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Learn how to buy the right restaurant equipment and supplies right here.

Restaurant Equipment: 4 Factors For Calculating Total Cost Of Ownership (cont)

There’s always a significant amount of cost involved whenever you buy a new piece of restaurant equipment.  Those costs only continue as that equipment ages in your restaurant – from energy use to repairs, the consequences of new equipment will be around for a long time after you’ve written the check to purchase.

Of course, restaurant equipment makes you money as well.  Without that fryer or reach-in refrigerator or griddle, you wouldn’t be able to prepare your product for your customers.  But understanding the total cost of a piece of equipment over its lifespan has been ignored all too often in the food service industry for years.

Many chains have started doing Total Cost Of Ownership analyses for equipment because they buy large numbers of the same type of equipment all at once.  A faulty or inefficient piece of equipment can mean thousands of dollars in extra expenses for the chain over the lifespan of the piece, and conducting a cost analysis beforehand helps avoid problems down the road.

By and large, most independent operators do not undertake the complicated task of calculating total cost – usually because the information or the know-how necessary to make an accurate calculation isn’t available.

That doesn’t mean independents and smaller chains can’t benefit from a cost analysis before they buy new restaurant equipment.  In a continuation of yesterday’s post, here are two more factors to consider when calculating the total cost of a piece of equipment over its lifespan:

Restaurant Equipment: 4 Factors For Calculating Total Cost Of Ownership (cont)Service and Parts Availability.
Every food service operator loathes equipment downtime.  If your equipment isn’t working, you’re losing money.  Therefore it’s usually a good idea to do some research on the availability of equipment services and parts in your area before you buy.  It’s also good to get an idea of how easy it is to make do-it-yourself repairs on a unit that will save yourself an expensive service call.

There are many quality manufacturers in the food service sector who design units that are easy to pull apart and fix common component failures.  If you’re shopping around, make sure you ask about common parts and how they can be fixed on each unit so you can get a better idea of how quickly (and affordably!) you can fix those problems down the road.

Finally, consider the availability of generic parts for new restaurant equipment pieces.  Generic parts can save you a considerable sum of money if they are available for the unit you own, and are equal to or better in quality than Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts.

Ease Of Use. Energy efficiency is important, but so is labor efficiency.  A piece of equipment that’s difficult or dangerous to operate means more training time and a higher incidence of work-related injuries.  In a high turnover industry like food service, equipment that requires a lot of training to operate simply doesn’t make any sense.

In addition, difficult to operate equipment slows down production and reduces worker efficiency, which can bring some pretty high costs in a high-pressure environment like a restaurant kitchen.  When people order food, they want it quickly and usually at the same time as a lot of other customers.  Easy to use equipment that promotes employee efficiency rather than hindering it is an important cost to factor into your buying decisions.

Considering these factors before you buy a new piece of equipment will help you make an informed decision that goes beyond simply finding the lowest price.  In many cases, the initial price tag has little to do with how much that piece of equipment will actually cost you over its entire lifespan.  A total cost analysis helps you make a more informed decision.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth analysis of total cost, try this standard practice resource from ASTM International.

Read the first installment of this article.

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Why Buying Scales Will Save You Money

Why Buying Scales Will Save You MoneyI’m not telling you anything new when I tell you that inventory control is very important in any restaurant.  But I think it’s surprising just how few restaurants view the use of scales as a way to manage shrink and really control how food product is used.  In fact, scales should be the central tool in any restaurant manager’s quest to make sure everything that comes in the restaurant goes out as a finished product a customer is paying for.

The best place to start is with a receiving scale.  As product rolls in the back door off the truck, weigh each bulk item and record the weight.  That way you know exactly how much of each kind of ingredient you have available.  This helps you in two ways:

  1. You’ll know exactly when it’s time to order more product
  2. If you’re out of product, but you only sold X number of entrees that use that product (i.e. not enough of them to be out), inventory shrink is happening, and it’s time to hunt down the culprit

Portion scales are a necessary compliment to your receiving scale.  After all, if you’re measuring what’s coming in but not what’s going out, you’ll have a hard time managing your inventory.  There are two kinds of portion scales: mechanical scales and digital scales.

Mechanical portion scales indicate weights on a large, easy-to-read dial.  These scales are ideal for measuring bulky items that you’re cooking in large quantities, like french fries or chicken wings.  You sacrifice a little bit of accuracy for speed and convenience, which makes sense if you’re just pounding out apps on Super Bowl Sunday.

Why Buying Scales Will Save You Money

Digital portion scales are much more accurate and allow you to measure ingredients with precision.  Use these scales for measuring out the ingredients to your restaurant’s world famous secret sauce, anything that needs to be baked, and other multi-ingredient recipes.  The nice thing about digital scales is that you can reset the tare and calculate ingredient proportions very easily.

For those of you who don’t know, the tare on a scale is a feature that tells the scale to ignore the current weight on the scale and measure additional weight from zero.  In other words, the mixing bowl you put on the scale will weigh zero once you press the tare button and the scale will only register the weight of the ingredients you add to it.

You can measure ingredient proportions on a digital scale easily and much more accurately than with measuring cups because different ingredients compact differently in a measuring cup.  Flour is the best example.  A cup of flour can weigh between 4 and 6 ounces, depending on how compacted it is in the cup.  If you extrapolate that out to 4 cups of flour, you’ve got up to a 50% difference in the weight of the flour.

You can also calculate proportions more easily with a portion scale because you know how much ingredients that are hard to measure with a cup weigh, like eggs.  A recipe for pasta might call for three parts flour to two parts egg.  If two eggs weigh four ounces, then you know you need six ounces of flour.

Finally, scales can help you manage another extremely important inventory item in your restaurant: alcohol.  Use a liquor scale to measure the remaining amount of alcohol in each bottle at the end of the day and record the amount.  I’ve seen managers go through this exercise countless times, but never with a scale.  Usually they just look at the bottle and estimate how much is left.

You depend on alcohol sales to contribute to your bottom line entirely too much for such an inaccurate evaluation of inventory.  A liquor scale takes the guesswork out of the equation and allows you to compare hard numbers with your sales so that you can spot shrink and put a stop to it quickly.

Scales mean accuracy.  Accuracy means less waste.  Less waste means less cost.  Less cost equals more profit.  The equation is as simple as that.

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How A Low Flow Valve Can Improve Your Cash Flow (AND Green Cred)

How A Low Flow Valve Can Improve Your Cash Flow (AND Green Cred)

T&S Brass Water Saver Pre-Rinse Spray Valve

Your restaurant uses a lot of water.  Between the water you serve your guests, the ice machine, the dish machine, and the sink, any restaurant goes through a lot of water on a daily basis.  I don’t have to tell you how much that water costs you.  I’m sure you’re reminded every time you look at your monthly utilities bill.

When you go through as much water as a restaurant does in one month, even a small adjustment in daily water usage can make a huge difference in how much money you spend.  And sometimes those small adjustments can be astoundingly easy.

Take, for example, the spray valve on your pre-rinse assembly.  Naturally, you want a strong flow of water so that dishes can be quickly rinsed before they go into the dish machine.  The problem with a strong flow is that a lot of water gets used very quickly, and that costs you money.

In recent years low flow spray valves have become very popular for this very reason.  A low flow valve uses a fraction of the water per minute as older spray valves.  Over the course of a year, a low flow valve can save you thousands of gallons in water usage and therefore hundreds of dollars on utilities.
But will a low flow spray valve clean dishes?  The term “low flow” certainly doesn’t sound like something that powers food bits off very quickly.

How A Low Flow Valve Can Improve Your Cash Flow (AND Green Cred)
It took a company with a reputation like T&S to engineer a low flow valve that didn’t sacrifice any of the performance anyone would expect out of their pre-rinse.  Their new low flow spray valves clean dishes just as quickly or even faster than any other manufacturer.  Even better, T&S low flow spray valves use half the water as the competition, which can translate into as much as 100,000 gallons of water a year.

Making your restaurant more green is so overused these days it’s become cliché.  But when something as simple as changing out the spray valve on your pre-rinse can save you this much money, and bolster your greening efforts at the same time, what’s not to love?  It’s a win-win for your restaurant.

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Restaurant Cutlery Q & A: Finding And Maintaining The Best Blade

What’s the big deal with  santoku knives?Restaurant Cutlery Q & A: Finding And Maintaining The Best Blade

A santoku knife is a more versatile version of a cook’s knife, with a thinner blade that allows for finer slicing and mincing.  Some chefs swear by the santoku, claiming it has better balance.  In general, a cook’s knife is going to be better for larger, heavier chopping and cutting while a santoku blade is best used for thinner chopping and cutting tasks.  The “granton” or scalloped blade on a santoku knife makes the blade less sticky when cutting very thin slices, allowing them to peel off the blade more easily.

What does high carbon mean?

High carbon stainless steel, interestingly enough, has a higher carbon content than most other types of stainless steel.  This type of steel is used in professional cutlery because it allows the manufacturer to “temper” the blade.  Tempering is a heating and cooling process during forging that tapers the blade without making it brittle.  Higher carbon steel is more tolerant of this process.

Restaurant Cutlery Q & A: Finding And Maintaining The Best BladeWhat is a bird’s beak paring knife?

“Bird’s beak” refers to the downward slant at the tip of the spine of the blade on a paring knife.  This type of paring knife makes it easy to peel and cut round objects like fruits and vegetables, and is most often used for garnishes in commercial kitchens.

Is a serrated slicer knife better than a straight edge?

The short answer is that it depends.  Serrated edges stay sharp longer but are also more difficult to sharpen.  If you’re looking for a good, durable knife that doesn’t slice very thin, then a serrated edge slicer is a good bet.  Straight edge slicers are perfect for making paper-thin cuts on a consistent basis, like on a big hunk of roast beef.  They dull more quickly and are maybe a little less durable, but when you need thin, straight is the answer.

Why would I want an offset bread knife?

The offset handle on a bread knife means you don’t whack your knuckles on the counter every time you slice a piece of bread.  It’s a very nice feature if you’re cutting a lot of bread in a hurry.

How often should I sharpen my knives?Restaurant Cutlery Q & A: Finding And Maintaining The Best Blade

To maintain a perfect cutting edge, use a manual sharpener daily to remove burrs and restore a sharper edge.  Over time, however, the blade angle will need to be reset periodically, something an electric knife sharpener is far more effective at accomplishing.  As the blade wears down from daily use and daily sharpening, the angle gets larger, which makes it harder to get an edge out of a cursory daily sharpening.  A two or three stage electric sharpener restores this blade angle by regrinding the blade.  It depends on how much you use your cutlery, but in general the angle should be reset about once a month.

Is a diamond coated grinder better for sharpening?

In a word: yes.  A diamond coated grinder shaves away steel at a much cooler temperature than a normal grinder.  This is important because heat will “detemper” the steel of a knife blade, making it more brittle and more prone to nicking and dulling.

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Commercial Fryers: A Buying & Maintenance Guide

Commercial Fryers: A Buying & Maintenance GuideA commercial fryer cooks certain foods extremely efficiently and quickly, and are often used in restaurants and commercial kitchens for appetizers and specific entrees.  Fryers use a heating element to superheat an oil medium to around 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  When food product is dipped into the oil, the moisture inside boils, but because oil and water don’t mix, the product doesn’t lose moisture, and it’s steamed from the inside out.

The two most common types of commercial fryers are countertop and floor models.  The main difference between the two is capacity, and when buying a new fryer, this should be the first factor you consider.  Capacity is determined by how many pounds of french fries a fryer can cook in one hour.  Typically this is calculated by roughly doubling the oil tank capacity of a fryer. Therefore a 40 gallon fryer should produce between 75 and 80 pounds of french fries per hour.

It’s important to calculate the cooking capacity you’ll need for your commercial kitchen before purchasing a new fryer.  Countertop models have much less capacity than floor models and are typically used for very small volume applications.  Larger volume kitchens purchase multiple tank floor fryer units or put several smaller floor units in series next to each other.  This is especially useful for frying different food types simultaneously.  Avoid flavor transfer from one type of food to another by using the same heating oil.

Gas vs. Electric Fryers

Gas fryers use a natural gas flame either inside a series of tubes that run through the oil or through heating elements located towards the bottom of the oil tank.  Gas fryers heat up more quickly than an electric fryer.  Gas fryers are also more efficient, though rising natural gas prices has narrowed that gap in recent years.

Electric fryers use an electrical heating element that drops directly into the oil to heat.  The primary difference between a gas and an electric fryer is capacity.  Electric fryers are small capacity countertop and drop-in models that operate very well when dealing with a small amount of oil (up to about 25 gallons).  In this situation, electric fryers are more efficient and recover more quickly.

However, larger capacity fryers, with 40 gallons of heating oil or more, are almost exclusively gas heated units.  In a larger capacity context, gas heat is the only way to go in terms of efficiency and heat recovery time.

Types of Fryers

There are three common fryer designs: tube style, open pot, and flat bottom.  Almost all fryers are constructed out of heavy gauge stainless steel and include an accurate thermostat for temperature control.

1. Tube style fryers have a series of tubes that run through the bottom of the heating tank.  Gas burners run through these tubes and heat the oil.  Tube style fryers also have a cooler sediment area below the tubes.  This allows crumbs and food particles to settle out of the super heated oil above the tube burners into the cooler oil below the burners, preventing the carbonization of those particles, which can leave a burned taste on fried foods.

2. Open pot fryers are heated with either a gas burner or an electric heating element that wraps around the base on the outside of the oil tank.  The oil is heated as these elements heat the metal base.  Open pot fryers also have a sediment zone below the point where the gas or electric element is heating the oil to allow food particles to escape the super hot oil.

Open pot fryers are typically easier to clean than tube style fryers because the bottom sediment zone is open and reachable.  The heating tubes on tube style fryers make cleaning the bottom of the tank more difficult because they sit in the tank above the sediment zone, blocking easy access.

Both open pot and tube style fryers can handle most food products in significant quantities, depending upon the tank capacity of the fryer as discussed above.

3. Flat bottom fryers do not have a sediment zone that allows food particles to settle out of hot oil.  This type of fryer is therefore best for lighter foods that can be bulk fried like tortilla chips and taco shells.

Commercial Fryers: A Buying & Maintenance Guide

Fryer Maintenance

The heating oil you use in your fryer degrades in quality over time and should be replaced.  The frequency with which you need to replace heating oil depends upon what you cook, how much of it you cook and how regularly.

To improve oil quality and lifespan, use a heating oil filtration system to filter out food bits and debris from the fryer.  A fryer filter works by draining heating oil from the fryer tank, circulating it through a filter that strains out unwanted particles, and returning the cleaned oil to the fryer tank.

It is also important to boil out fryers regularly to burn fat and carbon buildup off the heating elements and the tank.  These deposits can become corrosive and cause severe damage to the fryer.  Be sure to clean the inside of the fryer regularly as well, the most logical opportunity for this being when you replace the heating oil.

Make sure you have the proper equipment to handle spent heating oil.  Used oil should be stored in stainless steel drums and transported in a spill-proof container with wheels for easy movement.  A local biodiesel company will dispose of your used oil for free or even pay you for used heating oil.

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Dirty Restaurant Restrooms Say Dirty Kitchen To Many Customers

Dirty Restaurant Restrooms Say Dirty Kitchen To Many Customers

88% of people said they thought a dirty restroom reflected poorly on the entire restaurant’s cleanliness.

A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that 88% of people who encounter a dirty restroom at a restaurant think this reflects poorly on the sanitation of the rest of the establishment, including the kitchen and food preparation areas.  Of those, a full 29% said they would never come back to a restaurant whose restroom they found to be very dirty.

In many ways the restrooms in your restaurant provide the public a window into the overall management and cleanliness of your establishment, at least from their perspective.  Think about it.  How many times have you walked into someone else’s bathroom and taken a quick look around to get a better feel for what that person is like?  The same goes for customers in your restaurant.  Impressing your customers with your restrooms takes some time and investment, but when you stand to lose 30% of your customers because of your bathrooms, it’s an investment you can’t afford to avoid.

The first, and most critical element, is to make sure the bathrooms you have are always clean, fresh, and well supplied. Your servers probably won’t appreciate this, but designate someone’s side work every day to making sure the restrooms are clean.  Draw up some guidelines to make sure everything gets cleaned properly, and take the time for some quality control.  And at least once a week, have a professional janitorial service do a top-to-bottom cleaning of your restrooms.

Of course, old, broken, and dingy equipment in your restaurant restroom is going to look bad, no matter how much it’s cleaned.  It probably pains you to do so, but it’s vitally important to budget some money to invest in new equipment and hardware for your restroom.

Dirty Restaurant Restrooms Say Dirty Kitchen To Many CustomersSome examples:

Hand dryers and paper towel dispensers. Nothing is as frustrating as sitting there with freshly washed hands trying to deal with a dispenser that doesn’t work.  If you are looking to replace your dispenser, seriously consider getting a hand dryer.  The up-front cost is more, but over the lifetime of the dryer, the savings on paper towels, not to mention the amount of paper waste you’ll reduce, will recoup your initial investment.

Toilet tissue dispensers. Again, having a functional dispenser is key to a good customer experience in your restroom.  Also make sure your cleaning guidelines include refilling these dispensers on a regular basis.

Baby changing stations. These are becoming more and more common in both men’s and women’s restrooms.  If you haven’t yet invested in baby changing stations in your restrooms, you should seriously consider it.  Being family friendly is great PR for your restaurant, and accommodating the needs of young families will breed customer loyalty.

Air fresheners. You could implement a strict cleaning regimen, invest in all new dispensers and other restroom hardware, and still watch your customers come out of your restrooms disgusted if it smells like a sewer in there.  I personally was in a restaurant restroom not too long ago where everything was tidy and neat but the smell was so overpowering in there I vowed never to return to that particular establishment (of course, slow service, an overpriced menu, and so-so food didn’t help either).

Partition hardware. The stalls in your restroom are going to break down over time.  Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to repair common things like door latches and locks, grab bars, door hinges, and brackets without having to rebuild everything.

Restroom faucets. Nice, new looking faucets can go a long way towards making your customer feel clean and ready to eat when they leave the restroom.  Installing new faucets isn’t too expensive and will add an extra shine to your whole restroom.

The best part about remodeling your restroom is that most of this hardware is relatively easy to install yourself, and taking the time to do so can really improve your restaurant’s image, especially with first time customers.

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It’s Commercial Ice Machine Season! Are You Ready?

Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?Commercial ice machines form a critical link in the chain of operation in a restaurant or commercial kitchen.  Ice machines can also be one of the largest expenditures in your budget, so choosing a unit that works for your particular needs and situation is vitally important.

And now that the warm summer months are here, the time of year you are most likely to buy a new ice machine are upon us.  This guide is intended to help you choose the ice machine that’s right for you.

Size According to Needs

commercial ice machine is the most important decision you’ll have to make.  In addition to space constrictions in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, you need to buy the right capacity ice maker and ice bin to make sure you can keep up with peak demand without over producing ice.

To calculate your business’ ice usage, refer to the following chart:

Food Service

  • Restaurant: 1.8 lbs. per person
  • Cocktail: 3 lbs. per person
  • Salad Bar: 40 lbs. per cubic foot
  • Fast Food: 8 oz. per 16 oz. drink

Lodging

  • Guest Use: 5 lbs. per room
  • Restaurant: 1.8 lbs. per person
  • Cocktail: 3 lbs. per person
  • Catering: 1 lb. per person

 

Healthcare

  • Patients: 10 lbs. per bed
  • Cafeteria: 1 lb. per person

The average number of people you serve a day plus your kitchen’s daily usage will give you an idea of how much ice you need in a 24 hour period.  Making sure your business always has ice at its disposal requires a careful consideration of storage space and production capacity.

Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?An ice bin that’s too large will result in a lot of melted ice, costing you money.  But too small of an ice bin means you’ll run out at peak operating hours, costing you customers.  The key is to strike a fine balance between ice production and storage.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s cheaper to store ice than to make it.  In other words, a larger ice bin that leaves you with some leftover ice after peak demand is more efficient than an ice machine that must produce 24/7 to keep up.

Also take into account the future growth of your business when deciding which commercial ice machine to buy.  A good ice machine, if properly maintained, should last at least 10 years, and in that time hopefully your business will grow as well.  It’s usually a good idea to add 10% – 20% to your peak capacity needs to accommodate future growth.  Some ice machines also come with stackable bins that allow you to add storage space as your demand for ice grows, adding more flexibility.

What Kind of Ice?

Different ice machines make different kinds of ice, and the type of ice you select is best suited for different applications in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Cubed Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Comes in Whole Dice or Half Dice sizes
  • Is dense, meaning it melts slowly and cools drinks quickly
  • Recommended for: cocktails and beverages, ice dispensers, and retail sales

Flaked Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Requires less energy to produce
  • Is easier to mold and shape for salad bar, meat, or seafood displays
  • Reduces choking hazards, making it ideal for healthcare and childcare applications
  • Recommended for: hospital and daycare cafeterias, salad bars, poultry, fish, or produce displays, and blended drinks

Nugget Ice:Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

  • Is softer than cubed ice but more dense than flaked ice
  • Is chewable and a customer favorite for beverages
  • Can also be used in product displays or salad bars

Air Cooled vs. Water Cooled

Commercial ice machines employ two methods for chilling water into ice: water cooled and air cooled.  Both types of machines have their pros and cons.

Air Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are affordable and easier to install
  • Are usually less costly to operate
  • Raise the temperature in a room and have to work harder in hot environments
  • Are noisy
  • Required in areas with water conservation codes

Water Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are more expensive and harder to install
  • Can operate efficiently in hot environments
  • Are quiet
  • Depending on where you live, may violate local water conservation codes and be prohibitively expensive to operate due to water use

Remote Condenser Units

Larger air cooled ice machines that produce more than 500 pounds of ice per day can also be equipped with an optional remote condenser unit.  A remote condenser is placed away from the ice bin or dispenser, usually on a roof.

Remote condensers:

  • Are air cooled
  • Are more efficient and quieter than indoor air cooled units
  • Require a more expensive professional installation

Maintenance

Most commercial ice machines are equipped with anti-microbial linings in areas where ice is produced and stored.  These linings inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and algae.  However, it is still very important to follow a regular cleaning schedule for your ice machine.  Thoroughly clean the ice bin and production parts at least once a month with specialized ice machine cleaner.

Also clean the condenser fan (on air cooled units) regularly and the air filter if the unit has one.  On both water and air cooled units, purge the water lines regularly to prevent mineral or bacterial buildup.

Should You Use a Water Filter?Its Commercial Ice Machine Season!  Are You Ready?

Installing a water filter with your commercial ice machine has become a standard practice in recent decades.  Most manufacturers actively encourage adding water filtration to your commercial ice machine and will extend the warranty by as much as two years if you install the correct water filter with your new unit.

Filtered Water:

  • Improves ice machine performance and lifespan
  • Tastes better to your customer
  • Reduces mineral deposits inside your ice machine, decreasing the chances of a breakdown

Buying the right sized ice machine is the most critical element in making the right decision.  Take the time to carefully calculate the ice requirements, both presently and in the future, of your business.  After you buy your ice machine, a few easy maintenance practices plus a water filter will ensure the unit performs for years to come.

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Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Steamers are energy efficient and cook food quickly without nutrient loss

Commercial steamers use either circulated or pressurized hot steam to quickly cook food items.  Steamers are ideal for cooking rice, vegetables, fish, and shellfish.

Because food is cooked by circulating hot steam over it, most nutrients are retained, making steam cooked food appear more appetizing and taste better.

Food is also cooked much more quickly using a steamer.

There are different types of steamers using different methods to cook food.  Selecting the steamer that works for you depends on the specific situation in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Steamers also come in various sizes, and you need to take into account the volume you plan to handle with your steamer before purchasing one.

Types of Steamers

  • Pressureless – these steamers use a convection fan to circulate steam through the unit and cook food.  The circulating air cooks more evenly than a pressure steamer, though cooking times are longer.  A pressureless steamer door can also be opened during cooking to check or season food.
  • Pressure – pressure steamers cook food by letting steam pressure build in the unit as opposed to circulating it.  This cooks food faster but the door or lid of the unit cannot be opened while cooking because of the pressurized steam.

There are two types of pressure steamers: cabinet type and steam kettle models.

Cabinet type models look and operate mostly like a pressureless steamer except they use pressurized steam to cook food rather than a convection fan.

Countertop steam kettles operate like a residential pressure cooker.

Connection vs. Boilerless

Most countertop steamers are boilerless, meaning you add water to a built in reservoir in the bottom of the unit with its own heating element.

Connection steamers have a direct water line that comes in to the steamer from the building’s water source.  This steamer type can handle higher volumes but is harder to clean and maintain.

Both types should use only filtered water with a scale inhibitor to reduce cleaning and maintenance.  Using unfiltered water can also affect food taste.

Combi Ovens

Combi ovens can use steam, standard convection, or a combination of the two to cook food very quickly and efficiently.  Although combi ovens are very expensive, they can replace many other standard restaurant equipment pieces like fryers, holding and warming cabinets, and of course steamers and convection ovens.

Combi ovens also save space because they can replace other restaurant equipment.

Calculating Steamer Size

Steamers (excluding kettle steamers) come in 1, 2, 3, or 4 compartment sizes, with a one compartment unit capable of producing up to 200 meals per hour.  Combi ovens are most often used in high volume situations because they can cook food so quickly and offer multiple cooking options.

Maintenance and Operation Tips For Steamers

Some maintenance and operation tips for your commercial steamers:

  • Use filtered water with a scale inhibitor. A scale inhibitor removes minerals from tap water.  These minerals can build up in your steamer, requiring constant cleaning and performance problems.  Some models have an indicator light alerting you when they need to have buildup cleaned.  Unfiltered water can also affect the taste of food cooked in steamers.
  • Preheat steamers before cooking food. It usually takes at least 5 minutes for a steamer to heat up.
  • Season food after it has been cooked in a steamer for best taste results.
  • Use a perforated pan for vegetables and break up frozen vegetables so they cook evenly.

Steamers are a great addition to any commercial kitchen, and because they are much more energy efficient than other conventional cooking equipment like ranges, you can make up for the cost of purchasing a steamer through energy savings.

Factor in optimized food taste and quick cooking, and the reasons for buying a commercial steamer become very clear.

Check out more restaurant equipment.

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Your Restaurant’s Guide To Commercial Composting

Every to go container, every disposable cup, and every plastic fork your restaurant uses ends up in a landfill somewhere.  Over the course of a year that adds up to millions of tons of trash from all the restaurants in the United States.  For most restaurants, these disposable items are a necessary part of doing business, and the lower the cost, the better.

Yet more and more restaurants are turning to compostable versions of these disposable items, even though they tend to be more expensive than their styrofoam and plastic counterparts.

Why?  Two main factors are driving the trend towards commercial composting:

Connecting with your customer.
Overwhelming majorities of Americans support sustainable products like compostable cups, plates, and food containers.  They may not be particularly motivated to spend more money for them at the grocery store, but when consumers encounter these products in places like restaurants, they tend to give the establishment high marks.  When you connect with customers on issues they care about, you’re going to see loyalty and repeat business increase.

Adding another facet to your overall green program. Whether driven by pure moral conviction or a desire to connect with customers (or both), more and more restaurants are instituting green programs as a part of their business.  The use of commercial composting and recycling systems have become widespread, and many restaurants employ programs to improve energy efficiency, reduce water use and carbon footprints.  Using compostable products can add a powerful element to any restaurant’s green efforts.

Your Restaurant’s Guide To Commercial CompostingSo how do compostable food service supplies work and why are they so great? Some common questions and answers:

What does compostable mean? Compostable products break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper) in an industrial composting facility.  It may take these products longer to breakdown in a non-composting environment like a landfill, but in general these products break down exponentially faster than regular plastics and even biodegradable products.  For a more complete explanation, check out this article: Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable.

What are the benefits of corn-based compostable products? Corn cups and other compostable products made from corn are beneficial because they use a crop that is already produced on a massive scale in the United States to replace petroleum (oil) based plastics that rely on a substance we must import.  Corn-based products are also carbon neutral because the plants they are made from absorb an equal amount of carbon dioxide as is produced to harvest the crop.

What is PLA? PLA stands for polyactic acid, which is a polymer that is used to make a replacement for oil-based plastics.  PLA is made from lactic acid, which is created when the dextrose (starch) found in biomass like corn is fermented.  Today almost all PLA is created from corn, but in the future PLA will be made from other crops, including sugar beets, sugarcane, and rice, depending on what’s available locally.

How are sugarcane food containers, plates, and bowls made? Sugarcane has a long, fibrous stalk that contains a sweet juice.  Sugar and many other things are made from the extracted juice, leaving the stalk behind.  This leftover is called Bagasse, and it has traditionally been burned or discarded.  Disposable sugarcane products are made using Bagasse, taking a previously unusable byproduct and turning it into a fully compostable plate, bowl, or food container for your restaurant.

What does post-consumer recycled material mean? Post-consumer means the materials are recycled after they are used by consumers and discarded.  Compostable hot cups are partially (about 25%) made from post-consumer recycled materials.  Not only is it sustainable to use recycled materials, buying products made from those recycled materials helps stimulate demand, meaning more will be recycled in the future.

What kinds of compostable products are available for use in my restaurant? Corn cold cups (PLA), post-consumer recycled fiber hot cups, sugarcane food containers, and high heat PLA cutlery are all examples of products you can put to use in your restaurant.  Make sure any compostable product you buy is BPI certified, as this is the gold standard for compostable products.  Checking for BPI certification helps you avoid “greenwashed” products that claim they are compostable but really aren’t.

Using commercially compostable products in your restaurant has a clear marketing benefit for your business because your customers will appreciate your decision to use them.  If your restaurant has already decided that going green is a part of your business model, then compostable products are a must to round out your program.  If you haven’t yet decided whether greening your restaurant makes sense, check out The Back Burner’s Going Green section for more information on everything food service is doing to meet the increasing demand for sustainability in food service.

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The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?

The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?To be honest, there has been a lot of skepticism among the people I have talked to in the restaurant supply business when they first encounter the EndoTherm Thermometer.  Maybe it’s the appearance: the oversized outer plastic shell, which houses a normal alcohol thermometer immersed in a special silicone gel, gives the impression of a child-safe toy, meant to be too big for choking.  Maybe it’s the purpose: the EndoTherm accurately reads food temperature rather than air temperature, which sounds a little hokey to the old hands in the industry.

So what is the EndoTherm all about, anyway?  Well, the official party line is that the gel around that regular alcohol thermometer mimics food product: when food freezes, the gel freezes, and the thermometer can therefore get an accurate reading of what’s going on inside your refrigerated product, as opposed to what the air around that product is doing.

Why is that good?  There are two official reasons:

1) Air temperature varies in refrigeration units, especially ones that are opened and closed on a regular basis, like display cases or prep tables.  A thermometer that only measure air temp is affected by how air is moving around the unit, and, especially if it’s at the back, away from the door, it could be reading colder than the food product sitting by the constantly opening door.  This could affect food safety, since it’s possible to have food sitting in the danger zone even though the air temp thermometer is saying everything is fine.

If you were to place a couple EndoTherm thermometers around your refrigeration unit, one right by the door and some others in the middle and at the back, you would know just how well food in different spots were holding temperature.

2) You might also have the opposite problem: you are running the unit too cold.  Again, airflow varies in any refrigeration unit and that can affect the air temp thermometer.  Warmer air coming in from the opened and closed door might be bumping your thermometer up a degree or two, causing you to turn the thermostat down to keep everything below 40 degrees.  And it’s possible that your food product is sitting at a very comfortable 35 degrees or so, unaffected by those little blasts of warm air.

Again, the placement of a few EndoTherms around the refrigeration unit might reveal that you can turn the thermostat up and still maintain food safety.  And every degree you turn up translates into an 8% savings on the energy usage for that unit.  Any restaurateur who has seen the electricity bill knows just how much money that means.

So maybe the EndoTherm isn’t so hokey after all.  This thermometer was dreamed up by two fairly famous inventors in England and apparently it has been all the rage over there, and is just now catching on in North America.  The reputation of the creators lends some credibility to the claim “accurately mimics food temperature.”

I think the jury is still out.  Skepticism dies hard.  I would love to hear from some people who have used the EndoTherm and have found it to be everything they ever dreamed of, and people who thought it really would be better as a kid’s toy.  If you have some real world experience with this thermometer, leave a comment below and tell us about it!

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