More than ever, foodservice operators are looking for a competitive advantage to improve speed of service or upgrade their equipment. Combi-ovens, microwave-assisted convection ovens, infrared burners, steam-injected convection ovens, induction cookers and a battery of super-fast countertop equipment are all available to restaurateurs looking to speed up service. Here are some new technologies, for both back and front of house, being incorporated into foodservice equipment.
Here are five innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition:
Infrared works by heating ceramic radiants with a gas flame, distributing heat evenly and consistently. Usually associated with broilers and salamanders to provide intense heat with minimal energy usage, infrared is now being used in gas boosters for dishwashers, deep fryers and even griddles. In deep fryers for instance, a 50-pound capacity fryer with infrared burners could use 40% less energy.
Although not a new concept, infrared technology has seen a recent surge in popularity in foodservice equipment. This technology allows the equipment to generate more heat with less energy consumption. The units have a quicker recovery and, therefore, a greater output capacity which is critical for quick service and high-volume operations. This reduces downtime and ensures better quality fried foods.
Combi-ovens operate with both convection heat and steam simultaneously, offering the operator incredible versatility in a very small footprint. Almost all of these units now come equipped with a number of options and features that allow chefs to perform a multitude of cooking operations with one unit.
Combi-ovens can be programmed to operate at very precise temperatures for cooking delicate items. In fact, they come equipped with probes that can be inserted into food, ensuring accurate internal temperatures. They can also be programmed to operate as slow-cook and hold units for overnight cooking of large roasts. Their most attractive feature, however, is the ability to reduce cook times dramatically for almost any food.
Another type of combination oven is the convection/microwave oven. These units are simply convection ovens with microwaves speeding the cooking process. They can switch between convection mode, microwave only, or a combination of both. Food has the delicious browned and crisp characteristics of food cooked in a conventional oven, cooked at a fraction of the speed. Plus, most units can be operated with metal pans. Although the price of these ovens is still relatively high and the capacity is limited, these units will undoubtedly replace traditional microwave ovens in most foodservice applications in the not too distant future as the technology improves.
Induction Cook Tops
Where natural gas or liquid propane burners are not an option, induction range tops seem to solve the problem of slow response electric elements. They are very fast, easy to control, offer easy clean up and are very energy efficient.
Induction cooking uses a coil located beneath a ceramic cook top. The coil generates a current that creates heat in the bottom of the pot, creating an electric element. These units currently have some practical limitations: they are fragile, require pots made of magnetic material, and can also be fairly expensive.
Usually relegated to table top display cooking, inductors are now popping up as full-fledged cooking banks in a number of kitchens. Look for induction cooking banks with high-volume capability for surface cooking, as well as woks and deep fryers.
A recent introduction to foodservice is the induction griddle. This offers the same benefits of induction cook tops, in a griddle format, providing instant heat and super fast recovery. There are virtually no hot spots, and 100% of the cooking surface is available to set at precise temperatures.
Handheld Wireless POS Systems
While most of the technological advances are in the back of house, there have been some major advances in POS (point of sale) for the front of house staff. The most exciting one is the use of handheld wireless devices similar to PDAs. These allow the server to immediately input a guest’s order into the system. This eliminates an entire step of the ordering process. Many operators are reporting up to a 5-minute reduction in table times when using these handheld units.
They are also gaining ground in large outdoor facilities and sports venues where the guest can be a considerable distance from the terminal.