An industry long in search of a befitting moniker has done a terrible job of defining itself. Arguments about whether Americans call it “foodservice” or “food service” miss the point, as food and service have now been effectively decoupled.
With the rise of virtual restaurants, ghost kitchens, take-out proliferation, meal delivery expansion (robotic and otherwise i.e. DoorDash, Uber Eats etc.), grocerants, and a host of others, clearly technology has disrupted the industry.
The very definition of food itself is being challenged with the introduction and immediate popularity of protein substitutes such as “bleeding” burgers, near-meat and 3-D printed items (which remind us more of Star Trek replicators than chef inspirations). The path from farm to table is getting longer, not shorter!
Mealtimes are ill-defined. Workplace cafeterias are under legislative fire. A quarter century of vilifying ingredient categories has taken its toll: nuts, flour, fats, salt, animal protein, eggs, shellfish, ocean fish, alcohol.
The very staff-of-life which this far has survived millennia, credited with catalyzing and sustaining civilization itself now is characterized as persona-non-grata.
Large-scale farming which lifts whole populations from poverty and starvation has assumed the position of public enemy number one. Similarly, big corporate food fulfillment has found themselves to be under fire as they expand to fill consumers’ needs.
Is that imported product truly “organic”? Fake news reports about seemingly innocuous or benign food classes abound. Will clean eating only be available to the coastal elites? How much bread will you be asked to fork over?
How does the industry respond to such wholesale destruction? As it always has and must, it will adapt through innovation and rebirth. People who feed people are the pluckiest…
Obviously, new robust production and delivery standards and systems must be established. One key to safety and speed lies in the manipulation of temperatures.
Active heating and cooling will be performed at the production and destination ends, while passive warming and holding is important throughout the entire cycle. Multifunctional appliances – some enabled with artificial intelligence – will take the lead in these areas.
Blast chillers, shock freezers, combi oven steamers and steam equipment are all having a renaissance with their inclusion in the latest mega-kitchens. Speed ovens, conveyors, and ventless fryers, ovens, and grills now populate the plans for non-traditional venues. Controls and monitoring devices keep watch on, and record any variances, allowing operators to mine the data.
Conveyances will be under scrutiny as to their suitability for safe transport whether between facilities or to an ultimate consumer.
Real estate too, will play a big role in this new reality. Less emphasis will be placed on kitchen location. Receptor sites will not need ventilation to serve food. “Front of the house” gains a new meaning as there may be no “back of the house” in the house.