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Why Water Filtration Is Essential In Your Restaurant

Water FilterWater filtration systems provide two key benefits for your commercial kitchen or restaurant: restaurant equipment maintenance and breakdown is reduced by as much as 75% Beverages and ice tastes (and smells) better for customers. Restaurant equipment that use water like ice machines, coffee and espresso makers, steamers, and dishwashers can all benefit from a water filtration system.

Mineral deposits (also known as “scale”) build up in these machines, causing maintenance problems and breakdowns.  Water filtration systems with scale inhibitors prevent the buildup of scale as well as filter the water in the commercial kitchen equipment you use every day. Water filters with scale inhibitors are particularly beneficial for ice machines, as ice will appear clearer and break up easier than non-filtered ice, not to mention taste better to the customer.

Water filtration removes:

  • Chemicals
  • Sediment
  • Minerals
  • Organic matter

The presence of these elements in your commercial kitchen or restaurant’s water affects water taste and odor and increase the likelihood of maintenance problems or equipment breakdown.

Types of Water Filters

Not all water filters and water filtration systems are the same. Some water filtration systems feature a drop-in replacement cartridge whereas others are screwed into the filter head. Some water filters need to be activated by cycling water through them for a period of time before use.  Other types allow you to simply drop in the cartridge and put it to work right away.

Some systems require multiple filter cartridges, especially for higher volume applications whereas others, most notably Cuno, have single cartridge systems for all capacities, saving space and money since you only have to purchase one replacement cartridge at a time.

When To Replace Your Water Filter

It’s probably time to replace your water filter cartridge if:

  • Water pressure drops significantly.  Many water filtration systems have a PSI (pounds per square inch) indicator needle.  If that needle is in the red or below 30 PSI, replace your filter
  • The water in your restaurant or commercial kitchen tastes or smells funny
  • Mineral deposits or “scale” start building up in your restaurant equipment
  • More than six months have passed since the last time you replaced the filter

The best way to avoid problems with your water filtration system is to replace filters every six months. If your water filter cartridge is clogging or going bad in less than six months, you may need a pre filter for your water filtration system. A pre filter removes larger organic matter and sediment before it reaches your main filter, improving the main filter’s lifespan and effectiveness. Different geographic areas have different water qualities, but in general if your area has especially “hard” water (it contains lots of minerals), has a lot of sediment or debris, algae, or other organic matter problems, installing a pre filter is a good idea. Wherever your restaurant is, you should have a robust water filtration system in place.  It’s good for your equipment, your product, and your customers.  There’s not three more compelling reasons for a restaurateur out there.

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The Time To Upgrade Restaurant Equipment Has Come

Restaurant EquipmentThere’s always some good reasons for upgrading your kitchen’s restaurant equipment: better energy efficiency, better performance, increased ease-of-use, increased output, etc. There’s always an equally pressing reason why you try to get one more year out of that same equipment: money doesn’t grow on trees, and there’s plenty of other costs your restaurant faces.

That’s understandable.  But if there ever was a time to buy restaurant equipment, that time is now.  Food service industry revenue forecasts are up, the newest equipment is more energy efficient than ever, and to top it all off, a recently passed bill will let you write off up to $500,000 in equipment purchases through 2011, meaning you get a tax credit now instead of depreciating bit-by-bit over the next ten years.

Of course, you’ll want to conduct a total cost analysis before you make the decision to buy, but when you factor in all those tax write-offs, that decision can sure be a compelling one.

Get more info about this tax credit here.

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Commercial Cookware: Weighing The Trade-Offs Before You Buy

Commercial cookwareIt goes without saying that commercial cookware is a must for any restaurant’s kitchen.  These are the tools of the trade, and if you’re looking to buy professional cookware, chances are you already know exactly what you want and where to get it.

The purpose of this guide is not to give you a 101 on the types of cookware.  I’m assuming you already know the basics.  The purpose of this guide is to give you some information that may help you become a more discerning shopper when you need new cookware, not to tell you what a fry pan is and why you should use it over a sauce pan.

So based on the assumption you know the difference between sauce pans and fry pans, let’s move on to material.  This is where your cookware buying decisions can start to get a little sticky.  In general, there are three main factors to consider when deciding on the material you want in your cookware:

1.    Price. Some materials are cheaper than others, plain and simple.  In general the scale goes like this, from least expensive to most: aluminum, non-stick, stainless steel, and tri-ply.  There are definitely some trade-offs between each type, which I’ll get into later in this post.

2.    Durability. Heating, cooking, cooling, and cleaning all put serious stress on professional cookware.  Some types of cookware are more durable than others, and durability is going to be a key factor to weigh against price when deciding what kind of cookware to buy.

3.    Heat conduction. Since the purpose of cookware is to conduct heat to the ingredients you’re trying to cook, the efficiency with which different types of materials conduct heat is another important consideration.
You’re probably already familiar with the different types of materials professional cookware is made from.  Let’s go through them anyway so we can weigh how each type stacks up against the three factors I outlined above.


Aluminum Cookware

Price: usually the lowest.

Durability: well, it depends on the kind of aluminum.  1100 series aluminum is the softest material available for professional cooking.  It tends to warp and dent easily, which means it can have a short lifespan in a bustling commercial kitchen.  3000 series aluminum (including 3003 and 3004) is harder because an alloy has been added to the aluminum that makes it more durable.  Of course, alloy aluminum is also going to be more expensive.

Heat conduction: just about the best.  Technically, copper is a better conductor of heat than aluminum, but because copper reacts chemically to certain food types, and is even softer than aluminum, it typically isn’t used in commercial cookware.  The exception to this is tri-ply cookware, which I’ll get into later.


Non-stick cookware

Non-stick means the cookware has been coated with a special material that makes it harder for food to stick to the pan when cooking.  This coating is usually applied to aluminum cookware and limited to types that are used for high heat applications – typically fry pans.

Price: a bit more than natural aluminum, but still very affordable compared to other materials.

Durability: it depends on how you care for it.  Non-stick will scratch off very quickly if you use metal utensils during cooking or clean it with an abrasive surface like a brillo pad.  And of course non-stick still has all the durability issues of other aluminum cookware.

Heat conduction: just as good as aluminum.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel Cookware

Price: more expensive than non-stick and natural aluminum.

Durability: stainless is about the most durable material you can get in commercial cookware.

Heat conduction: here’s where the trade-off with stainless steel comes in.  On the one hand, you’ll get some super durable cookware.  On the other, stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat very well at all compared to aluminum.  Of course, it will get hot over time, and has pretty decent heat retention, but if you’re trying to get ingredients hot very quickly, stainless isn’t going to perform as well.  That’s why stainless steel tends to perform best for long, slow, simmering type cooking, like stock pots and sauce pans.


Tri-Ply Cookware

Tri-ply is a hybrid of multiple materials, and in many ways this approach embodies the best attributes of stainless steel and aluminum.

Price: similar in price or more expensive than stainless steel.

Durability: tri-ply usually consists of a stainless steel body with a layer of copper or aluminum on the bottom to boost heat conduction.  This gives your cookware the durability of stainless steel without sacrificing any heat transfer.
Heat conduction: is usually excellent because of the highly efficient conduction of the aluminum or copper layer on the bottom.

Finding the right trade-off between price and performance is the perennial problem of any equipment purchase.  At least there are some intriguing options when it comes to professional cookware, and those options definitely give you some flexibility when it comes to deciding what kind of cookware you’d like in your kitchen.

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3 Reasons Food Prep Equipment Helps You Cut Costs & Improve Quality

Mandoline Food Prep EquipmentThere’s nothing quite as exciting as watching a busy restaurant’s kitchen gear up for the dinner rush.  Every chef and restaurateur knows that thorough preparation is the only way to effectively combat the chaos that is a kitchen during peak dinner rush.  And that’s why the kitchen starts prepping hours before the guests arrive.  Vegetables and garnishes are cut.  Potatoes and meats are pre-sliced and prepared for quick cooking or frying so that popular appetizers can go out quickly.  Everything has its own bin and is ready to go when the tickets start coming in.

The amount and type of prep work varies from restaurant to restaurant according to their menus and the ingredients used, but some standard principles apply across the board: consistency, quality, speed, and portion control.  Any chef will tell you it takes work to train staff to the point where they know how to prep the various ingredients used on the restaurant’s menu consistently without wasting food product.

High turnover rates means this training is a constant chore.  Maintaining consistency and quality without waste in a high stress environment is a lot to ask of new and inexperienced staff.  This is where investing in some simple yet very effective food preparation equipment can really streamline your kitchen’s operation.  Let’s revisit the principles of food prep:

  1. Consistency.  Manually operated slicers and dicers cut your food product the same way every time – no matter who is pushing the handle – a green newbie or a 10 year veteran.  Some popular options include tomato and onion slicers, chicken slicers, and lettuce cutters.
  2. Speed, safety, and comfort.  Good food prep equipment will cut the amount of time it takes your kitchen to prep ingredients significantly.  And because your staff isn’t dealing with a very sharp knife and a cutting board, one of the most common safety concerns in a busy kitchen goes away.  French fry cutters and wedgers also take typically difficult product like potatoes and make preparation easy and extremely fast, which is key to getting your popular appetizers out fast.  Finally, good food prep equipment is designed for easy operation, which reduces staff fatigue, enhances comfort, and reduces injuries.
  3. Portion control.  Apart from improving the quality and consistency of your product, and increasing the speed with which it can be prepared, food prep equipment is a great way to control inventory and reduce food waste.  There’s three main reasons for this:Chicken Slicer
  • Greater consistency means product is sliced or cut the same way every time to exact widths, minimizing oversized portions
  • Mechanized slicing uses all of the available product, eliminating the tendency to throw away ends or extras that could be used
  • Food prep equipment greatly reduces human error, which often leads to incorrect portion sizes or incorrectly prepared product

Over the years more and more specialized food preparation equipment has become available, allowing you to get several different machines to perform a variety of tasks in your kitchen.

No matter what kind of restaurant you run, your kitchen can benefit from the consistency, speed, and portion control a piece of food prep equipment can afford you.

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Product Watch: Robot Coupe’s J80 Ultra Juicer

The new J80 Ultra juicer by Robot Coupe represents another leap forward for a company that has long been known for its reliable and innovative products. With many food service operations moving towards fresher, healthier offerings in response to increasing customer demand, a quality juicer like the J80 has become a vital tool in any kitchen’s arsenal.

Some key features of the J80 juicer:

  • Productivity.  Unique Feed System design for continuous output.
  • Lifespan.  Stainless steel motor base for longer lifepsan and hassle free cleaning.
  • Power.  Very powerful commercial grade motor with constant speed whatever the load.
  • Ergnomics.  Easy removal of the stainless steel basket for cleaning – no tool required!
  • Low Noise.  The J80 Ultra juicer has such low noise levels it can be operated in front of the customer.

If you’re looking for ways to diversify your healthy menu items, the J80 could very well be the solution.  Robot Coupe has always been known for the quality of their products, and the J80 is no different.  No vegetable or fruit is a match for the J80, and your customers will appreciate the speed and quality of the new healthy drinks on your menu.

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The IRS Wants You To Buy Restaurant Equipment In 2009

IBuy Restaurant Equipment Before It's Too Latef you have already purchased restaurant equipment in 2009, or are planning on doing so before the year is up, make sure you get your accountant to take a special 50% depreciation allowance for all equipment that is purchased, installed and used by December 31st.

This tax provision was extended by President Obama’s stimulus bill from 2008, and it provides an excellent benefit for restaurants that need to purchase new equipment but are tight on cash in a struggling economy.

If you’ve already taken the leap and purchased new equipment this year, congratulations!  You’ll be able to take this 50% write-off on this year’s taxes with no problems.  If you’re not sure if now is the time to buy, maybe this is the thing that pushes you into shopping mode.

That’s because this incentive is only good through the end of the year, and the kicker is that the equipment must be installed and in use by the end of the year.  You can’t just wait for December 30th and order the equipment you’ve been wanting and still qualify for the credit.  So now, with two months left, might very well be the right time to act.

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Can Your Equipment Disappear?

Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot of writing and editing of materials describing sustainable food service operations. In addition to helping operators fulfill their potential for socially responsibility, sustainability practices typically lower overall program costs, boost local economies and create new revenue streams. Equipment end-users increasingly understand this; consultants are positioning themselves to offer sustainable facility designs, equipment packages and program procedures.

Where are food service equipment manufacturers and dealers in all this? Many are working at changing their corporate culture to instill “green” principles and practices such as reducing use of raw manufacturing materials, decreasing energy consumption during business hours, switching to recyclable packaging and alternative fuels, and offering more ENERGY STAR™-certifiable equipment. None of these changes is cheap or easy, and none of them would be taking place if the economic case for sustainable operations wasn’t becoming self-evident: Going green now saves money, sometimes initially and sometimes over time, for food services and their E&S suppliers.

All this is good news for industry members who regard restaurants and noncommercial food services as potential sources of social progress, as well as centers of nutritional support, socialization and income. Installation of equipment that consumes less natural resources, preparation of locally grown seasonal foods and facilities incorporating a maximum of sustainable materials all help to safeguard our environment, enhance communities’ financial futures and convince customers that their dining destinations are dedicated to their short- and long-term welfare.

Everyone in the equipment and supplies distribution channel, as well as commercial and noncommercial operators, has reason to celebrate the opportunities for professional improvement sustainable practices are creating. Finding new, socially responsible ways of saving money, for food services and their customers, is a winning response during a time marked by the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and a social movement for accountable stewardship of our remaining natural resources. So, customer counts and check averages have declined further than during any other period in living memory; successful restaurateurs and food service operators have adapted by becoming leaner, greener and more responsive to diners’ needs and expectations.

Before we declare the world and our industry fully saved, however, food service equipment suppliers and end-users will need to overcome a looming and formidable obstacle – the difficulty of recycling or re-using today’s kitchen appliances and their component systems.

It is true that recycling of engineered manufactured goods is not mandatory in North America. Not yet. Nonetheless, it’s easy to envision social or legislative pressures “forcing” food service equipment makers to build food storage, prep, production, holding and display pieces that can be processed into new products or disposed of in environmentally neutral ways at the end of their useful life. Many operators already participate in the conversion of leftover foods and other organic waste into alternative fuels and growing environments that produce fruit and vegetables for their own programs. It’s pretty close to a sure thing that sooner not later, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, serving counters and their ilk will also have to become just as reusable, if they don’t disappear into the great Cycle or Renewal altogether.

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Induction Cooking: The Future Of Your Restaurant?

Induction CookingThe presence of a large multi-burner gas range at the heart of the cooking line is about as fundamental as it gets in any restaurant.  That iron and stainless steel behemoth uses a lot of energy, throws a lot of heat, and requires a dedicated ventilation system just to keep the cooks from getting overwhelmed.

For decades no proper chef would have it any other way.  That’s beginning to change, and the catalyst of that change is the induction range.  Induction cooking works in a completely different manner than traditional gas or electric ranges.  Instead of using a superhot medium like burning gas or an electrically heated element, induction ranges use the energy created by two opposing magnetic fields driven by an electric current to make the metal in the cookware itself become hot.

Sound a little geeky?
It is, in a cool science project kind of way.  For professional chefs, the most interesting thing about induction cooking are the practical advantages it can bring to the process, including:

Precision temperature control.
While there is certainly a steep learning curve in the beginning, once a chef gets an induction range dialed in based upon the numbers on the knob, you can be sure you’ll get consistent, perfectly even heat every time.  This is especially beneficial for low temperature and simmering applications, because an induction range can maintain a much lower heat than a traditional gas or electric range.

Speed. You’ve never seen a pot boil faster or oil heat up quicker than on an induction range.  Because the metal of the pot or pan sitting on the burner becomes the heating agent instead of the medium, induction is by far the fastest way to heat whatever you’re cooking.

Efficiency. An induction range uses a fraction of the energy used by a traditional range.  There’s also almost zero energy waste since the energy used to heat food is created in the metal of the cookware instead of below it.  This energy is also created by a relatively weak electrical current, which can be much more inexpensive than natural gas.Induction Range

Safety. An induction burner that’s turned on to full heat is still cool to the touch.  As it heats metal cookware it will become hot, but the burner itself creates no heat.  This makes induction much safer than traditional ranges.  Some induction ranges even have automatic detectors that shut off the burner when there is no pan present, when the pan is empty, or when foreign objects fall onto the surface of the range.

Because induction ranges don’t burn fuel like a gas range, minimal ventilation is needed, and much less heat is created, even if you’re running induction all day on a busy line.  This can save any restaurant a boatload of money on the ventilation and cooling costs normally associated with a traditional gas range.  Make sure you consult the local regulations in your community when deciding how much ventilation you need to install for an induction range.  In general, however, the requirements should be a fraction of those for a gas range.

Induction cooking isn’t for every restaurant.  Some chefs don’t like the fact that cookware cools off rapidly when it’s not in contact with the burner – a distinct disadvantage for techniques that call for using the pan to flip or sautee ingredients as they cook.  Induction also supports only certain types of cookware – usually stainless steel or cast iron – which means your aluminum cookware will be useless on an induction range.

If you are interested in induction cooking, Vollrath has been a pioneer in developing induction rangescountertop burners, and even chafers for the food service industry.  So far another factor slowing the widespread adoption of induction technology in restaurants has been the cost of equipment.  As energy prices, especially natural gas, continue to rise and the cost of quality induction equipment comes down, however, induction cooking starts to make more and more sense.

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Christmas Ain’t What It Used To Be – But Learn How Your Restaurant Can Make More Than It Should

Why Your Restaurant Should Cater Christmas Parties This YearWithout a doubt, company Christmas parties aren’t what they used to be.  The days of opulent parties stacked one after the other are clearly behind us.  On the other hand, there’s definitely some opportunity for restaurateurs looking for a little extra Christmas income.

That’s because companies want to show some appreciation to their employees and boost morale after a tough year.  They just don’t want to pay a lot of money doing it.  That means hors d’oeuvres and light meals rather than New York Strips and an open bar.  The good news is, at least there’s a Christmas party at all.  Last year there was a rash of cancellations as the full effect of the oncoming recession began to hit home, and many in the food service industry who depend on holiday income were left in the lurch.

The key to getting some good Christmas business this year is to cater (both literally and figuratively) to your customers.  The best service you can provide customers looking to throw a holiday party is keep it simple yet unique and interesting.  Chances are, your restaurant already has the character part down.  Now all you need is a way to deliver that character in an exceptionally affordable way.

That’s where an investment in some quality catering equipment can go a long way.  That’s because when you’re set up with catering equipment, you have options and therefore your customer has options.  Do they want to save money by having a party in the office?  No problem, just roll in, set up, and serve.  Do they want to rent the private dining room instead of your whole restaurant?  No problem, you can set up the chafers and let them do their thing while you bring in other customers.

So what catering equipment do you need for a successful holiday season?  Here’s a quick rundown of essentials (and a few nice extras):

A Catering Chafing Dish

Chafing Dishes – of course, you knew this already.  But not every chafing dish is created equal.  Having a variety will give your operation more versatility, which means you’ll be better suited to accommodate your customer’s varying needs.  For example, clear roll-top chafers make for a better presentation in a self-serve situation.  Different chafer and food pan configurations allow you to serve soup and divide space for different foods.

A Buffet Ladle

Serving Utensils – another obvious one, but nevertheless essential to your success.  Buffet-style serving utensils will ensure your customers have all the tools they need.

An Insulated Catering Food Carrier

Insulated Beverage and Food Carriers – if you’re planning on doing any out-of-house Christmas catering, then these carriers are key to your success.

A Catering Portable Stove

Portable Stoves – a stove lets you do some serious reheating (above and beyond the gel flames you put underneath the chafers).  Once again, your catering operation should be about options, and this stove gives you plenty more.

A Catering Portable Bar

Portable Bar – this is by no means necessary but certainly a nice thing to have, especially if you’re going out of house or separating only a part of your restaurant for holiday parties.  Alcohol sales are always a quick way to profitability, and a sharp little bar you can set up anywhere can only help the endeavor.

As I’ve discussed in other posts here on The Back Burner, catering gives your restaurant another dimension of service that allows you to accommodate your customers no matter where they are.  Especially in a cash-strapped holiday season, having the right equipment could go a long way towards boosting your year-end sales.

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How To Grow Sales With A Commercial Bar Blender

A Commercial Bar BlenderSummer heat has a way of putting your customers in the mood for cool, refreshing drinks.  You already have the standards covered: cold beer, ice tea, and maybe even margaritas or daiquiris, but are you really satisfying your customer’s demand for great cold drinks?

Mixology is the study and development of cocktails, and it has become an increasingly popular field in the restaurant industry in recent years.  The reason for this is very simple: just like a hit special or entree can bring customers in the door, so can a hit drink, especially if it’s something new or takes a new twist on an old favorite.

Old standbys like margaritas, mojitos, and daiquiris are great, but if you take the time to develop an exciting summer specialty drink menu, you’ll find that customers will be enticed to order.  For example, take 1 part margarita, 1 part sangria, and a healthy scoop of ice and create something your customers have never tried but they’re sure they’ll like.

Exotic and fun new drinks can also create some summer buzz for your restaurant.  Use seasonal fruits and interesting liquor pairings to create blended drinks that really turn heads.  And, of course, not all your specialty drinks have to be alcoholic.  Again, seasonal fruits can make an excellent dessert drink for the kids or blend them with an energy drink for a great pick-me-up.  The possibilities are endless.

Of course, the key to your success when it comes to cool summer drinks is a good commercial bar blender or drink mixer.  Bar blenders can handle high volumes of drinks that require ice, which really is a key ingredient for any summer drink menu.  Drink mixers can’t mix ice, but they can handle large amounts of softer ingredients like ice cream, fruits, etc.

Investing in a quality commercial bar blender is exactly that: an investment with a bit of up-front cost.  But nothing advertises your business like some buzz over a popular specialty drink, and once you’ve got those customers in the door and having a good time, the sales will take care of themselves, as will your investment.

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