Trend watch: Implementing customizable, build-your-own operations without sacrificing service

Foodservice operations today are paving the way for a mismatch between supply and expectation. While Technomic estimates 46 percent of operators understand the increasing consumer need to customize, 72 percent of consumers expect customization. What’s more, these findings also indicate that only 61 percent of quick-service and 52 percent of full-service restaurant operators are open to adapting plates to meet individual tastes.

Technomic’s findings emphasize the potential that customization and build-your-own concepts have in terms of increasing foot traffic. For the 40 to 50 percent of operators currently dragging their feet on this trend, equipment designed to mitigate pain points (slower speed, higher prices and increased labor costs) can make it easier to offer customization.

Prepare to meet individual taste                                                                              

An investigation into today’s “foodservice hobbyists,” a group Technomic holds as the having the highest influence in terms of restaurant selection, shows an overwhelming majority of consumer decision-makers expect a level of social responsibility—including aspects like antibiotic-free meat and sustainable ingredients—in restaurant fares.

Working options to include socially responsible cuisines into your menu gives more options for the ethically minded patron to customize a plate to meet their lifestyle. Outside of sustainability, consumers crave increased menu variety. Working in worldly fare is an easy way to up the ante on your operation’s menu variety, and finding space for equipment like woks and rice warmers helps customizable, build-your-own operations meets the consumer desire for the opportunity to choose flavors and cuisines from around the world.

Taking the time to consider what types of foods lend themselves to customized concepts—things like salads, pizza, sandwiches, burritos and burgers—makes it easier to offer more menu items for less. Design-your-own pizza options, as an example, offset by individual grab-and-go slices, offer up options that satisfy both the customer looking to customize and the customer looking for speed. While these types of build-your-own concepts offer much more variety, ingredients also can pull double-duty for multiple menu item types (e.g. salads and pizza; sandwiches and burgers; burritos and bowls).

customization trend in foodservice

Get equipped 

Optimizing the flow of the customization process – a Chipotle-style assembly line comes to mind – calls for equipment and supplies that lets your customers see the ingredients for fast, easy ordering. Find a new edge to the tried-and-true tray line model and organize an efficient kitchen design/equipment setup that moves customers through three different stages:

  1. Preparation – includes the items like curtain storage areas and stainless steel hot-holding wells that hold ingredients for build-your-own fares.
  2. Meal cooking – includes items like rapid-cook ovens that quickly cook to order the food a customer has designed.
  3. Service – where customers can pick up the food after it’s ready to be served.

In addition to equipment and supplies that facilitate assembly-line-style serving/cooking, consumer inclination toward personalization (and freshness) means more prep work. But there are ways to work smarter – not harder. Since customization requires a variety of fresh ingredients and meal components (three types of salsas for build-your-own burritos, for instance) you might need to purchase additional prep equipment (blenders or food processors, etc.).

One big driver for customization also might affect your equipment and supplies purchases: food allergies. If your operation deals in dough, you might see the need to buy two sets equipment and supplies – one dedicated solely to gluten-free customers.

Finally, choose equipment that can cancel out the added labor or prep time that comes with customization. Some prep equipment – such as vegetable washers that eliminate manual work – can pay for itself in labor savings. As far as labor savings go, any equipment that does the cooking for you is a win. Conveyor ovens are a perfect example of longstanding cooking equipment that is ideal for customizable pizza and sandwich concepts, and saves time and labor. Equipment that cooks food faster, like high-powered combi-ovens, is a bonus.

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