Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

MAR 2018

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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62 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • MARCH 2018 functional by design Such has long been the case at 1,000-plus-unit Firehouse Subs, where hot sandwiches featuring meats and cheeses steamed to order and served on freshly toasted rolls are the specialty of the house. Beyond upgrading to faster, more efficient equipment along the way, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain has changed little about its sandwich station design since it opened the first unit in 1994. Rich Goodman, vice president of operations services at Firehouse Subs, says a typical unit's prep line organiza- tion starts with the customer at the far end of the counter near the registers. The customer then works his or her way back toward the front door. "The first crew member assembles the meat and cheese and then goes back to place it in a steamer," Goodman says. "It currently takes 2 minutes and 45 seconds to steam the ingredients. The toaster is on the back line too. While the proteins are being heated, the bread is toasted and sent back to the front line to be dressed while crew members engage with guests and handle customization requests. The dressed bun is then slid further down the line, the proteins are removed from the steamer and added to the bun, and the sandwich is either plated for dine-in or packaged for takeout." Save Steps, Bring Heat Up Front Goodman notes the primary goal from a production efficiency standpoint is to maximize guest engagement and mini- mize the number of steps required for crew members to access what they need. To that end, and to better respond to increasing needs for speed and conve- nience, the chain is now making some changes to its sandwich station design. The introduction of more efficient toasters and new steamer technology will shave precious seconds off the steaming process, according to Goodman. In addition to being faster and more programmable, the new steamers also take up less space. "They're stackable and have draw- ers," Goodman says. "We'll have the same capacity as we currently do — eight separate steaming cavities — but need half the amount of space. It will get us a lot closer to the ergonomic kitchen of the future because it will minimize employees' need to walk from station to station. When we go to this vertical steamer station, employees can be guest-facing and have everything almost within arm's reach. The absolute ideal situation is for the employee to be able to stand in one spot and be able to reach almost everything. I don't know if we'll ever get 100 percent there, but as we move forward our goal is to always be reducing steps." When designing deli and sandwich stations, Pellegrino seeks to place sandwich-heating equipment directly on front-facing sandwich prep counters. Pellegrino's favorite sandwich station layout flows from a display of bread selections to meats, cheeses and any other ingredients that might re- quire heating. Next, whenever possible, she positions heating equipment next to, not behind, the proteins. Pellegrino adds that properly incorporating heating equipment into the front-facing sandwich make line requires containing the heat the equip- ment generates, which keeps the adjacent ingredients fresh. "That's a lesson we learned the hard way," she adds. "Some of those ovens put heat out on the sides, so we found it's a good idea to put protective glass dividers up to ensure that hot air isn't being blown onto the cold food." Prototype Shrinkage Goodman notes Firehouse Subs will continue to refine its prototype to en- able growth in smaller, nontraditional locations. Additional changes will also better accommodate mobile orders for takeout and delivery. To-go orders currently funnel through the same sandwich make line as all other orders, although Goodman foresees the day when Firehouse Sub might establish a dedicated line for carry-out sandwich assembly. "That end of the business is grow- ing," Goodman says. "Takeout already comprises 52 percent of our total sales. That's a big shift. Just five years ago, we were at 54 percent dine-in and 46 per- cent takeout. If we hit 60 or 65 percent takeout, the rationale would be pretty strong for going to a split kitchen system to ensure the greatest effi- ciency. We know from recent research that while taste is No. 1 in customer's minds, speed is a close second, so we'll be working hard to make continual improvements in that area." FE&S The typical Firehouse Subs unit features several steamers with lift tops, but the chain is transitioning to new vertical steamers with drawer-style cavities that heat faster, are more pro- grammable and require less space. Photo courtesy of Firehouse Subs

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