The push behind open kitchens move food preparation to the front
Joey Carolan, left, and Robert Kelley demo Sally the Robot at the Chowbotics booth.
As U.S. consumers are becoming used to seeing food preparation taking place in front of them when they go out to eat, cooking and food preparation are becoming less of only a back-of-the-house function, said Eric Chaplick, director of contract and design at The Boelter Companies, a provider of foodservice equipment and supplies.
"Everybody wants to know who's touching their food from a sanitary standpoint," Chaplick said. "You want to know it's being made fresh just for you. It's allowing us to use less space behind the scene and getting more in front of the customer."
For instance, the new popularity of fresh ground beef dovetails with open kitchens, he said. People want to see the meat before it hits the grill or the broiler.
The move to open kitchens is not restricted to any one foodservice channel, either, Chaplick said. In addition to restaurants, health care facilities are also developing open kitchens.
He also mentioned up-and-coming trends that include high-speed ovens, ventless exhaust systems and more automation in cooking equipment. Additionally, more machines are able to perform multiple functions, such as combination convention oven/steamers.
With respect to automation, Chaplick mentioned the Chowbotics salad maker on the trade show floor, which he said was the first robotic salad maker he had seen that really works. The machine chops ingredients, mixes salad and toppings and dispenses orders.
The Chowbotics machine has been upgraded since it was shown at last year's show. Company officials said that the machine definitely has a place on food trucks.
Chaplick also noted improvements in point-of-sale systems and mobile ordering.
"Technology has jumped up," he said. "Everybody has the ability to touch and feel an app and gain information instantaneously." The consumer can now pick and choose ingredients to ensure that their food is fresh, he said.
On the provider side, the expansion of Wi-Fi has made it possible for equipment service companies to troubleshoot foodservice equipment remotely to enable faster repairs, he said.
But, Chaplick said, despite all the technical advancements in foodservice technology — and its growing popularity — it's not likely to eliminate labor in foodservice operations any time in the near future.
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.