space. There is a lot riding on decisions made regarding the location, inclusion, or exclusion of utility rough-ins during the design and construction process.

Thinking Ahead
Too often, project teams plan only for the equipment that they have specified in the original design or renovation plans and not for the equipment that the owner might have in the future. This can be a very costly mistake. Though there is some additional cost involved, providing ample utilities in a kitchen space is far more cost effective than adding them later. In fact, there is an exponential savings for including additional utilities in the design on the front end, which makes for a great argument to provide excess utility capacity when possible. 

Let's start with a simple example. A particular refrigerator may require 6.0 amps to operate, but I may specify a 10.0 amp load on our drawings. Why? Well, for one thing I know that there are manufacturers that make refrigerators which require 8.0 amps and not 6.0 amps to operate. By providing the additional capacity, I am ensuring the owner's flexibility to one day replace the refrigerator with a model from the manufacturer of their choosing. 

Okay, you say, 8.0 amps may be justified … but why 10.0 amps? Well, what if the owner one day implements a menu change that requires a freezer instead of a refrigerator? The freezer will run off 10.0 amps. This additional capacity, which typically carries only a minor premium, also allows for flexibility during the bidding process, enabling the owner to consider alternate manufacturers, which might have different load requirements, without incurring costs for change orders in the field. 

Shifting gears just a bit, I want to focus on utilities that are incorporated into the floor. This may include stubbed-up electrical conduits, stubbed-up water lines, or floor sinks and drains, for example. Each of these - especially the floor sinks and drains - can have a long lasting and potentially limiting effect on the facility's flexibility down the road. Thus, it may be wise during the planning stages to carefully consider the placement of these items. I would suggest looking at the floor plan both with and without the proposed equipment layout to ensure there are enough floor sinks or floor drains for possible future modifications. 

In certain instances, it may even make sense to add an extra floor sink or two just to leave options open for later. You may think I am nuts, so let me give you a tangible example. What if an operator has a significant menu change that requires the addition of a steamer in a location where one did not previously exist? Routing a water line can be done fairly easily, as the supply line can be run through the ceiling or adjacent walls. Floor sinks, however, are typically a much different story as the plumbing system is in the floor. The provision of a floor sink on both ends of a cooking line, whether initially required or not, would limit the cost of adding the steamer to the line.

Minimizing the Budget Impact
Though it has been a while, if you are a frequent reader of this column series, you might recall my theory of First Define, Then Fill. In a nutshell, this theory is my belief that the design of the space is the primary consideration, with the selected equipment a clear second. Further, it is a mindset that will permit the owner to delay the purchase of the actual equipment, if required due to budget constraints, without impacting the integrity of the overall layout. If the utilities are available, it is far easier and less costly in the long run to purchase and install the equipment at a later date. 

If on the other hand the utilities are not provided during the initial phase of construction, adding the equipment at a later date will be far more difficult, if not almost impossible … and far more costly. When equipment may be categorized as "future" to support an initial construction budget, it is important to make sure the utilities are not also deleted from the project. With budget constraints a concern on nearly every project, the elimination of equipment often translates into the elimination of the equipment's required utilities as well. It is preferable to provide the utilities, even when the equipment has been deleted or its purchase has been delayed.

The "Poor Man's" UDS
There is a piece of equipment available called a utility distribution system, or UDS to use the industry jargon, that offers a great deal of flexibility for utility modifications. A UDS, typically placed behind or between the cooking line(s), consists of vertical pillars with a horizontal chase that contains the main utility lines. The horizontal chase contains access panels to allow for easy modifications at a later date, with the vertical pillars providing a means to route the utility lines through the ceiling. These systems, which often come pre-wired and pre-plumbed, can be very expensive. However, there is an alternative. 

Rather than having the manufacturer pre-pipe and pre-plumb the system at the factory, you can order what I refer to as a "poor man's" UDS, which consists of nothing more than the vertical and horizontal structure. The utilities are then run in the field by the electrician or plumber. There will still be an additional cost for this system, but the "poor man's" UDS will provide most of the same benefits and is worth considering no matter what type of foodservice establishment is being planned. Regardless of the approach that is selected, it is important to consider what impact your utility locations will have on the long-term viability of your facility to support your operation. A little planning on the front end can save you big bucks later.

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FURTHER EXPLORING FLEXIBILITY

I seem to have hit a chord with my last installment, The Kitchen Evolution, by introducing the concept of flexibility in commercial kitchens … or the current lack thereof. I received the largest response from readers of the column to date, who wrote to me in search of more specific information, examples, and insight on the subject. Given this response, I wanted to take the time to further explore this concept of flexibility.


Current Limitations
Before one can truly understand the need for flexibility in commercial foodservice facilities, the limitations of our every day kitchen environment must first be fully understood … and this is not easily done. Most foodservice operators share a common, distinctive personality trait - a "get it done" attitude. 

Nothing can stand in the way of a true operator when there is a deadline on the horizon. The main ingredient for tonight's main course didn't show up … and there are 500 guests expected in six hours? The POS system is down? No problem. They know how to improvise. They have mastered the art. 

This very same personality trait, however, can sometimes be a hindrance. Because overcoming obstacles is part of an operator's every day job description, they typically do not have the luxury of taking a step back and looking at what could be. They are immersed in what is, and do not waste time dreaming of perfect scenarios. There are crises to solve and fires to put out.

I would like to encourage some of these operators - in between crises, of course - to objectively consider the typical kitchen environment for just a moment. I am not necessarily referring to the layout, but rather the components within the layout or the pieces of the puzzle - the equipment. Now, take a hard look at the equipment we currently use every day and ask a simple question … is the equipment working around you, or are you working around the equipment. My hunch is that you will find the latter to be the case more often than not. 

I would argue that the current equipment commonly utilized in commercial kitchens often limits the menu, the service capabilities, and ultimately the profitability of the operation. Kitchen space is extremely valuable and needs to be used more efficiently. I recently spoke with the director of design for a major restaurant chain, and he told me that if he could simply reduce the length of his cooking line by six feet, it would open up an entire new market for his concept. The limiting factor in his mind? The equipment … hands down. He was forced to base his design on the equipment that currently exists, whether it suited his needs or not.

Though we as an industry accept the current equipment options as a given, I firmly believe that there are pieces of equipment, even categories of equipment, that have not yet been explored, and which loom on the horizon. These new, more flexible pieces of equipment would impact the way that we set up stations throughout the kitchen, perhaps even allowing simple modifications for different day parts. They would have a beneficial impact on labor. They would reduce the initial development costs, while simultaneously lowering ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Most importantly, this new equipment would positively impact profitability. Does this sound too good to be true? It's not. These adaptable, flexible pieces of equipment may be just around the corner.

Examples of Flexibility
Let's say that you own and operate a 150 seat restaurant that has recently been granted the right to add 45 outside dining seats, which you expect to be very popular with your guests. In reviewing your facility, you find that the cooking line, service stations, rest rooms and other key components of the restaurant will be able to adequately handle the increase in volume. However, there is one exception - the ware washing area. The dish tables are sufficient, but the single tank dish machine just won't cut it anymore. You need a larger machine with greater capacity. 

So here is my contention with our current logic … why must you get rid of the existing, perfectly functional machine and replace it with a larger model? Why can't the machine adapt with your operation? Why can't you purchase a module that you can add on to your existing machine? The equipment should adapt to you, not the other way around.

This concept of flexibility can be applied throughout the production areas. Perhaps the storage area can be modified by season, as the types of products stored may change during the course of the year. What if you want to add a sink to an existing work table? How about the chef's counter? I know that operators want flexibility in one of the most important production areas in the kitchen. Menus may change over time, by season, or even by day part … shouldn't the kitchen facility have the same capability? Such changes could include an increase in refrigerated storage during certain seasons where products are received fresh, and greater frozen storage during other parts of the year.

It is my belief that foodservice equipment manufacturers, as a whole, do not give operators the "palate with which to paint." Current equipment choices are too limiting, and operators are forced to work with these limitations. Thus, we find ourselves in the position which we are in today with little new product innovation and operators that must work around the equipment offerings manufacturers have brought to the marketplace, whether it is right for their operation or not.

The Unfortunate Reality
Profit margins for those who manufacture, represent, distribute and sell foodservice equipment have steadily declined for decades. Looking at the equipment manufacturers specifically, these lower margins have significantly limited their research and development efforts, as is evidenced by the remarkably low number of new products introduced every year. Think for a moment about the last "new" piece of equipment that positively impacted your operation. Again, I am willing to bet that those impacts are few and far between. 

Though there are the exceptions, as a whole, manufacturers of foodservice equipment are a conservative, fairly reactive group. Many of them are now owned by large conglomerates that must answer to shareholders and are often more concerned about their stock performance than innovation or investing in the future. This only further limits the potential for the development of new, more flexible equipment that will better serve the industry and which could change the way that kitchens operate. These evolutionary possibilities are so close, yet so far away at the same time. If we rely on the manufacturers to develop these new pieces of equipment on their own, we may never see this next generation of equipment. 

Think outside of the proverbial box and evaluate your kitchen environments. Dream with me for a moment and see if you can conjure up ideas for new equipment, or modifications to existing equipment, that do not yet exist but would positively impact your operation. I see equipment that will be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the operation, even as it evolves over time. This is what I refer to as the Kitchen Evolution. I am challenging the entire industry to consider what could be, without being hindered by what is. Take a minute to dream with me. It will be worth your time.

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THE KITCHEN EVOLUTION

As a one of my colleagues often criticizes about the design of most kitchens in the foodservice industry … "We are still cooking in Escoffier's kitchen." What he is implying, and correctly so, is that the design of kitchens and the equipment within them has not changed much over the last 100 years or more. Escoffier could walk into a modern kitchen and feel quite at home. 

Consider for a moment the progress that has been made in other industries over the course of a century, and then look at our industry. Ford recently celebrated 100 years in business. 100 years ago Ford was making the Model T - and look at where they are now. A deck oven from the early 1900's look remarkably like the deck ovens we still use today. Looming on the horizon is what I believe to be the Kitchen Evolution.

Evolution, Not Revolution
Quite carefully, I have chosen the word evolution as opposed to revolution, as I believe the general nature of our industry is not going to change. The foodservice industry, as a whole, is more reactive than proactive. Thus, the changes on the horizons will be beneficial modifications to existing and known processes as opposed to an abandonment of the way we do things now. This has been confirmed by the adoption of new equipment brought to the marketplace. 
 

Several manufacturers have introduced technology such as induction based cooking appliances and combination oven-steamers. Despite the wide-spread use of these items in Europe, the adoption of these appliances state-side has been slow or non-existent due in large part to their cost and lack of familiarity by end users. On the other hand, the introduction of the boiler-less steamer (now offered by virtually every foodservice equipment manufacturer that offers steam equipment) has been extremely successful. 

This success is directly associated with the fact that it is a known technology, steaming, that has been improved. The adoption of this technology, as a result, has been rapid. Manufacturers, looking to capitalize on potential profits from the sale of such equipment, have flooded the market with boiler-less steamers.

Technology in the Kitchen - Not So Fast
The discussions that I have heard at industry conventions or read about in industry periodicals seem to focus exclusively on the inclusion and implementation of technology in the kitchen as the next big thing. There are systems that can track anything from temperature of the walk-in cooler, to the efficiency of the compressor that is running it. There are systems that manage holding temperatures for food and yet others that assist with integrating ordering and food production. There are an endless number of options available. 

While I don't discount the importance of technology in the kitchen, in fact I believe that technology will have a significant impact on our industry, I believe that wide spread adoption of such systems is a long-term and not a short-term effort. Large hotel and restaurant chains, given their cost structures, volume, and overhead, can justify such expenses for information management within the kitchen, as their payback is reasonable. 

The average mom and pop operation, however, will experience a much longer payback period, if at all. In fact, I have personally seen an aversion to technology from those who have tried to include more technologically advanced appliances and systems. As an example, over the past couple of years I have seen a growing number of convection ovens sold with manual controls as a replacement for units that previously featured digital controls. 

When I have inquired about this purchasing decision, the owners have informed me that they simply had too many problems with the digital controls and preferred the manual controls for reliability reasons. Thus, while sophisticated information systems in the kitchen will have their place, I am not sure that it is in the near future. 

The Evolution Revealed
While technology makes its push into the kitchen, there is a more desirable concept that could have an even greater impact than technology on everything from operational efficiency to profitability … FLEXIBILITY. If you think about the average kitchen, there is very little flexibility beyond mobile and countertop equipment. The main structures in the kitchen are fixed, and do not allow the kitchen facility to grow or evolve as the operation changes over time. 

I have seen hot food wells on chef's counters used as iced cold pans or even covered up and used as a work surface. What a waste! I have seen restaurant ranges with ovens that have been "out of order" for years and are beyond repair, but the units are not replaced because the 6 burners and griddle on top still work. 

I have seen functional pieces of equipment abandoned and replaced to accommodate the addition of a new featured menu item or desired kitchen configuration. Even worse … I have seen operational changes put on hold due to the complex and expensive modifications required for the kitchen facility.

Think about your facility: the walk-in cooler and freezer, the chef's counter, the exhaust hood … and so on. These systems are not designed with flexibility in mind, therefore limiting the ability for the facility to evolve. Not only would flexibility in the kitchen help end-users, but it could change the way that our industry conducts business and makes decisions related to purchasing, operations, and growth, just to mention a few. 

Moreover, the inclusion of flexibility in the kitchen, like the boilerless steamer, is a modification to known equipment and technology … it is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Thus, the adoption of such equipment should be rapid.

Conclusion
As I stated earlier, technology will have its place in the kitchen - guaranteed. However, the incorporation of flexible equipment will have far more benefit and a much greater impact on the industry as a whole. Take a few moments, when you are done reading this, and consider the flexibility that you should have in your kitchen. 

Without this approach, Escoffier's kitchen and the deck oven may remain unchanged for the next 100 years. I sure hope that is not the case.

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DESIGN IS A LINEAR PROCESS

I will share with you one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in college … it is the definition of success. Success equals expectations plus one. That is to say, in order to truly succeed - at anything - one must not only meet, but exceed the expectations that exist. This especially holds true in the design process. While I have spent the last several years using this column to address issues related to design, it dawned on me that I had never really discussed the design process itself. 

Furthermore, I have noticed that many of my clients are unfamiliar with both the stages in the design process, and what to expect at each stage. So, I felt it was important to spend some time discussing the stages in the process. After all, if the expectations are not clear on the front end, it becomes very difficult to succeed - which is a recipe for disaster and disappointment for all involved. 

A Known Sequence
Though I have been challenged on this issue in the past, it remains a fact that the design process is a linear process, with an established sequence of events that must be completed for the best results. In other words, one must complete step A before B, and B before C. Now, can they be completed out of sequence? Yes, they can … but the results are often inefficient and wasteful. Think about the way that we learn to read. 

First, we learn the alphabet - what each letter looks like and the sound that each letter makes independently. Then we focus on sounds that result from a combination of letters. "TH" and "SH," for instance, have distinct sounds when placed together that they do not make when they exist on their own. The learning process continues as we learn how to put sounds together to make words. Eventually, we focus on reading several words and then sentences together to comprehend their meaning. The design process is very similar. Each stage in the process builds on work completed in the previous stages - it is a cumulative effort.

Stages in the Design Process
The following section will briefly review each stage of the design process, as well as some of the activities associated with each event.

Masterplanning: This is the first step in the process, where you establish what your project should consist of, and if it should exist at all. The main objectives of this phase are justification of the project and exploration of potential design solutions. 

Programming: Once you have determined that the project is at least worth exploring, a narrative should be developed that will describe the scope of the project as well as its various "components," such as the individual areas within a single facility, or facilities that comprise a greater complex. This narrative will often include required adjacencies (areas that must be located one another), desired sizing, and any special requirements or considerations. The program communicates the owner's desires and requirements to the design team in written form.

Concept Design: This is often the first time that the effort includes any form of graphic communication. The conceptual design is the first attempt to translate the written program into graphic form. It will typically consist of Bubble Diagrams, which identify the anticipated location and size of each area in the program. It may also consist of renderings that highlight the exterior, entry, or other key design elements of the project.

Schematic Design: This phase in the design process builds on the Concept phase through the development of Block/Schematic Drawings, geared to identify elements such as walls, counters, and key pieces of furniture or equipment. These drawings focus on defining the footprint of the space, but do not contain a great deal of detail within these "blocks." 

Design Development: At the end of this stage, the general floor plan is typically locked in and the detail within each space must be defined and developed. Whereas a bar's locations and dimensions might have been identified in the Schematic Phase, it is in Design Development where the individual pieces of equipment are selected and incorporated into the design. At the end of this phase, it should be expected that all walls, furniture, fixtures, and equipment will have been included on the drawings and clearly identified. While it is not necessary to know the manufacturer of an individual piece of equipment in our bar, it is important to know what equipment is required, as well as the required dimensions and configuration.

Construction Documents: Also called Working Drawings, this stage consists primarily of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) coordination required to make the building function. The "systems" within a building are very similar to those which exist in the body when you think about it - Structural (skeleton), Mechanical (breathing), Electrical (basis of cell communication and activity), plumbing (well, you should be able to figure that one out yourself), etc. This phase requires a significant amount of coordination between a large number of disciplines. It is an extremely important aspect of the design process, as a mistake in this stage can be very costly.

Specifications: Once the Construction Documents are completed, written specifications are developed to convey all of the information to the construction team. These specifications include details on the manufacturer, model number, and any required options for everything from the door hardware to the paint, and the flooring materials to the foodservice equipment. These specifications are then used by the construction team to gather pricing from General Contractors and their sub-contractors. 

Cheaper to Change Paper
At the end of the Specifications phase, the design documents will have been completed and the bidding and construction phases will begin. As you read through the phases of the design process, and the activities contained within each, it becomes apparent that there is a sequence of events that must be followed. Can you imagine trying to develop written specifications in the design development phase - before most of the engineering of the space has been finalized? 

Only if the entire development team (including the owner) is aware of the required sequence can the design process be effective and efficient. I often encourage clients to hold off on proceeding to the next phase if they are not 100% sure of the current direction. Going backwards is difficult, as it requires both undoing and re-doing the work that has been accomplished. Not only does this require a substantial amount of time, but it also increases the risk of costly mistakes in the development of the drawings.

Throughout the design's evolution, the development team must check back with the previous phases to ensure that the design solution is consistent with the original objective. In other words, at the end of Design Development, and before the initiation of Construction Documents, the team should review and compare their current effort to the end result of the previous phases … just to make sure that they are content with the current direction. 

If all is well, then keep chugging along! If all is not well, however, then it is time to stop, review, and address the elements of the design that are not consistent with the overall objective. After all, it is much cheaper to revise the design than to make revisions in the field, in the midst of construction. Stated another way, it is much easier to change paper than it is to change concrete and steel.

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WARE WASHING 201

Congratulations! You've graduated … to the next level of ware washing expertise. In the last installment, we discussed the basic requirements of a typical ware washing area. Now, we are going to focus on the design of this critical component of any foodservice operation, and address some beneficial techniques that can be used. The ware washing area in any facility, regardless of size, significantly impacts two of the most critical concerns foodservice operators have today: labor costs and food safety, specifically the risk of cross-contamination. 

Flow - Yes, Even in Ware Washing
If you are a frequent reader of this column, this may come as no surprise to you … proper FLOW within the ware washing area is essential. Consider for a moment all that occurs in the ware washing area - servers, bussers or banquet personnel dropping off soiled wares, scrapping, sorting, racking, washing, rinsing, sanitizing, drying, stacking, and storing. 

With all of this activity, mixing both soiled and clean wares, the ability for people and product to move through the ware washing area can impact all aspects of the operation. First, the service staff must have the ability to get in and out of the ware washing area easily. Any racking or preliminary scrapping that must occur must be convenient or it will not occur. 

Once the wares are dropped off, I prefer to see them move through the ware washing area in a single direction - from point to point, without backtracking or crossing paths of other ware in process. In fact, I strongly recommend and try to include in all of my designs separate soiled and clean entrances. In essence, I try to avoid requiring the culinary staff to enter the ware washing area through a soiled entrance in order to retrieve clean items. 

Too often I see ware washing areas designed where all of the clean items wind up in the rear of the space, and then must travel through the only entrance, typically by the soiled drop-off, as they are brought back into the kitchen. Needless to say, this increases the risk of cross-contamination.


Size Does Matter
Perhaps the most common mistake that I see in ware washing areas is a mismatch between the capacity of the dish machine and the capacity of the clean dish table. To offer some perspective on this issue, a typical 44" conveyor machine can process roughly 250 racks per hour, depending on the manufacturer. A 48 inch clean dish table at the end of this dish machine would allow for only two racks … two racks!! Every time the table fills with two racks, a table limit switch will shut down the conveyor so that the motor does not burn out, reducing the capacity of the machine. 

The better solution would be to provide additional clean dish table space, allowing the staff greater time to process and store the clean wares, not to mention saving on the equipment costs on the front-end. The extra clean dish table space would allow for additional clean rack space, and is far less expensive than a larger dish machine. Keep in mind that low-temperature dish machines will require even longer clean dish tables than their high-temperature counter parts, as it takes the chemically processed items longer to dry

You've Got to Keep them Separated
The concept of separation can be used in two different ways to influence the ware washing area's layout. First, I always try to isolate the ware washing area by surrounding it with solid walls. These areas are messy, wet, and always full of soiled food product and it is not desirable to have the water and food product seep into the production areas of the kitchen. The solid walls help to confine the mess, and improve facility safety. 

The second application of the separation concept promotes the use of different dish machines for different products - usually dishes/flatware and glassware. Glassware is a sensitive product in that it easily shows residue. By using a separate machine that is dedicated for glassware only, the food product that is removed from the plates and flatware will not be introduced into the wash water used for the glassware, and the results will be much improved. 

Using separate machines is also advisable when there are large quantities of products that must be washed, but it need not be limited to the high volume applications. For instance, I have included small undercounter dish machines - even if only to be provided at some future date - for smaller operations that wanted better ware washing results. 
 

Where Does the Time Go?
Three compartment pot wash sinks typically include drain boards in either side, one for the accumulation of soiled wares and the other for the accumulation of items that have already been washed, rinsed, and sanitized. Review with me for a moment this common scenario … a stack of pots and pans is resting on the soiled drain board waiting to be processed. 

The pot washer sorts through the stack of items and organizes them in such a manner so that they can be easily accessed and cleaned one by one. As the pot washer is about half-way through the stack, a cook comes by and drops off another stack of soiled pots and pans, placing this new stack right on top of the old one. The pot washer must now stop and re-organize the assortment of soiled pots and pans, which was already organized.

This duplication of effort results in a great deal of lost productivity. In fact, pot washers often spend more time re-sorting their work space than they do washing dishes. Fortunately, the solution for this dilemma is simple and inexpensive. To avoid this perpetual reorganizing, I typically include a separate shelving unit in the ware washing area, specifically dedicated for the accumulation of soiled wares. 

This then allows the pot washer to pull the items he or she wants to wash next without having to re-organize the space. In addition, the use of such a rack significantly increases the surface area dedicated for the accumulation of soiled items. 
 

Buffering
There is an entire category of equipment that has been designed to help with the processing of soiled wares. From mechanical three compartment sinks and trough-tied collectors to pulpers and extractors, these items are designed to save labor and improve the ware washing process. 

There is one system, however, of which I am not a big fan … it is the rotary tray accumulator, which is often used in large business and institutional dining settings. These are the four or five tier systems that go around and around, enabling patrons to place their trays on one side and the staff to pull and process the trays on the opposite side. The main purpose of this system is to provide the ware washing staff with a buffer, that is a way to delay the trays for a moment when they are arriving faster than they can be broken down and processed. 

My problem is that these systems run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and once that buffer is full they do not offer any additional benefit. Inevitably, there are tray racks missing, which reduce the overall capacity, or the top tier is too high for the ware washing staff to reach. Instead of promoting these expensive limited systems, I have developed custom, decorative enclosures for standard pan rack carts that I use in conjunction with a standard conveyor belt. 

These simple, inexpensive carts can offer the same buffering at a much lower cost. The ware washing staff monitors the carts, swapping them out with empty racks as required. Though not right for every application, this is a cost effective solution that offers the same buffering benefit as the tray accumulator, at a fraction of the cost … and is just one more design technique that can significantly improve the ware washing area.

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WARE WASHING 101

On a recent trip, I traveled to the mid-Atlantic region in order to tour a prominent university's newest dining venue. The front-of-house portion of the facility was extremely attractive, offering a number of different dining options to avoid "food fatigue" by the regular patrons. I was making note of various design techniques during our guided tour by the facility's manager when all of a sudden I stopped cold in my tracks. What existed before me was flabbergasting! Mind-boggling! It was … the ware washing area. I could not understand how any professional team could implement such wonderful ideas in one part of the facility, and such awful ideas in another. 

Before our tour guide could even point out the ware washing area, I turned to him and in all honesty uttered these words … "I feel your pain!" And I certainly did. He lowered his head, shaking it from side to side, and began to tell me some of his ware washing war stories. Though the facility had been open just a few months, the inconveniences caused by this design were evident in almost every part of the facility. And because they had not yet reached their anticipated volume, the problem was only going to get worse with the increased traffic. 

Understanding the Basics
This was not the first facility that I had seen with a ware washing area that would be unable to support the operation for which it was designed, and I am sure that it will not be the last. It is my hope, however, that I will be able to shed some light on the subject and help future foodservice operators avoid similar mistakes. In reviewing the requirements for a ware washing area, I though it would be best to start with the basics. Regardless of the size or type of a foodservice facility, a three-compartment sink will be required. The three compartments are for Washing, Rinsing, and Sanitizing the wares (dishes, flatware, pots, pans, etc.) - in that order. Now, some jurisdictions do require four-compartment sinks where the fourth compartment is a separate dumping and scrapping compartment. Many of you may be surprised to learn, however, that a dish machine is completely optional. That's right … even the largest of hotels can open its doors without purchasing a dish machine, but we will discuss this later in greater detail. 

Knowing that we are required to sanitize all soiled wares, it is important to note that there are two methods of sanitization that may be used. The first is by temperature, and is referred to throughout the industry as the high-temp method. The high-temperature method requires a final rinse by water that is at a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the water will kill any remaining micro-organisms. Test strips and temperature gauges (if on a dish machine) may be used to confirm that the required temperature has been reached. The second method for sanitizing is chemical, which relies on a chemical solution to kill off any remaining harmful biological elements. Some of the chemicals that may be used include chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium compounds, referred to as quats. Both of these methods of sanitizing, high-temperature and chemical, are acceptable by the health department and can be used in either a three compartment sink or a dish machine. 

Which is Better?
With both the high-temperature and chemical options available, you may be wondering which is better. In my opinion, the high-temperature solution is best to use in dish machines, where possible, as it does not rely upon the proper mixture of chemicals to be effective. If the chemical solution ratio is off just a bit, its effectiveness in killing micro-organisms will be reduced or even eliminated, thereby providing a false sense of security to the operator. The high-temperature machines do a better job of removing certain residues (such as food or lipstick) than the low temperature machines. Also, the 180 degree final rinse causes the water to bead off more quickly, reducing the drying time and the space required to allow the items to dry. 

It should be noted, however, that the infrastructure for a high-temperature dish machine is far greater than that of a chemical machine due to the requirement of a condensate hood - a hood system designed to remove heat and moisture from the room. Use of a high-temperature machine without a condensate hood can lead to mold problems, and is typically restricted by local building authorities. It is this additional cost that often causes operators to choose chemical machines, despite the superior performance of the high-temperature units. When it comes to three-compartment sinks, the chemical method is most commonly used. Though the high-temperature method can be used in a three compartment sink as well, it requires an additional heater (increased cost) and employees to submerge their hands in 180 degree water (inconvenience and safety concerns). 

It All Comes Down to Labor
As I mentioned earlier, you can run an entire banquet kitchen, even one that supports functions of thousands of people, with only a standard single-tank, door-type dish machine that you might find in any average restaurant. It's true! The machine will do its job, washing one rack of dishes at a time. The labor required to process and clean these wares, however, would be significantly impacted. Though a smaller machine can ultimately handle the load, consider the impact for a moment that would result from the bottle-neck that would be caused by this machine. The soiled wares would have to sit around for quite some time before they could all be cleaned. The longer that these dishes sit around, the harder it is to remove the soil. In the end, additional labor would be required to pre-scrap the wares and to hang around the property until all of the wares had been cleaned.

In addition to taking up valuable floor space while waiting to be processed, the risk of cross-contamination from the soiled wares residing in the banquet corridors or main ware washing area is substantial. Also, because such a design would require additional time to clean all of the soiled dishes, a larger than average smallwares inventory would have to be kept on hand in order to handle multiple events, thereby increasing the dollars that would be tied up in hard goods and extra storage space. While this example is one that is extreme, the same symptoms - though perhaps not to the same extent - will be experienced in any facility with an undersized ware washing area. 

Conclusion
In this first of two installments on the issue of ware washing, it was my hope to address the actual requirements associated with this area of the kitchen. In the next installment, I will review some of the design techniques used to ensure the effectiveness of ware washing facilities in establishments of all sizes. Thinking back to the shock I had on my recent facility tour, I know that my tour guide - the facility manager - will certainly support me on this one. The ware washing area, if designed poorly, can affect the entire operation.

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SPEND YOUR MONEY WHERE IT COUNTS

The automobile manufacturers have it all figured out. After much time and research, they have found ways to use the same base model for multiple brands with completely different quality perceptions. Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura for example, use many of the same structural systems, processes, and infrastructure as their less expensive sister brands - Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. The difference is often in the finishes, the accessories, and the package of services offered in conjunction with the purchase. 

The higher priced models will have standard features such as leather, upgraded trim packages, high quality sound systems, and potentially such luxuries as GPS mapping or standard vehicle maintenance programs. Their less expensive sister brands will not. In many cases, however, the base construction of the vehicles in both quality ranges is identical. The result is a choice made by the consumer as to what is truly important, and where one's money should be spent. 

Similar decisions are made every day during the design and construction process. It is quite easy, and I must say extremely tempting, to upgrade light fixtures, seating, equipment, and specialty fixtures whenever the opportunity presents itself. The logic, justification, and proposed payback periods are often compelling. It is rare, however, that a construction budget will permit such an array of upgrades across the board. As a result, the ownership and design teams are faced with a never-ending stream of required decisions that must balance the available funding with the desired design impact. 

When the budget begins to dictate that some of the furniture, fixture, or equipment elements must be scaled back, the potential upgrades must be prioritized to ensure that one will receive the maximum "bang for the buck." It is here that I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for creativity. Spend your money where it counts! It is rather easy to lose sight of which desired elements are essential and which are expendable, and it is here that some creativity can help achieve some desired effects with minimal costs. 

What to Upgrade 
The first question in my mind is how to approach the prioritizing effort. There are no easy answers, as every operation seeks to offer a unique experience. However, the prioritization must start with the guest, and their experience. First, the most important elements of the experience must be established. If an establishment offers table-side preparation as a signature service, for example, the components used to create and deliver this service are important. Second, what does the guest experience directly vs. indirectly? In other words, what does the guest touch or focus on within close proximity? With which elements of the experience does the guest have limited direct contact?

Psychology plays a tremendous role in this process. To be truly successful at prioritizing, an operator must fully understand their target market … and I don't mean the capability to rattle off facts about demographics. I mean truly understand what is important to the client base, so that the upgrades that are implemented have their greatest impact. For example, I was working on a restaurant that had a limited budget but desired an upscale, sophisticated environment. After much planning and after reviewing a number of different options, it was determined that the exhibition kitchen and the restrooms would receive significant investment. Why you may ask? There was a connection that was achieved through this approach with the restaurant's affluent client base. Investments were made to the same areas that the client base made in their own homes - their kitchens and bathrooms. As such, the specialty above-counter lavatories with wall mounted faucets in the restrooms and intricate tile work within the exhibition kitchen achieved maximum impact. 

Tricks of the Trade
There are ways to achieve a high perceived impact relative to the cost. One of the most common methods is the differentiation between what a guest can see and what a guest can touch. The rule of thumb is such that the items which can be touched should be of genuine quality, whereas the items that are only viewed can be downgraded, if the reduction in quality is not obvious to the guest. If we were to consider the typical dining experience, for instance, the flatware, glassware, and linen should be of a quality level designed to match the desired quality level of the experience. These are items with which customers have physical contact. 

When items are not within direct access of the guest, an opportunity exists to substitute materials that might achieve the desired visual effect, but might not be of the same actual quality level. For example, I have used copper plastic laminate in lieu of actual copper for soffits and shrouds on hoods in display kitchens. The plastic laminate, part of a line of metallic laminates readily available from a number of manufacturers, even featured a brushed finish. 

Furthermore, the plastic laminate required no additional maintenance (real copper would have) and is extremely durable … at a fraction of the cost. In yet another example, consider the front desk of a hotel. The counter top could be actual stone, whereas stone accents on the wall behind the desk could be fabricated of faux material. The guest will come in direct contact with the check-in counter surface, and a vast majority will assume that the accents behind the desk are stone as well … whether this is the case or not. Both instances offer methods for achieving a desired impact on the guest, but in an economical manner.

You Can Always
Upgrade Later When making such decisions, keep in mind that the possibility always exists to upgrade certain elements later when additional funding is available. The copper laminate referenced above could easily be swapped out for real copper, should the desire and financial wherewithal exist. As such, items that are permanent or have a longer life should receive priority over those goods which would regularly be replaced within a few years. Window coverings, for example, would be a viable candidate for a later upgrade and economical alternative at the outset, provided that the selections fit within the décor and palate of the facility. Millwork and hard surfaced flooring, on the other hand, typically have a longer usable life and may not be the best candidates for substitutions. If handled correctly, creativity and a little ingenuity can help create a desired effect for a minimal cost. Just remember to spend your money where it counts.

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HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW?

I have a fear of heights. Perhaps the last thing that you would ever find me doing is walking a tightrope in mid-air, attempting to balance myself and prevent a plummet to my certain demise. Interestingly enough, however, I find myself in this position nearly every day … metaphorically. In my profession, I am forever walking an ever-thinning fine line to please both my current and future clients in the same facility. How is this you ask? Well, I find that I must strive to design in such a manner as to give my clients what they want, or what they believe they want, in the present without limiting the facility's ability to provide them with what they may want in the future. This can be extremely difficult at times. 

Who's the Boss?
At the outset of every design project, I strive to evaluate the entire development team to the best of my ability. In certain instances, the owner and the operator are one in the same. In others, they are separate entities, and may have different goals. Typically, when the owner and operator is the same individual, the operation is more clearly defined at the outset, and layouts are created to match the design objectives with the available space. It is my obligation to raise future considerations that might impact the current design approach. 

Such issues might include new technology or planning for potential growth. In this scenario, feedback is typically timely and straightforward - the ideas are either accepted or rejected, and then the design process moves on. In an instance where the operator and owner are not the same, the complexity of this process increases exponentially. It does not matter whether they are members of the same company or not - when the owner and operator are not the same individual, there frequently is a difference in opinion as to what is desired or required. It is here, within the midst of these often heated discussions, that I find myself executing my balancing act.The challenge is simple … how do you manage to provide both parties what they want, even when their desires are not always in agreement, and still consider future implications of the design at the same time? And while the challenge is clear, the answer can be a bit more elusive. 

Two Rights Can Make A Wrong
First, you may wonder why I choose to mediate these battles when letting the team fight it out is much easier for me personally. Well, here is my logic. First, and this should come as no real surprise, the foodservice industry has a fairly high turnover rate. As a result, the operator involved in the design process frequently "moves on" before the facility is completed and opens for business. 

Second, the design of hospitality facilities is much like interior design - there is no one right answer. There is one main difference in this similarity, however … it is a lot easier to change out window coverings than it is to relocate floor sinks or electrical conduit. For this reason, the decisions made relative to the layout of the facility must consider both immediate and long term (even if only potential) needs of the operation. I have learned to deal with the variety of opinions expressed by operators. On several occasions I have seen two operators, both well respected and experienced, review a facility's configuration and reach completely opposite conclusions. The first would indicate that the facility was the best he had ever seen, and suited his needs perfectly. The second would feel quite strongly that the designer would be better off in another career - such as selling shoes. 

You can imagine that this clear difference in opinion, based greatly in personal preference, can make my job quite difficult at times. As I have stated in previous installments of this column, anything will work … it is just a matter of how well. I am hopeful that through this explanation, you will better understand how your design team should approach these situations. Throughout the design process, I am forced to balance what will work for the current operator as well as any potential future operators. If I feel that the facility is being custom tailored too greatly to one operator's methodology, I may try and steer the process back towards a more universal solution. 

This is not to say that the current operator's input is not valuable or that I am not open to exploring new and creative solutions… on the contrary. The operator is an invaluable resource and typically generates input utilized to develop the final design solution. However, it is important to make sure that if and when another operator takes the helm that they can work efficiently in the space, even if their operation is run under an entirely different system. This is not always the most popular approach, but it is the responsibility of those in my profession to act in the client's best interest … to be the client's advocate. 

Future Flexibility
More money, per square foot, is spent in the kitchen of a foodservice facility than in any other area. As such, kitchen renovations can be extremely expensive and are often delayed, even when a new operator comes aboard and requests changes. One way to appease both the current and potential future owners is through the advanced planning and configuration of utility provisions. Equipment can easily be purchased and installed. The hang-ups, however, usually come with the utility provisions. 

During the initial planning phase, consider the number and location of floor sinks knowing that some of the equipment might move around over time. Investigate such possibilities as overlapping fire suppression systems that do not require expensive reconfiguration of the fire system when equipment is shuffled. Realize that the use of a utility chase wall, with access panels, may allow for less-expensive future modifications. Provide additional capacity in the electrical, plumbing, and gas systems. These are just a few examples of possible approaches. There is one example that supports this theory quite well. 

One of our projects (a hotel with 1200 rooms and 200,000 square feet of meeting space) had a change in management. The new team wanted to completely reconfigure all of the banquet kitchens. Because of proper planning, the requested change was accommodated with a four-figure price tag, not a six-figure price tag. There are a number of solutions that, with the proper planning, can increase the useful life of the facility and save money in the long term. So, when you embark on your next project, consider both the current and potential implications of the decisions that you are making.

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