Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

JUN 2019

Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazines is an industry resource connecting foodservice operators, equipment and supplies manufacturers and dealers, and facility design consultants.

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JUNE 2019 FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES 87 Theater, transparency, freshness, engagement, customization — foodser- vice customers today want it all. Action stations occupy the unique position to satisfy those demands, bringing prep, assembly and/or active cooking out from the back of the house and into the front-of-the-house spotlight. Coast to coast, in market segments from corpo- rate and campus dining to K-12 schools and healthcare facilities, serveries now sizzle with stations built around myriad concepts. Action stations give custom- ers diverse choices, the ability to get what they want how they want it, and a bird's-eye view of their food prepared or assembled just for them. From a customer standpoint, action stations are a sure bet. In campus din- ing, for instance, "students will gladly stand and wait in line at action sta- tions rather than stations where items are premade and plated," says Terry Pellegrino, principal at Minneapolis- based Rippe Associates Inc. "It's all about freshly cooked foods and, in particular, the ability to customize. To that end, we now plan some sort of hood or display-cooking element at almost every concept, even salad and sandwich stations." And from an employee standpoint, the stations can go a long way toward creating positive morale and fostering a sense of ownership, which are a result of working out front and engaging directly with customers, according to Pellegrino. How Much Action? With each action station typically offering a limited menu selection and focused theme, these stations tend to be pretty simple in concept. Despite this, designing for maximum impact and functionality requires both program- ming and design foresight. It starts with determining the desired and practical levels of action — with full exhibition cooking to order at one end of the spectrum and simple plating, Šnishing and/or self-service of batch-cooked foods at the other. Answering the question about what level of action to incorporate depends on several key factors. Top among them: anticipated volume; desired ser- vice times during peak periods; infra- structure and/or budget for managing air quality; and availability of culinary staff to operate the stations. Realistic assessment of such fac- tors has many clients opting to adjust the amount of action incorporated into the stations, according to Nahum Goldberg, FCSI, LEED AP, principal at NGAssociates (NGA) Foodservice Consultants, with ofŠces in California, Colorado and New York. "Some orga- nizations have moved away from having live cooking stations at which every- thing is customized," he says. "They're still offering 'action,' but it might be something like salads tossed to order or stations where staff is doing Šnal assem- bly and plating just in time. It's a shift that's being driven by labor, throughput and footprint, which in many cases is getting smaller. In highly subsidized programs, in particular, the emphasis is swinging toward economy and labor, as well as simply trying to minimize the time it takes to get people through." To help ensure faster service times, chef Paul Bohbot, operations and design consultant for NGA, suggests keeping a "rule of three" in mind dur- ing action station menu planning. "In situations where you have a large vol- ume of people needing to get through quickly, it's important to strive for three or fewer touches per menu item," he says. "Burgers, for example, would have no more than three components to them. Otherwise, customers get bogged down trying to make decisions, and cooks get bogged down trying to execute. Everyone ends up waiting." Offering a set, featured menu item or two — in addition to items made or Šnished to order — represents another proven strategy for keeping lines at action stations moving. In such a scenario, Bohbot says, "customers may sub out an ingredient here or there, but they're not trying to completely customize every time they're at the station." Mike Browne, senior project manager at Webb Foodservice Design, with ofŠces in Anaheim, Calif., and Portland, Ore., likes that type of hybrid approach as well. And where volume and throughput are major concerns, he says batch cooking — to ›ow versus to order, and simply plat- ing for grab-and-go items or letting guests serve themselves — serves as an effective strategy. "You're still doing fresh, just-in-time cooking in front of the customer at the station, but you're doing it in batches of 6, 8 or 10 portions at a time," Browne says. "Customers who want to get through quickly can do so without having to wait for everything to be cooked to order." Design for Flow, Flexibility Designing to ›ow represents another important factor. Given the propen- sity for lines to form at popular action stations, thinking through physical placement and adjacencies becomes critical. In particular, so-called Šre-and- ice stations (where customers choose ingredients from a refrigerated front line and hand them over to a chef to add an optional protein and cook to order) are relatively slow and require plenty of independent queuing space. "We always want to be sure that people at one station aren't lining up in Planning for long-range exibility is top of mind for designers.

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