Holiday `Wish List’
Operators from major foodservice markets speak out about the kitchen equipment that works best for them, which pieces have proved most disappointing in action, the E&S they most wish they could buy and the sorts of after-sales services that encourage or deter repeat business.
Dean Wright, Director of Dining Services, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
This IFMA Silver Plate award-winning foodservice professional with 25 years in the college market today finds his griddles and grills, steamers, convection ovens, tilting kettles and similar “traditional tools of mass production” to be the equipment most responsible for his program’s success. What he’d most like to purchase now, were it available, dependable and reasonably priced, is a combi microwave-convection oven with impinger technology able to produce meal items consistently with the same properties as conventional prep equipment.
Of all his current equipment, Wright professed himself most disappointed by the performance of his flight-type dishwashers, since they’ve proved highly labor-intensive, contribute to a harsh kitchen environment and fail to operate with expected efficiency. “In one of our kitchens that produces some 4,000 meals per day-part, we need 12 staff to work this type of ware-washer and we still don’t get the results we need,” he confirmed.
Next on Wright’s E&S shopping list are roll-in rack ovens for high-volume production of new varieties of “upper crust” breads, and a lighted, multi-tier temperature-controlled display case (likely to be dealer-fabricated) to present high-end spreads and toppings for the baked goods. A production piece Wright encouraged suppliers to develop is a frying unit with a main well and a smaller side well that would use a common heat source and power lines a single ventilation system. “With a piece like that,” he noted, “we could simultaneously prepare large quantities of one product, such as french fries, and smaller batches of specialty items, including the fried candy bars we recently introduced, with no flavor transfer or need to change the frying medium.”
Wright also urged E&S dealers to “be more visionary and ready to handle the most progressive new products and lines” as they come on the market. In this operator’s experience, too many DSRs restrict their product knowledge just to lines their own businesses carry, causing them to fail to offer the latest or most appropriate products to their customers. “The best way for dealers to help us is for them to sell, service and acquire parts for more different types of equipment, not just those they’ve carried for years,” Wright stressed.
Mike Harshfield, Operations Manager, Northeast Division, McDonald’s Corp., Philadelphia
Though Harshfield was hardpressed to pick out one piece of equipment that holds the key to success for McDonald’s, he does have a personal favorite. An automated “Arch” fry dispenser, which portions french fries into fryer baskets so that the crew can lower them into vats, has been a definite asset to kitchen operations, in Harshfield’s opinion. But, he emphasized, McDonald’s unit-level success is due to a combination of things, from the Made for You system and automated pieces to self-serve beverage bars and customer-order displays.
“The Arch fry system is an automated way of putting fries into baskets, dropping baskets into the oil, taking them out and draining and putting them into an area where the fries are bagged and boxed,” Harshfield explained. “The initial application of the system was a little disappointing because it was very cumbersome and difficult to maintain and keep operating at peak efficiency. The large number of moving parts was the core problem with the Arch fry system. The more simplified the design of a piece of kitchen equipment, the better off we’ll be.”
His “dream” piece of equipment is a fully integrated fry station that literally does everything, including bagging french fries. “A fully automated fry station would still require some human intervention for maintenance and cleaning,” Harsh field said, “but if there are equipment solutions that alleviate some of our crew staffing issues, that is where I would be spending my money.”
Digital menu boards are another piece of equipment Harshfield would like to see added in McDonald’s units. “The physical act of scrolling menu boards between breakfast and lunch would be eliminated and staff wouldn’t have to post price stickers,” he noted.” Though this technology is available, Harshfield said that McDonald’s has not adopted digital signage in its units because the cost of these items is still quite high.
Harshfield added that McDonald’s is constantly asking its vendors to create new E&S. These include everything from tray lowerators to new front counter designs and new designs of specific pieces of cooking and holding equipment all the way to tongs used on the line. And, as with most operators, McDonald’s wants training and support for all new E&S.
Harshfield believes that initial and ongoing training on how to use unit equipment is essential because of the high turnover rate in the QSR segment. According to Harshfield, there is a 75% to 100% annual turnover rate, making training programs that can be cycled through to new employees essential. “If you’re not perpetually keeping up with whatever that training mechanism is, the initial training that was done can and does get watered down and lost over time,” he asserted.
Dennis Sweeney, Principal, The Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co., New York City
As a partner in this internationally distinguished firm of restaurant master planners and operators (creators of the Rainbow Room and Windows On The World), Sweeney is responsible for organizing projects, developing financial projections and producing unit opening check lists. Due to his direct involvement in selecting kitchen equipment and reviewing its performance, Sweeney has firm opinions about the sort of E&S that contributes most to supporting his fine-dining kitchens’ programs, and the sort of equipment he’d most like to add.
“We really value induction cookers and cooktops. We use them for upscale buffet service because they’re very safe, reduce venting requirements and promote self-service,” Sweeney pointed out. He added that he’s been least pleased by the performance of currently installed under-counter refrigerators with doors. “When it comes to holding cold products safely and conveniently at prep stations, it seems we’re better off with under-counter refrigerated drawers and tall reachins,” he observed.
While Sweeney is still investigating the applicability of a full-ceiling (hoodless) ventilation system he’s seen operating in kitchens in Singapore and Sydney before putting it on his “wish list,” he’s avidly seeking a unique production piece for a display kitchen.
“What I want is a hot-top range with a fully removable top that could be replaced with a griddle or broiler,” he related. “It should work off a single set of heating elements and feature a variety of cooking surfaces to accommodate ever more frequent changes in menus and concepts.”
Sweeney professed that the most valuable service E&S dealers could offer restaurateurs would be to provide augmented training resources. “Given our labor situation at this time, every piece of mechanical equipment should come with a training video that lays out its correct operation and maintenance requirements,” he stated. “Because of the constant staff turnover and shortages occurring at even high-end restaurants, operators need to assemble libraries of DVDs and videos for every mechanized piece in their kitchens.”
Tom Issermoyer, Regional Foodservice Administrator, Mid-Atlantic Region, Bureau of Prisons, Annapolis Junction, Md.
Thanks to five new prisons now being added in his region, Issermoyer will finally be able to install some of his “dream” equipment into kitchen facilities. “One type of equipment I am pushing for right now is blast chillers. I am trying to get us into line with HACCP in terms of cooling food properly and keeping food at the proper cold holding temperatures,” Issermoyer said. Currently, some facilities are using blast chillers on a limited basis, but this operator would like to see full-scale cook-chill operations. He added that he would like retherm units in satellite facilities (such as the infirmary and other segregated areas) for food trays that are made up in the main kitchen. The biggest challenge Issermoyer faces is trying to get funding so cook-chill equipment can be used to its full capacity in existing prison complexes.
One feature that Issermoyer requires in blast chillers is infrared sterilization, to ensure sanitary operation. “A blast chiller unit is not like a refrigerator that runs 24 hours a day,” he explained. “It comes on, chills products and turns off, enabling the interior temperature to rise when the unit isn’t being used. We want to keep down the growth of bacteria related to moisture and warmth.”
Issermoyer would also like to see combi ovens made with better prison packages, including heavier construction and protected controls. This piece of equipment is one that Issermoyer believes will be in most prisons in the future. Currently, most of his prisons have convection ovens, but he would rather they all have combis because of their multi-task flexibility.
Issermoyer works with manufacturers’ representatives and asks them to provide the initial training to show kitchen staff how to operate new equipment and perform preventative maintenance. “Training people how to maintain equipment, not just operate it, is a big issue. Some of this equipment, especially combis, requires a lot of preventative maintenance, so we would like factory-trained people to come on-site and do that training,” he said. Videos are necessary for training inmates and on-site-training sessions are often videotaped for this reason. He endorsed in-unit training, noting that some suppliers employ chefs who come on-site to demonstrate all the applications of a piece of equipment.
Usually, Issermoyer works with manufacturers’ reps and says it is very important for them to come on-site before working up a plan for equipment installation. “I’ve even had them plan whole kitchens,” he stated. “They will do the drawings and even work a bare room up to a full-scale kitchen. They give full service and I wouldn’t deal with anyone who didn’t; I just don’t have the time.”
Rick Winfree, Director of Engineering, Taco Bell Inc., Irvine, Calif.
Because he is responsible for specifying all E&S installed in this chains restaurants, as well as new prototype-unit development and some in-unit R&D testing, Winfree is concerned with old and new product integration in addition to equipment’s ease of use and ability to perform multiple tasks. His most essential pieces of current equipment include meal assembly lines with adjoining hot and cold sections, and front-of-house POS systems. “Our stores can’t do business without either of these types of equipment, but if I could change one thing it would be to make our POS system’s graphic interface more user-friendly.”
Depending on the ROI scenario, Winfree would most like to purchase “some sort of combi steam-grill with continuous product flow that we could use to heat tortillas.” He would also like to see instructional labels affixed to all kitchen equipment, detailing a piece’s range of functions and how it should be used for optimum performance. “The simpler the language of such labels, the better,” Winfree noted, “and making them multi-lingual wouldn’t hurt, either.”
While Taco Bell’s practice of field-testing new or proposed equipment before system-wide roll-out has prevented the installation of any “disappointing” pieces, according to Winfree, he did mention that some beverage dispensers recently under test were rejected for not meeting simplicity of use and portion-control criteria. He added that he relies on local and national E&S dealers to help find appropriate new products and to recommend the development of currently unavailable pieces to their factories.
“Because our 7,000 domestic units are located from coast to coast, we depend on dealers most for reliable service across the country,” Winfree said. “Where we see a need for improvement among our dealers is in the reporting of service issues. We want to know more quickly when a service call has been requested and how a dealer has responded. Then, once service has been performed on some equipment, we need to learn about the outcome and costs faster and more consistently than we can today.”
Les Karel, Purchasing Manager, Kitchen Equipment, Darden Restaurants Inc., Orlando, Fla.
Karel wants equipment that offers cost savings in initial equipment outlays, as well as operational expenses. “Steamers, in general, are one of our largest maintenance repair and energy users at Red Lobster, Darden’s flagship concept,” he said. “My ideal piece of equipment is one that would greatly reduce maintenance and repair expenditures and energy costs, yet still perform as well as a convection or boiler-based steamer.”
Energy is a big issue for most restaurant chains and one way many protect themselves is by purchasing equipment that reduces this type of expenditure, a technique that Karel says Darden practices. “Besides just front-end capital investment,” he explained, “we’re also looking at the ongoing cost of operating a piece of equipment. We require equipment that is very efficient and can produce what we need, yet still help us with savings on the water and electricity sides, reducing expenditures that hit our P&L at a restaurant level.”
According to Karel, conveyor ovens are the most important piece of equipment at Red Lobster units. Therefore, it is important that these pieces provide a consistent cooking process. This includes consistency in production time, so staff can work efficiently and coordinate plate building with the rate product comes off the conveyors.
Darden has an extensive testing process for prospective equipment; however, success in testing is only half the battle. “It’s not just about getting the spec and selling us a piece of equipment,” Karel explained. “It’s also about the services provided after vendors sell us the piece of equipment. We want our vendors really to support the products they sell and do whatever it takes to make sure our operators are happy and understand the best way to use the equipment.”
Karel wants Darden’s manufacturers and their reps to contact him on a regular basis and inquire about his needs and what is going on with his chain’s units. Vendors need to be proactive, take an active role and suggest solutions to satisfy Karel’s service expectations.
Martin Cowley, Restaurant Design & Construction Manager, Disneyland Resorts, Anaheim, Calif.
The key equipment in this operator’s lineup of hotel, resort and freestanding foodservices includes “all our multitasking pieces,” according to Cowley. Within this group he singled out combi and heat-and-hold ovens, convertible refrigeration units that freeze as well as chill, and utility distribution systems. “These sorts of products are beneficial for us because they fit more easily into the relatively small footprints of our buildings, they lower our capital costs because we’re `condensing’ equipment and they reduce labor,” Cowley commented. If he could change any of the equipment now at work in Disney kitchens, Cowley would shrink the size of his current gas-fired combi ovens, since “the models we have now are too large to fit as well as they could under our hoods, resulting in lots of steam loss.”
Having recently purchased a “wish list” of E&S to support the new foodservices Disney will be opening in Southern California after the New Year, Cowley listed simplicity, reliability and user-friendliness as primary purchasing criteria. “We looked for equipment that was easy to maintain, required no special-order parts and, if automated, would not be too complicated for our current work force to operate,” he explained.
In the area of after-sales support, Cowley noted that, “Ninety percent of the service we receive is excellent, but the remainder is not great.” Common shortfalls among suppliers this operator has worked with include tardy responses to requests for equipment start-ups and calibrations, and a lack of urgency in placing orders with factories. He added, “It’s also very frustrating to me when dealers don’t take it upon themselves to monitor new equipment’s performance after installation and fail to do their own after-sale `punch list’ to determine if anything’s been left undone or isn’t working properly.”
Other problems Cowley has had with some dealers have arisen when plans and specs wound up not fitting in actual physical spaces or when not enough information was provided to allow the efficient coordination of installation schedules for custom and regular pieces during facility construction. “When we have a project that takes years to complete and I have to discover just before the floors are going to be poured that the dealer involved had failed to check the location of the above- and underground utility connections, that’s a sure sign that the dealer is not showing sufficient initiative or sweating the details. We’re not looking to do business with suppliers who only want one-time sales,” Cowley emphasized. “We want to build relationships with those who treat our service problems as their own and who will be proactive in anticipating our needs.”
John Dawson, Director of Design and Equipment, Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, Atlanta
Employees are one of the most important assets in Popeye’s kitchens, according to Dawson, so he looks for equipment that will aid them and is simple to use. One piece of equipment that he believes meets these requirements is the chain’s current fryers.
“I would say that fryers are the mainstay piece of equipment at Popeye’s,” Dawson advised. “Basically, 80% of the product we serve comes out of the fryers, so they have to deliver a consistent and high-quality product reliably.” Though Popeye’s has used the same brand of fryers for many years, these units have been continually improved. The most recent version was put into stores two years ago. Some features that have received recent upgrades include controllers, combustion chambers, well mats, filtering tubs and self-filtering units. Dawson noted that the timer was improved to “polish” shortening correctly, gas efficiency has been increased and the fryer now has a sturdier construction.
Dawson’s “dream” piece of equipment would be a fully automated fryer that would almost run itself. To fulfill this operator’s expectations, this fully automated piece must be simple for staff to operate, inexpensive to maintain and easy to service. Though some E&S suppliers may have come close to these goals on the IT front, their equipment may still be too complicated to service and operate. He added that today’s technology is not yet sophisticated enough to produce his ideal piece of equipment, especially at an affordable cost.
As would many operators, Dawson would like to see a reduction in equipment costs, but he recognized that so called “value engineering” can sometimes cheapen a product. He is earnest in his position that changes should not be made to lower cost if the product will break more easily, becomes harder to service or results in a controller that is too difficult to program.
Dawson looks to his dealers and manufacturers to bring him ideas for possible additions to the company’s equipment battery. “We are always looking for holding technology and equipment that can give us quicker delivery of products,” he said.