What was your first encounter with foodservice?
For me, the corner candystore/luncheonette and the pizzeria right across the avenue, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of my youth, left lasting impressions on the fertile mind of a 1960’s pre-teen.
The elements that stuck out were those damn counters, blocking the sight of an inquiring pint-sized customer. A great wall of plastic laminate barred me from all of those mysteries on the other side.
Later, as I “matured” to an adolescent, I was privileged to have apprenticed with my (much) older brothers-in-law in the soda fountain and refrigeration trade.
I was finally able to pierce the veil of secrecy and peek behind the curtain, to enter the world on the other side of the counter. In many cases it wasn’t a pretty sight!
I now knew what they were hiding. This then, lead to my “lifer” status in foodservice equipment and supplies creating, repairing and/or replacing much of the counter-stock in the tristate area.
What makes the foodservice and the hospitality industry such a different experience than staying at home? Of course, food and service will always remain integral components of any successful operation, but what touches many of us most often is the theatrics.
Good FOH (front-of-house) design and execution can make the difference between just a plate of calories and a real memory. In venues as diverse as quick-service, fast-casual, buffet and cafeteria, the foodservice counter defines our first impressions.
Counter intelligence dictates that all design elements come together when laying out a new space. Visual appeal, utilitarianism, merchandising, space allocation, and security must all be considered when developing a plan. Asking “who, what, when, where, and how?” will set the course.
How often, however, do we ask “why”?
Having lived long enough to have seen “straight-line”, “scramble”, “grab-n-go”, “feature station”, and now the “mixed-use working space”, and all of the varied permutations therein, I can attest to some universal truths.
Food must be fresh, maintained at the proper temperature and humidity level, and lit properly. It must be eye-appealing and presented at a height that is convenient for the server (if there is one), as well as the patron to both see it and access it. It must be safely protected while not impinging on any of the aforementioned.
The fixtures must be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors subjected to it in foodservice: extreme temperatures, moisture, as well as the physical abuse meted out in high volume operations. Most importantly, the foodservice counter must become one with the space blending in to its environment seamlessly.
Count me in when surveying or touring a good cafeteria installation. I’ve been enamored with the foodservice counter since childhood.
I’ve designed and built them, demolished them, imported them, played behind them, made cappuccinos behind and served customers over them, studied them in Greco-Roman ruins, and sold them to many of you reading this (despite counter-offers).
It may seem counter intuitive, but the salad bars, cold tables, hot tables, steam tables, bain maries, frost tops, condiment stations, cashier stations and the like continue to exemplify our notions of hospitality and foodservice, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. You can count on it.