In its most recent restaurant activity
index, the U.S. National Restaurant Association reported its Restaurant Performance
Index hit 101.5 in November 2005 after increasing
1.2 percent from 100.2 in September. The number, unchanged from October, marks
the 31st consecutive month above 100 and, according to the association, represents
expansion as same-store sales and customer traffic both experienced growth in
the 1-month period. And according to the Restaurant Association's Restaurant
Industry Forecast, the upward trend is set to follow the upswing in the economy
and continue through 2006 with sales increasing 5.1 percent and reaching a record
of U.S. $511 billion—marking the first time industry sales will pass more
than a half-trillion dollars.
With consumers carrying more cash in their pocketbooks, foodservice owners
know there is more money to be spent on fast and easy options. Foodservice
are seeking multi-faceted, and energy-, time- and space-efficient equipment
to serve up orders
quickly—and with a reduced labor force.
According Charlie Souhrada, director of member services for the North American
Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), motivating factors for
more time- and space-efficient equipment include higher real estate prices,
energy prices and a reduced labor pool. "The type of equipment that we
need to provide to operators needs to be easy to operate and provide multiple
uses," he tells APPLIANCE. "Equipment also needs to fit into an increasingly
smaller work area so that owners can dedicate more area to the revenue-generating
front of the house."
To help buyers achieve high-quality product results with limited space and time,
food equipment manufacturers are providing commercial equipment integrated with
Quick Speed for a Quick Serve
OEMs are focusing on the speed and functionality of commercial cooking equipment.
Buyers, already faced with limited space restraints, want one unit that can
pretty much do it all—and do it quickly. In other words, buyers want
efficient equipment, but not just in the traditional sense.
Offering induction technology as an efficient, one-stop solution is Chicago,
Illinois, U.S.-based CookTek, Inc. According to Warren Graber, director of
engineering, induction cooking technology is 93-percent energy efficient, compared
or electric cooking methods, which both rate in at only about 55 percent. Using
a magnetic field to create heat directly in the metal material of the cook
pan, Graber says the technology is so efficient because there is no wasted
induction energy is created is directly transferred to the pan. "There
is no energy lost heating the air or heating the cooktop," he tells APPLIANCE. "What
comes out of the wall as electricity literally ends up in the pan."
The company recently introduced a new buffet system as part of its Apogee
line of cooktops that feature LCD displays and microprocessor technology, which
self diagnostic checks 120 times per second and shuts down the unit if a problem
is detected. Equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology,
named SmarTag™ Technology by CookTek, the cooktop wirelessly communicates
with the pan and adjusts the cooking according to user specifications. CookTek
says an RFID tag in the pan sends its temperature to the appliance, which then
adjusts automatically to the desired temperature, ensuring an even cooking process.
For example, the chafing dishes on the company's buffet system can signal
the unit to maintain a "keep-warm" setting. More than 100 settings
The company says because the cooktop is an induction system, it offers a variety
of safety benefits over other buffet methods, such as canned fuel or steam tables,
and provides enhanced control over the final product, in addition to providing
fast and precise heat-up times.
Amana Commercial Products is also helping to meet the need of fast, efficient
service with its line of combination cooking products. The units are said
to offer cooking times that are 12 times as fast, which Amana enabled by combining
three cooking technologies in one unit. The Amana, Iowa, U.S.-based company's
Amana® Veloci High Speed Convection Oven combines infrared radiant technology.
The unit is equipped with a catalytic converter, which is KLNZ-approved by
UL and doesn't need an exhaust system so it can be installed virtually anywhere
in the kitchen.
According to Kami Poppen, new product manager for Amana Commercial Products,
the unit is also equipped with an auto voltage sensor to further ease installation. "Of
the two standard voltages the oven can operate—either 208 V or 230 V—the
oven will actually sense what voltage is there and operate properly," she
explains. "There is no real thinking about where to install it or what
kind of voltage there is. You just install it by plugging it in." Additionally,
the Veloci features a four-stage cooking option that defrosts, cooks or holds
items at the touch of a button and users are able to program up to 100 menu
items for one-button operation in the future.
First entering the North American commercial market in 2004, Sweden-based appliance
maker Electrolux has made some waves with its commercial equipment. Scott Applebee,
director of marketing and product management for Electrolux Professional, says
buyers are continually asking for more space-efficient, modular and flexible
equipment for their kitchens.
One solution the company provided was its pressure-braising pan. Considered
to be "must have" in Europe, the appliance has been slower to catch
on elsewhere, but is now gaining in popularity. According to the company, cooking
times are reduced 50 percent as foods are cooked under the pressure of steam
instead of water. "The primary benefit is that it cooks very quickly and
it doesn't change the form of the food," Applebee says. Additionally,
Electrolux says the technology allows several foods to be cooked simultaneously
as there is no taste transfer by the water vapor utilized in the process.
A maker of induction cooktop systems, CookTek, Inc. says the technology is about 40 percent more efficient than traditional gas or electric cooking methods. Directly transferring energy to a cook pan to create heat, the company says an added benefit to induction cooking is the elimination of "extra" energy. Warren Graber, director of engineering for CookTek explains, "All the heat [with other methods] ends up in the air and ends up being handled by the air-conditioning. With induction cooking, there is no extra energy loss."
Besides needing efficient equipment in terms of cooking times, restaurant
owners continue to be energy conscious and demand increasingly energy efficient
Electrolux is providing energy efficient food preservation solutions with
its commercial refrigerators. Equipped with probes near the evaporator coil,
company's Smart Refrigerator automatically detects ice build-up on the
coil and defrosts accordingly—instead of periodically defrosting based
on a pre-programmed and timed algorithm.
Applebee says the feature helps to save energy and extend the product's
life as it is only defrosting when needed, at the first sign of ice build-up. "When
you don't have this feature, it takes more energy to defrost because it
runs the defrost cycle when it isn't needed or works harder to remove large
amounts of ice that have built up. The probe system detects it early on in
the process and defrosts right away, ultimately using less energy."
The refrigerator also features probes that manage ambient and internal storage
temperatures that, along with condenser and evaporator temperatures, can monitor
time and temperature history and can recall past data in order to run the unit
24 hours in the case of a power failure or malfunction of the unit. Another
benefit of the memory, Electrolux says, is that it monitors Hazard Analysis
Control Point (HACCP) information. Applebee says that if the unit's temperatures
were to rise or drop into a "danger" zone, an alarm would alert the
operator, helping to ensure food is stored at the adequate temperatures.
Although important, energy isn't the only resource equipment manufacturers
are working to help restaurants conserve. Commercial dishwasher and warewasher
maker Meiko is helping the foodservice industry save water with its K-Tronic
conveyors that are said to wash and sanitize up to 310 racks per hour using only
0.28 gallons of water per rack.
According to Martin Schenk, president of Meiko, companies are starting to
adopt more environmentally friendly products in the foodservice industry. "In
general, customers today are much more aware of life cycle costing of a particular
product," he notes. "While the up-front costs of product are still
a concern, the long term costs of the product are being analyzed as part of
the purchase. Customers want to be able to communicate and analyze a specific
and how it pertains to both energy and labor management."
In response, the Anaheim, California, U.S.-based company included a heat exchanger
system on its K-Tronic Series to capture the heat produced from the unit, normally
exhausted outside, and use it to heat the water for the final rinse cycle. The
unit also helps to conserve water with its Auxiliary Rinse Zone that uses recycled
water from the final rinse stage of the washer in addition to a fresh water rinse
prior to the sanitizing rinse. The company says decreased energy use and water
savings result from the reduced need of fresh water and energy spent heating
Commercial oven maker Lang integrated digital controls in its recent product introductions to increase reliability and fast service for the operator. Its ChefSeries™ convection oven features its EnviroStar™ controls that are programmed at the factory to operator specifications. According to the company, this eliminates the possibility of a user adjusting the cooktime and ensures a consistent food product.
A Standard Control
Besides literally making the units themselves more efficient, commercial foodservice
equipment manufacturers are making their products easier to use and efficient
by way of digital controls and interactive electronics.
To help increase the efficiency and reliability of its equipment, commercial
oven manufacturer Lang (Everett, Washington, U.S.) recently redesigned its
oven line and provided two new electronic control options. Mike Roff, vice president
of business development for the company, says the EnviroStar™ control is
programmed at the factory according to the product program the customer's
own research and development department specifies. "This takes away any
opportunity for the user at the site to affect the quality of the product with
an ‘opinion' as to how it should be done," Roff explains.
In addition, the oven increases employee efficiency as it eliminates the
need to rotate pans while baking. Utilizing a two-speed convection fan that
and reverses its flow every 90 seconds, it ensures even air flow for consistent
baking, maintaining a temperature up to 525°F. "The reversing air flow
pressurizes the cavity from two different directions so the product inside does
not see air flow cross in one particular direction during the entire bake," Roff
says. "Instead of moving the product around in the oven cavity, we move
the air around the product."
Other OEMs are choosing digital technology to bring added benefits, including
enhanced reliability. One such manufacturer is Springfield, Illinois, U.S.-based
commercial coffee and tea maker Bunn Corporation, which employs RFID technology
to make the product easier to use. The company's new Infusion Series™ Coffee
Brewer uses its BrewWISE® technology to enable a multi-hopper grinder to
communicate with the brewer regarding brew time and other pre-programmed information
for up to 40 coffees.
Bunn says the technology is useful for restaurants that serve a wide variety
of coffees. "They can store beans in the different hoppers and can use
the RFID technology to name the hopper with the chip the is embedded in the hopper
container," Doug Bishop, product manager of New Product Development for
Bunn, explains. "Every time a different hopper is chosen and put in the
grinder, it identifies itself and the grinder knows what specifications to use
to grind those beans." The technology is also used to control pre-soaking
of beans and actual brewing.
A Steady Appetite
Although manufacturers see the U.S. commercial foodservice industry as quite
mature and saturated, they also agree the industry is set to experience growth
in 2006, with most expecting a 2 percent to 4 percent overall increase. According
to Poppen from Amana, the increase is attributed to the renovation and replacement
business and says that, as the number of people choosing to eat at restaurants
instead of home increases, so will demand for more commercial foodservice equipment.
As far as the future of the commercial foodservice industry in concerned, new
technologies will help continue raising the bar on efficiency, reliability and
According to NAFEM's Souhrada, the foodservice equipment industry agrees
future growth is shifting toward replacements and will remain that way for
years to come. Anticipating growth of 1 percent to 2 percent, Souhrada says
is far from being in bad shape. "It is an industry that is not going to
see hockey-stick type growth," he says. "However, people are still
going out to eat in record numbers and, as long as that continues, our members
will continue to sell commercial equipment."