The impacts of the pandemic, as well as ongoing shifts within the foodservice industry, have influenced demand of ware-washing equipment. Challenges, updated operating models and an overall focus on financial and operational recovery are each playing a role in shaping how operators approach dishwashing.
“The pandemic taught us the importance of higher standards of cleaning and hygiene with ware-washing equipment,” says Gary Lee, director of Sales at MEIKO Clean Solutions Canada.”
Overall, says Paul LeClerc, sales manager at Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Serve-Canada Food Equipment (which offers DIHR washers), efficiency is the key box to be checked when operators are looking for dishwashing units. “Everyone’s looking for the lowest cost of operation,” he notes, which makes energy and water efficiency top of mind.
When selecting equipment for Odd Burger’s restaurants, the Ontario-based QSR’s co-founder and CEO, James McInnes, notes all of these considerations influenced the choices the brand made. “Power consumption was the most important factor for us,” he explains. It was important that the restaurants have dishwashers that delivered both on energy efficiency and cleaning performance.
He also points to ease-of-use as another key factor. McInnes puts great value on the Krupps Koral undercounter unit the company chose as it was “load and go,” allowing employees to be able to operate it with the push of a button.
As Gabriele Forneris, Warewash and Food Machines Sales Development manager for Hobart Food Equipment Canada, points out, another important factor is the heightened labour challenges within the industry. “Workers are harder to find and retain — and more expensive. Customers want technologies and features that save time and allow dishwashing staff to perform other tasks across the operation, allowing them to do more with the staff they have.”
Forneris also notes that this has heightened interest in dishwashers overall. “Because labour is top of mind, customers are interested in technologies that help automate or eliminate common tasks that are performed manually…All our dishwashers are in high demand right now as our customer’s business picks up coming out of the pandemic. [And,] we see many customers moving from the three-compartment sink to door-type and undercounter dishwashers.”
“Industry wide…the most popular dishwasher’s an undercounter unit,” agrees LeClerc, noting they’re particularly popular with cafés and smaller restaurants. Adding further credence to this claim, Forneris points to Hobart’s LXe Undercounter Commercial Dishwasher as the company’s “most successful model so far.”
That said, other styles of washers are not to be overlooked. “Hobart recently introduced a middle-tier door-type dishwasher,” shares Forneris. “The new Centerline by Hobart door-type commercial dishwasher meets the need [to balance quality and budget] with both high-temperature and chemical-sanitizing models.”
Although the idea of automation may smack of upfront expenses, the reality is that the current business environment is making it increasingly difficult to avoid. According to Restaurants Canada’s Q2 2021 Restaurant Outlook Survey, as of July 2021, 80 per cent of restaurant owners were finding it difficult to hire back-of-house-positions. The same report also identified dishwashers among the key roles non-QSR foodservice operators were having the hardest time filling.
Given this reality, it’s not surprising that Forneris points to automation as the key area of development in ware-washing technology. “Hobart has introduced more technologies that reduce time at the dish machine,” he explains. “Two-level dishwashers increase throughput to wash more ware, faster and Automatic Soil Removal reduces labour time on pre-scrapping and machine cleaning.”
Forneris also points out that sustainability initiatives have led to an increase in re-usable wares in some operations, as part of their efforts to eliminate single-use plastics and other waste products. And, particularly in the post-COVID era, “commercial dishwashers are
an important part of making this work,” he notes.
Top of mind for operators are technologies that offer greater sustainability. Prior to the pandemic, decreasing environmental impact was a concern the industry had been pushing toward, with new offerings featuring heat-recovery technology gaining traction. This included units such as DIHR’s Optima HR Plus — a hood-type washer that uses the heat produced by the machine to pre-heat incoming cold water.
“That category seemed to be growing market-wide, until COVID,” shares LeClerc. “[Then] a lot of people put the brakes on spending.”
And, with the industry’s slow recovery, these issues still remain on the back burner. “I do think these trends are going to come back,” says LeClerc. “People aren’t necessarily looking at the heat recovery as much because they’re more expensive than a traditional warewasher, but the benefits far outweigh the cost.”
Looking ahead, Le Clerc expects shifts within the industry, including the rise of ghost kitchens and shrinking dining-rooms, will have an impact on future equipment needs. Such changes may allow for larger kitchens and different footprints for wash stations. At the same time, these shifts signal a decrease in customer-facing dishes.
For example, since the pandemic, Odd Burger has reduced the number of dishes its locations washes by eliminating dine-in trays. In doing so, the brand has eliminated the need for staff to handle and wash dishes touched by guests. This also allows its locations to maintain the same footprint for the dish area, as the amount of seating and number of guests served has limited impact on the number of dishes the kitchen produces.
Overall, in today’s operating environment, LeClerc notes, the question on everyone’s minds is how to do more with less, which will keep efficiency and cost savings top of mind for both suppliers and operators.
By Danielle Schalk