Equipment revolution: New technologies bring expanded menus


Film Journal International is publishing its annual Equipment & Concessions Guide this month, so a column on concession equipment seems appropriate. As the menu continues to expand in the movie theatre environment, equipment options and choices are primary pieces of the decision-making process. Choosing what you will serve in a theatre and how to serve it is highly dependent on how you plan to prepare it and the space that process requires.

The equipment in the food industry is ever evolving, and the recent National Restaurant Association show featured many new items. Some of the trends to review include the technology behind the equipment, the expansion of product choices, and the affordability of new equipment.

The technology and innovation that are being applied to food equipment are impressive and refreshing. The first primary consideration is that most food equipment is now computerized, as is much of the equipment for projection and sound. This is progressively true in most mechanical operations, and food equipment is no exception. The innovation affects ease of use, safety, space constraints and variety of product. Equipment is programmable so that the guesswork of cooking times is eliminated and knowledge can be easily transferred to new employees. Automatic shut-offs and temperature control have increased safety. Heating elements and coils have continued to be improved and computer boards continue to shrink to reduce space needs.

Cooking times are programmed with different temperature periods, times and power levels to allow a single piece of equipment, such as a specialized oven, to cook large varieties of food. This is very important in a theatre where space is always an issue. When a single oven can prepare a variety of hot foods such as pizza, pretzels and bagels, the theatre’s ability to operate efficiently greatly improves.

The capabilities of ovens and fryers that are present in theatres or other concession areas and in full restaurants make product choices for corporate food teams difficult to choose! With very small modifications, a single machine can cook potatoes, meat or vegetable products and do it very well. I won’t get into the differentiation of one brand from another, but the market is highly competitive and effective and continuing to raise the bar for sophistication of concession equipment.

While I usually focus on the positive, I must point out that equipment today is harder to repair. This is becoming a fact of life across all mechanical areas, as the technicians who repair equipment must now be computer technicians. It happens across the board, as most high-end production popcorn poppers are computerized. The Coca-Cola flavor machines are another good example of the computer technology that allows expanded product but demands skilled technicians at the same time.

Expanded product choices are the ultimate prize of equipment innovation and this is playing out across all food categories. The breadth of product choices from jalapeño poppers to deep-dish pizza is ever improving the consumer experience. And this is just at the traditional concession stand. The cafés, restaurants and bars employ a wide variety of equipment to prepare high-quality food and drinks. Just one example is the technology in bar equipment to pour and prepare a full list of cocktails, all from computerized, measured levels. These bars help with staffing issues and are often mobile as well, moving around within the theatre and expanding promotional opportunities with specific films.

The affordability of an expanded menu is the direct result of technology offering wider food options with a single piece of equipment, or two. The ROI can be more easily achieved with a wider span of product being produced and expansion of new product testing that allows successful products to be regionalized, all while managing a single fleet of equipment. This applies to both cooked and frozen products, as the technology for handling, preparing and offering frozen variety products has exploded in the last several years to really be able to compete with cooked product. The risk is coming down for trying new programs, and this is most evident within the frozen variety of product now on the menu such as milk shakes and frozen cocktails.

Reduction of cooking times, manual processes and the need for multiple equipment all contribute to lower labor costs, which keeps affordability and productivity high. The challenges of expanding menus are very complex, and the equipment behind these offerings is a big piece of the puzzle. Innovation in how equipment is designed and used has contributed to the ability of the theatre industry to truly expand menus in meaningful ways. Many other issues are at play, such as the quality of the product itself and distribution logistics. But without the equipment improvements we have experienced, the explosion of the wider food experience for the consumer simply could not have happened. Coming around full circle, the consumer experience is always what we are trying to impact, and keeping up-to-date with equipment innovation is very important to serving our customers.

E-mail your comments to Anita Watts at