The Amazing Evolution of Food Service Equipment

Hotel commercial kitchen depicting passage of time through motion blur of busy chefs

Have you ever considered how much the demand for restaurants has influenced the growth of technology? Food service equipment is one of the branches of technology that developed primarily because people like us wanted somewhere to eat in public and food prepared by someone else.

Today we are investigating some of the fantastic developments within the food equipment sector, and how far technology has come in helping to prepare meals. Commercial kitchen equipment is everywhere, from school cafeterias to fast food chains and fancy restaurants.

The First Instances of Commercial Food Equipment

While the first examples of something resembling restaurants only appeared in the 18th century, places resembling fast food drive-throughs were present as far back as the Greco-Roman world (332 BC – 395 AD). Thermopolia – which translates into ‘a place where something hot is sold’ – were pitstops where passers-by could grab a hot meal.

The main examples of food equipment used here were:

  • Meat hooks
  • Mincers
  • Spatulas
  • Colanders
  • Ladles
  • Pots
  • Kettles

It’s worth noting the other examples that would follow over the next few centuries. In Chinese tea houses, they would cook food on cast-iron stoves, serving food from a written menu. Further west, in medieval Europe – even though they lacked written menus in restaurant-resembling establishments – they used frying pans, pepper mills, tongs, mallets, waffle irons, weighing scales, and even cheese graters to serve food.

The First Literal Restaurant

According to some legends, a Frenchman named Monsieur Boulanger opened his establishment in 1765. Apparently, he even had the term ‘restaurant’ written on the sign outside. Even though this establishment was mainly for the working class, it didn’t take long before another opened a similar place dedicated to the wealthy upper class.

Their tools included:

  • Cast Iron Pots
  • Roasting Spits
  • Baking Kettles
  • Spit-Jacks
  • Gelatin Molds

19th Century Food Equipment Growth

During the early 19th century, restaurants – and food equipment as a result – became increasingly popular. New designs came about, and many people were enjoying various foods prepared by chefs in establishments for the working class and upper class.

The rapid industrialisation of Europe meant that there was an increasing number of workers who now needed to eat during their lunch breaks. More importantly, they needed somewhere to eat.

Restaurants exploded in popularity during this time in both Europe and North America, along with food equipment, including:

  • Apple Corers
  • Corkscrews
  • Can Openers
  • Gelatin Molds
  • Potato Peelers
  • Salad Spinners
  • Gas Cooking
  • Refrigeration

The 20th Century and the Exponential Growth of Food Equipment

The 20th century saw the most growth in the development of food equipment. While certain basic tools were retained – such as pots, pans, spoons, and so on – the main change came from the massive influx of convenience devices.

Sturdier materials became more popular in kitchens, such as steel, tin, silver, nickel, and aluminum. We also saw the rise of complete refrigeration and freezing units, dishwashers, sinks, electric ovens, microwaves, and more.

Fast food restaurants became even more popular as commercial chains now had ways to quickly produce large quantities of food, all thanks to their equipment.

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