Will tomorrow's commercial kitchens be stuffed with innovative equipment, or will floorspace and menus dictate their design? Lisa Jenkins asks the consultants
The complex world of consultancy is one of helping to create inspiring and successful hospitality businesses.
Consultants fall into many categories. Some have a fabrication background, having learned their trade there before moving into design and project management. Others may have started out in operations, via design practices, before going on to independent consultancy. But whatever their background, management and design consultancies all follow the same process: they take a brief from a client and turn their ideas into reality.
Design consultancy is big business in the hospitality sector. The consultant's job is to innovate and translate, advise and transform. In doing so, they should always keep the best interests of the client in the front of their mind. If they play their part well, then all the recognition they need is their client's recommendation for another job.
"It's a case of using less and being clever with heat reclamation, which we don't use enough as it is too expensive.
"Our team are working on a hotel at the moment where they understand capital costs versus revenue costs. The refrigeration pack we are putting in the cold rooms will allow heat reclamation to heat their swimming pool. Yes, it's an upfront cost, but the initial investment will be paid back within six months."
Andrew Humble, director at Humble Arnold, says the cost of equipment has to be justified, and that it often comes down to bums on seats. He says: "When you are dealing with estate management, they are completely capital-driven. It's all about achieving capex, even for some of the organisations that allegedly have strong green credentials, particularly in business and industry, and that purport to be very focused on sustainability. When you actually sit down with their cost consultant, sustainability options are the first things to go. They don't necessarily practise what they preach."
Graham Barrie, director of Graham Barrie Design, says there is a need for more collaborative thinking. "Mechanical and electrical consultants could work more closely with us so that the equipment and technology front of house is more closely connected to what is going on in the kitchen."
Mike Coldicott, managing director at Tricon Foodservice, says chain restaurants have been the leaders in pushing equipment innovation. "McDonald's was using heat recovery systems on the broilers in its kitchens to provide hot water for its public toilers over 10 years ago. Chains are more proactive and able to apply more pressure on the manufacturers.
"When it comes to energy conservation, consultants are often involved too late in the process and left with insufficient energy for the equipment required."
Jayson Ball, managing director of Salix, says it's best to talk about the energy savings first. He says: "The cost per square foot has to be considered as kitchens are getting smaller due to the cost of real estate. In order to keep the kitchens small and create more seating space, they have to be multi-functional. You have to be clever and design the space with equipment that runs all through service."
There are systems on the market that monitor energy usage and manage heat removal. For example, Halton's Marvel measures changes in cooking surface temperature to adjust airflow, so ensuring the safe removal of heat and contaminants to maximise savings, while its Capture Jet technology aims to reduce a commercial kitchen's energy bill by 30% or more by improving the total efficiency of the ventilation system.
Traffic light systems or utility levels hooked up to a light can also be a useful reminder of equipment over-use: hobs left on unnecessarily, fridge doors left open, and so on.
"Surely someone will invent an energy usage app for use in commercial kitchens?" asks Coldicott.
Heat recovery systems are expensive and not always deemed commercially viable, and the high street chains and fine-dining restaurants know how to sweat their assets.
Our panel predict that kitchens will become smaller and start to encroach on the front of house, with portable units like those at the Grain Store in London's King's Cross.
"There are advantages to a smaller kitchen," says Humble. "The payback is reduced use of chemicals for cleaning and potentially less energy usage."
CHANGING MENUS In a fast-changing, trend-led foodservice culture, menus are dictating the equipment specified. Solid-fuel Josper ovens, barbecues and planchas are becoming the norm and the chefs' choice, driven by the flavours they wish to achieve.
Pan-Asian menus call for the use of woks and tandoors, and the street food phenomenon has led to the removal of kitchen walls to create a theatre-style service in restaurants.
As we move towards 2020, an Allegra report for the Foodservice Consultants Society International predicts we may be eating ants, and with the recent advances in genetically modified foods, kitchens may end up looking more like laboratories.
KEEPING IT REAL The basics remain the same and every kitchen must be designed to ensure a continuous progression of food from delivery to storage, through to preparation and the finished product.
The consultant's job is to design a kitchen that works - not just for the incumbent chef but for the chefs who will follow.
It's about working to a brief, understanding the chef's menu, specifying flexible and if necessary modular equipment, and educating the chefs and operators on what will work best for their business. "3D modelling will help - that is the future," says Sefton.
Consultants are motivated and driven by challenging projects. They have also learnt a lot from their clients. "We buy into the chef's ethos and the team pick up on the attention to detail," says Ball. "It has a ripple effect and we're proud to be part of it."
Coldicott agrees: "It becomes infectious and it's a constant learning process - sharing ideas. Being told you've added to the process and the success is fantastic recognition."
Consultants are part of a service industry and with an increasingly credible reputation look set to be a more integral part of the kitchen of the future.
THE PANEL Gareth Sefton, director, Sefton Horn & Winch
Jayson Ball, director, Salix
Mike Coldicott, managing director, Tricon Foodservice
Andrew Humble, director, Humble Arnold
Graham Barrie, director, Graham Barrie Design