Getting the right kitchen equipment
When you buy equipment, you have to give a lot of thought to what is you want. You can and probably should get help from consultants and and knowledgeable dealers, but in the last analysis, you are the one who is going to make the final decisions. If you aren’t you should be!
Even when you depend upon specialists, you should work closely with them. When they are gone, you’ll still be using that kitchen. I had a friend who complained about the ferocious turnover of his kitchen crew. He couldn’t figure it out.
He paid excellent wages and was even one of the first independent to have a benefits package, but he couldn’t keep kitchen help.
After talking to a few of his former workers, I realized that the kitchen was the problem. They considered it torture to work there. Equipment didn’t match the menu and broke down frequently, work flow was chaotic, and high temperatures created extremely difficult work conditions.
You get the picture. He had bought a former steak house and turned it into a Continental restaurant. However, he made no major changes in the kitchen layout or equipment.
No matter if you’re designing a new place or planning to remodel, you’ve got to give major attention to the kitchen or take the chance that it will bring the whole operation down. No matter how attractive the dining- room decor might be, if you don’t have a kitchen that can get out well-prepared food without delay, you won’t have a booming business.
Kitchens aren’t all the same. Some work, and some don’t. Yet, in today’s marketing-oriented food-service world, it’s the front of the house that get’s most of the management’s attention, not the nitty-gritty, unglamorous kitchen.
You must consider equipment size, materials, construction, capacity, speed, power or heating source, controls, standardization, and other factors. All are pretty straightforward. And you have to plan work flow carefully, or even the most suitable equipment may not be utilized properly.
You should consider size, because usually equipment has to fit into a certain amount of space available. That is doubly true of equipment added after the kitchen is in operation.
Materials are important, both for equipment life and appearance. And, of course, the materials used affect the cost of the equipment. For example, suppose your oven is to sit in a row of equipment against a kitchen wall.
Do you need stainless steel on all sides or just the front that’s exposed to view and use? If it’s available, plain steel on top, back, and sides is less expensive and usually lasts well. And there’s a big difference in cost.
Construction is one of the aspects of equipment that many operators ignore. How is the equipment built? Is it rugged enought to stand up under the kind of use your worst scenario calls for?
Are hinges strong, racks sturdy, controls easy to use but difficult to damage? Is the equipment built to be easily cleaned?
Capacity is vital. This is one planning area where most food-service operators fall down on the job unless they’re using the services of a food-service consultant. Among the things that have direct bearing on the capacityneeded for a piece of equipment are the amount of seating, peak seating turnover, the provision of a takeout service, the operator’s preparation philosophy, and the menu itself.
Do you need one piece that is capable of comfortably handling your heaviest peak load? Or would you be better off with two or more units so you don’t have to waste all that capacity during off peak hours?
Deep-fat fryers, ovens, and steamers are good examples of equipment that call for capacity planning. To keep one large unit fired up all the time is more expensive in the long run than the extra initial cost for two smaller units, one of which can be kept on standby until during slack demand periods.
Speed is another consideration. With some equipment, such as food processors, mixers, and slicers, speed is directly measured in revolutions per minute. Some preparation must be performed at higher speeds, some at extremely low speeds.
Determine what your needs will be and then make sure the equipment will match those needs.
A high speed may be important, but variable speeds are often just as important. Consider the conveyor oven or a conveyor toaster. Both types of units become more versatile if the speed or the heat can be easily varied.
Determining the power or heating source is a basic decision. If there is a choice between gas and electrical heat, you must know the characteristics and costs of each or have a consultant who does. Those characteristics must be matched to your type of operation to get maximum utility from the equipment.
In general, motor-driven equipment requires higher voltage power sources as the load demands rise. For example, a counter-top mixer can operate on 110 to 120 volts. But a large floor-mounted mixer used for mixing dough will require 220 to 240 volts, and some are even designed for 440 volts. To make sure you have the proper power source, you have to know what loads you’ll be putting on the equipment.
Today, more than ever before, you must think about controls. It isn’t just a matter of on and off anymore. Electronic controls have moved into the equipment marketplace in a big way. Some are merely gussied up on/off and variable rate switches. Others are complete miniature computers, sensing temperatures or viscosity and adjusting the device automatically.
Manufacturers have recognized that many kitchen workers are not literate in English. As a result, there is a growing use of systems of symbols for controls. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that there still doesn’t seem to be any unanimity among equipment manufacturers on what symbols to use. Be sure that you don’t buy equipment with conflicting or confusing operating symbols.
That brings up the matter of standardization. It’s easy to pick equipment for its features and forget that it has to fit into the kitchen “system.” Pans are a typical example.
Conventional ovens, microwave ovens, steamers, refrigerators, and freezers all must handle pans of food. Make sure your equipment is set up to handle the standard pan for your operation.
It may mean that one or two pieces will have to be sized larger than you had planned. But the key is that you’ll then be able to move the product through the entire system without worrying about whether a pan will fit.
And it may save frequent repanning of food placed in the wrong sized pan by mistake. There’s a lot more to standardization than just controls and the capability to handle standard utensils. The way controls work, the height or the work surface, the depth of equipment to be installed in a “line,” all should be standardized.
Equipment should make preparation easier and less labor intensive. And equipment manufacturers are turning out units intended to do just that. But to make it work effortlessly in your kitchen, you must carefully analyze your needs and the equipment’s characteristics.