Inspiration from a Change Agent

Stacy Ward
Editor In Chief

I marvel at people who can easily reinvent themselves, scan the worlds around them with a thoughtful eye and reinsert themselves with fresh ideas that speak to future trends, so I was excited when I recently got the opportunity to speak with a change agent. Mark Freeman, the former senior manager of global dining at Microsoft, is well known throughout the world of corporate foodservice for his push to revolutionize the dining experience with tech-savvy conveniences like cashless systems and healthy, sustainable options that satisfy a growing consciousness for socially responsible eating. 

Months after retiring from Microsoft, he finds himself in a new role as the global foodservice strategy manager at Ford Motor Co., a company that he says is not so different from Microsoft. “Ford and a lot of different companies are finding that their world is changing because of technology so they aren’t necessarily a car company anymore,” says Freeman. “Every company is becoming a tech company because tech is taking over everything.”

The same goes for our industry as QSRs and fast-casual restaurants look to distributors for help in re-engineering the front of the house to incorporate self-ordering kiosks and all things mobile. How does Freeman, a self-proclaimed dreamer, see this spilling over into the back of the house and influencing the layout and design of commercial kitchens? Think virtual and scalable. In the future, Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems and other tools will play a larger role in designing physical spaces, allowing restaurants to virtually design their facilities and shave days off their opening date, predicts Freeman. Like in the retail sector, he also expects to see more pop-up restaurants temporarily taking root in cities across the country, a trend that the National Restaurant Association confirms has legs because of pop-ups popularity among millennials and Generation Z, and their usefulness as a testing grounds for operators.

For kitchen equipment contractors, that means rethinking “the idea of brick-and-mortar and the equipment associated with it,” says Freeman. “Pop-ups are portable and need equipment that will support it, such as plug-and-play and ventless. I see this as a major change and there may not be as much back of the house. It’s all going to be moving toward the front of the house.”

Visionaries dream a lot. As of late, the possibilities taking shape in Freeman’s mind revolve around autonomous transportation, something that his new employer is heavily invested in, having conducted several driverless delivery pilots with Domino’s Pizza and the delivery service Postmates. “The way things are transported in the future may shift a lot of things in the back of the house, as to how food is distributed to operators, how it is prepared in the kitchen and how it is transported to the customer,” says Freeman. “It’s going to be interesting to see how all of it develops and how foodservice deals with it. If they continue to build kitchens like they always have, it’s not going to work.”