When it comes to the latest equipment trends, it’s all about innovation. As consumer demand for healthier prepared foods, faster service and higher-quality standards grows, there is mounting pressure on suppliers to design equipment that will not just do the job, but also make the restaurant kitchen a more attractive work environment.
“The minimum-wage dishwasher job in a dark, windowless room without air conditioning is not sustaining,” says Doug Feltmate, principal consultant at Planned Foodservice Solutions in Ottawa. “The same can be said for general kitchen work where there is a diminished labour pool to hire from.”
Feltmate sees the innovations described here — accelerated and multi-purpose equipment using more sophisticated Cloud-based technology — already in use by premium brands and in unionized hotel environments. But, he says, smaller restaurant operators have been slower to react to the trend.
Putting these changes in place across the foodservice industry will require a change in how the industry is managed, Feltmate says. “Accelerated and multi-purpose equipment will drive that trend…. Operators will need to spend more capital up front to buy this equipment, but this will save on daily operating costs, such as labour, utilities and food. The side benefit will be a more eco-friendly and sustainable operation.” Still, the shift won’t be without challenges. “We are an industry where change is not something we like to do. We don’t do it naturally,” says Feltmate. The following are five equipment trends that are slowly transforming how restaurants operate.
IN THE CLOUD
From POS systems as an iPad app to document storage, a restaurant’s business operations are increasingly moving to the Cloud. Thanks to Cloud-based technology, Feltmate says, information can be shared with the service company to do diagnostics when something isn’t working correctly and in multi-unit restaurants, it allows operators to share recipes, menus and processes.
“With this technology, a corporate chef never has to leave the corporate office,” says Chris Moreland, director of Sales and executive chef for Mississauga-based Chesher Equipment Ltd.
“This is a radical change from the day when the operator would have to send a binder or USB-stick out to every location with a new recipe and then bring a trainer in to show them how to cook it.”
Moreland shares the examples of the ACP Amana AXP22TLT (which uses microwave, convection and radiant heat in combination) and the Lainox Naboo (a line of six full-sized combi-ovens) to explain the Cloud’s potential. He says both use a touch-screen interface with built-in Wi-Fi and Cloud-based storage for recipes and cooking applications. “The technology enables the operator to transmit recipes instantaneously to multiple locations, making it easy to standardize menus and provide training materials,” says Moreland. “They can also transmit a video of a chef preparing the meal, provide cooking tutorials and images of the plated food, so different restaurants will know exactly how the final product should appear on the plate.”
MAKE IT SNAPPY
Rapid-cook ovens and accelerated-cooking technologies are helping chefs and kitchen staff meet the higher customer standards for fresh, local ingredients and healthy food delivered faster.
Acceleration is not about just cooking food faster, explains Feltmate, but also about speeding up the processes involved in food preparation, “In fine dining, for example, you can prepare and cook various components of the plate ahead of time in a production mode, then rapid chill in a vacuum bag from three hours to three days prior to it being needed for service. The product can then be finished in a variety of methods, such as combi-ovens, rapid-cook ovens, sous vide or even stovetop and [then] the plated meal is served in a matter of a few minutes.”
Completing some processes ahead of time allows for tighter quality assurance and quality-control measures by allowing checks to be done during production, rather than in the fast-paced, stressful service period, he explains.
Jeff McMullen, director of Strategic Accounts for Etobicoke, Ont.-based Garland Canada, has also witnessed this trend being adopted by quick-service restaurants and, more recently, the casual-dining, hotel and home-meal-replacement segments. That’s partly because equipment, such as the Merry Chef is being made smaller, he says, so it’s easier to fit into kiosks and other non-traditional retail venues where space is at a premium. By saving space for their kitchen equipment, restaurants can accommodate more guests at the front of the house, expand menus more frequently and save money.
MAKE IT MULTI
Although the combi-oven was first developed 40 years ago, “they’re only now gaining steam,” says Moreland. “Almost any restaurant starting out has one.”
Moreland says the largest growth area for combi-ovens is in the home-meal-replacement (HMR) segment at grocery stores. These ovens enable stores to offer “much more elaborate [meals] than they used to — everything from prime rib to roast turkeys to fresh-baked bread — rather than the potato wedges and chicken of the past,” he says.
In 1976, Rational became the first equipment manufacturer to combine steam and convection into a single appliance — and has been refining its technology ever since. The company’s latest innovation is a new generation of the SelfCookingCenter and its SelfCookingCenterXS 623, which is the first real counter-top combi-oven on the market.
As Rational Canada’s Marketing manager Kevin Breton explains, the benefit of the combi-oven is that it covers up to 95 per cent of typical cooking applications. Without needing to set moisture levels, circulation speeds or temperatures, chefs can grill, bake, roast, stew, steam, poach or blanch food — without the need for a traditional steamer or convection oven. “You can also operate the combi-oven manually,” he says. “Whether you’re using convection, steam or a combination, in manual mode, [you can] adjust every parameter yourself, directly and precisely, right down to the exact degree.”
“[Combi-ovens] sense and recognize the size, load quantity and condition of your products and calculates the appropriate browning by itself,” Breton continues. “According to the desired result, it will make the necessary decisions and adjust the temperature, cooking time, air speed and cooking-cabinet climate to best suit the requirements of your food.” There wasn’t always the intelligence to have a system that could provide automatic cooking according to your specifications and expectations, says Breton. “Now [a much more energy efficient] appliance can sense the current cooking-cabinet condition and the consistency of the food and also recognize the size, load quantity and product condition. By having that information, the unit thinks ahead and determines the ideal cooking path to the desired results,” he says.
ECO-FRIENDLY DISHWASHERS AND REFRIGERATION
The newest trend in dishwashers is in energy conservation, says Feltmate. New ventless dishwashers reclaim heat from old water and steam and use them to heat the incoming water. This means the hot-water dishwasher can now be connected to cold water because it’s using process energy to heat the incoming liquid.
Since the energy is being reused, the steam and heat don’t have to be exhausted. This represents a huge change from the simple door-type dishwasher that regularly uses two tons of air conditioning and heating for the make-up air it exhausts, Feltmate explains. Without all the steam emissions going into the kitchen, these dishwashers create a more temperate work environment for dishwashers and other kitchen staff.
On the refrigeration front, the R290 refrigerant — which is expected to be mandatory in all new stand-alone refrigeration equipment as of January 2019 — requires approximately 50 per cent less charge than conventional HFC refrigerants and is safe for the environment, says McMullen. This new refrigerant meets the DOE (Department of Energy) new energy guidelines effective April 2017.
It is reported to be up to 15 per cent more efficient than standard HFCs, with zero ozone depletion and less potential for global warming.
Whole-food blending is gaining traction in the foodservice industry with a focus on healthier options such as whole-food juicing — blending without straining — and cold-pressed juicing of fermentation to get a pure juice extract. “For example, blending a whole apple with beets and kale, ensuring all parts of the fruit and vegetable are used, rather than choosing to go with yogurt or more dessert-based drinks,” Moreland explains. A quickly growing trend, customers can pre-order these bottled juices from niche operators such as Toronto’s Greenhouse Juice Co. or have the bottles delivered to their home, says Moreland.
Vitamix is still the market leader in blenders, says Moreland. It is currently being used by major chains such Booster Juice and has also been adopted in all Starbucks stores with a custom-designed model for its blended drinks such as frappuccinos and smoothies. The Multiplex Blend in Cup, distributed by Garland Canada, boasts technology that eliminates waste and cuts down on cleaning, says McMullen, because each drink is pre-measured, blended in the cup and available at a push of a button. The unit then automatically cleans the blend chamber — making it ideal at self-service restaurants, although this technology is also being explored for the casual-dining restaurant segment.
Volume 49, Number 10
Written By Diana Ballon