Fab-Tastic Journey

So you need to spec some equipment, or maybe some décor items. As if you don’t have enough choices among the thousands of suppliers of off-the-shelf pieces out there, there’s a whole other universe of custom fabrication.

You can get custom-spec stainless fabrication, or custom millwork for wood or other materials. There are dealers who do their own fab, though not many. Most subcontract it to outside fabbers. Fabbers themselves generally specialize in either steel or wood/other millwork, and a few here and there do both steel fabrication and millwork. Then there’s another group—OEM manufacturers who produce their catalog items plus do fab and maybe millwork too. The possibilities are virtually endless, and even old hands at specifying custom fab are discovering new alternatives popping up all the time.

So how do you even begin to sort your options?

To Customize, Or Not To Customize

First question is, “What are you trying to do?” Fortunately suppliers can help you through the analysis. Are you better off with standard catalog items, or will custom be worth it? The big question is, as it is with most business decisions, whether your capital budget is strong enough to go for continuing paybacks.

Are you outfitting a prototype? If you’re going to repeat installations, unit costs can come down, and you can work that into your decision-making. Or are you doing a one-off? If your footprint gives you flexibility, off-the-shelf might be your answer. If you have a really constricted space or other unique requirements, custom might make more sense.

As for that matter of budget: Custom fab often—though by no means always—costs more than off-the-shelf. Do you have the capital budget for a custom configuration that can save you space, utility or labor costs going forward? Every time wages or utility costs go up, payback goes up.

And here’s another angle to consider: If you’re comparing apples to apples—the price of a buyout prep table to the price of a custom prep table—you’ll get one set of numbers. However, if you’re customizing, you might consider custom fabbing one piece that in effect will replace multiple catalog pieces—in which case your math will look very different. And then there are other considerations you might not think of. Fab suppliers can examine those options and run the numbers with you to figure out where they can help and where they can’t.

“The first thing we do is try to understand what the brand is doing in its kitchen,” says Todd Slawson, Senior V.P. of Client Services for Columbus, Ohio-based N. Wasserstrom & Sons, which manufacturers stock items and does a lot of custom fab and millwork. “Will this be a prototype to be replicated? Once we understand, we look at the food products and general design. Then we educate the operator about the differences between a manufactured piece and what we would provide as a custom piece. How much and what shape space do they have? That all factors in.”

Frequently Customized

Slawson notes most commonly custom-fabbed kitchen pieces include production/make/assembly line type equipment such as prep tables, overshelves, drop-in pieces and so on. “Every operator brand, every concept has a little different spin on the operations and food product side. Because of that, prep, cooking and assembly all might lend themselves to unique configurations.”

Elsewhere in the facility, Slawson says dishroom needs might benefit from custom sizing or layout of load, scrap and unload surfaces. “In QSR, maybe the drive-thru area needs custom fitting. Prep sinks, prep tables, work areas—maybe you will have a standard 24-in. x 36-in. prep surface/work table, but could it benefit from two mid-shelves, or casters, or flanges?” Often custom features can make a big difference in functionality, especially given the trend to ever-smaller overall footprints.

Front-of-house can involve stainless fab, but more likely it’s millwork, or a combination of both. “Some areas, such as beverage counters, are more metal,” Slawson says. “Front-of-house seating is millwork. Condiment counters and queue lines generally are millwork finished with laminates, hardwoods, Corian, those kinds of materials.” Another common front-of-house custom piece is a salad bar.

Managing The Process—Early, Early

Managing the design process, no surprise, is a key focus. Like managing any design effort, getting all the players involved early is crucial. Accurate communication, from general operational goals and ROI to precise measurements of dimensions, will make the difference between smooth installations and nightmarish, unprofitable rework and delays.

“We are proponents of getting involved as early as possible in the design/spec process, especially for prototypes, so decisions can be made with everyone involved,” says Craig Anderson, Project Director/Senior Designer at Irvine, Calif., dealer TriMark Raygal, which does a lot of design-build and subcontracts fabricators. “We work closely with the operator, architect and construction team early on to be sure we are not pushed into a corner” either on the design process or the timeline.

Getting everyone in the loop from the start is especially important in the case of custom fab because some ideas look great on paper but won’t work in the physical world. “With computers today, it’s easy to draw anything,” Anderson says. “But it comes down to how practical that shape or size or configuration is for the person who actually has to build it. And that translates to cost. What is the look that the designer wants versus what is functional and operational?” Some things are not possible, and some things are possible, but at prohibitive cost and no practical payback.

At St. Louis-based Duke Mfg., which produces catalog items as well as custom fab, Senior Project Manager Dean Anderson agrees. “The whole process from the design stage to installation stage all hinges on communication and at which stage a project gets passed to the next team member for that project,” he says. “To start a project correctly, you need to be able to take the vision of a consultant or site director and be able to transfer that idea to a quote and drawing that shows them exactly what we believe that vision is.” As some projects have multiple phases and multiple managers, communication becomes just that much more important.

“We listen carefully to find out what the operator really needs,” says Jonathan Hood, V.P. Strategic Solutions, Franke Foodservice Solutions, Smyrna, Tenn., which manufacturers as well as does custom fab. “We help them create standards [in layout and custom fab] so as they go forward, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

The idea is repeatability and efficiency. “When you think custom fabrication, you need to think standardization,” Hood continues. “You should go modular. As you create your concept, you must understand that although you want to build custom, you also will want to make changes in the future.” The more you can carry over from the original drawings—metal gage, bracing, other features and manufacturing details—the quicker and simpler any changes will be.

Many of Franke’s clients are putting big emphasis on small spaces, which puts a lot of pressure on conventional thinking. “A lot of catalog items go horizontal, and they require more steps around the kitchen,” he says. “A lot of facilities run electrical or refrigeration, water and gas and everything within the walls, and then it’s very hard to do changes later.

“We like to keep things modular. We design custom fab pieces for fewer steps and multiple uses. That often means we go more vertical, which optimizes smaller kitchens, smaller footprints,” he says.

Very often, the Franke team finds that the holistic, modular approach yields other harder-to-see benefits as well.

“We have a client that recently went through a redesign,” Hood says. “The new equipment package costs more. But we took out a drain and water line from the floor. We took $5,000 out of construction cost that you would not think of when thinking custom fab. We took construction dollars and moved them to equipment. The result was a more-nimble, more-quick facility. Sometimes catalog items just won’t do what you want.”

Figuring Lead Times

Another thing to keep an eye on is lead times. Lead times rise and fall seasonally, just as they do for standard manufactured items, all our sources indicated. Weather is a factor—first-quarter building and installation is pretty slow, especially in the northern tier. Fourth quarter is a rush to finish the year’s projected activity. In between is a ramp-up from spring through autumn, notably influenced by things like school renovations that have to be done during summer. If you know you’re going to need product delivered during busy periods, it’s best to arrange it in advance.

“For custom fab, once the drawing/review process is done, typical rule of thumb is six to eight weeks for lead times,” TriMark’s Anderson says. “That can be compressed, but it’s difficult. And of course it depends on the size and capability of the fabricator, the complexity of project, and the time of year.”

Other factors enter into lead times too. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that custom items can be made as quickly as a standard off-the-shelf item,” says Dave Martin, Application Designer & Engineer at Duke. “Custom needs to be laid out and engineered to specific needs, and that could, and does, add to lead times and sometimes costs.”

Mark Brenner, V.P. Sales at Eagle Group, Clayton, Del., which manufactures stock pieces and does its own fabrication and millwork, notes lead times even for a chain can vary from installation to installation. “Does the package differ from store to store? If stores are different, lead times can be longer because drawings are different. If the back-of-house is the same, that makes it easy, and you can do the fabrication for a store in a couple weeks.”

“Consistency definitely makes my job and everyone’s job easier,” adds Brian Powell, Engineering Manager at Eagle. And that translates to higher quality and quicker turnaround. Chain customers with repeatable drawings and relatively few points of contact often can expect quicker lead times. Other kinds of projects, especially if they have multiple contacts at multiple stages, introduce more complexity and can take longer.

Choosing Suppliers

So maybe after some thought you decide you need to look into custom fab. If you haven’t handled fab before, who do you talk with to get the ball rolling? No doubt you already have channel partners—a dealer, a consolidator, etc. Maybe you’re working with a consultant. Ask them whether they can help you design what you need and recommend a fabricator.

Talk to your peers in the industry. Ask them who they recommend, who they don’t, what were their experiences, etc. You need fab work that’s good quality and on time. Your peers will tell you what they know. They might steer you to a designer, a dealer or directly to a fabricator.

Think not only about the piece(s) to be fabricated, but how the whole workspace might be transformed. Ask your partners about logistics issues. “We will look at regional fabricators or mills to execute projects in some cases,” Anderson (at TriMark) says. “But at the end of the day, especially on the chain side, consistency is important. Someone who already knows your project can do it better, quicker, rather than training a new supplier just to reduce transportation costs.”

As for complexities, consider how many moving parts, so to speak, are in your project—how many pieces, and how many materials. Many fabricators tend to specialize in one material or another. Hoods and exhaust regulations are a sophisticated business, and dedicated hood manufacturers, with their testing capabilities and UL listed models, are a bigger part of the market. Fabricated hoods are a shrinking segment, with a small number of fabbers competing well.

Some sources do both metal and wood/other. (Other construction type materials such as ceramic tile, stone and composite often get subcontracted.) Is there an advantage in finding one that does both? Maybe. If you have complex pieces incorporating both steel and wood, for example, it might be handy to have a single shop producing both parts so you know they’ll fit before they ship.

 

Checklist For Custom Fab & Millwork

  • You’re customizing to get a payback—in time, labor, space and/or construction costs. Think outside the box. Can you customize one piece that will replace two or more off-the-shelf items? Your suppliers can help you.
  • Ask your peers at other companies what fab and millwork suppliers they would and would not recommend. They’ll tell you.
  • Communication is everything. Get operators, architects, designers, fab/millwork contractors and construction teams together at the beginning of planning so everyone hears everything.
  • The more complex a design is, the more challenging the fabrication is. Communicate and coordinate accordingly.
  • Make sure the design can actually be produced cost-effectively. Some configurations just can’t be built efficiently.
  • In an era of shrinking footprints, make use of vertical space.
  • If you’ll want custom pieces installed during busy summer months, get them fabricated/milled early.
  • If you have pieces that combine metal fab and millwork, consider a shop that does both and can assure fit before shipping.

As originally printed in FER Magazine fermag.com

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The Communicating Kitchen Movement

The communicating kitchen movement

Operating a restaurant profitably is a complex process built on many tasks and many costs. In a business environment that’s more competitive than ever before, site operators and chain executives alike are on the hunt for any way to trim costs without sacrificing the quality of the food or the customer experience.

With more sophisticated monitoring and oversight capacities coming online, chains—particularly limited-service brands—are turning to computerized kitchen management and facility management systems to get a handle on energy costs and, at least indirectly, food and labor costs as well. Such systems, which communicate with, monitor and control the facility’s HVAC, lighting, cooking and refrigeration equipment and sometimes the water supply, are practical examples of the much-vaunted “internet of things.”

If your company isn’t on top of this trend, more sophisticated competitors may soon be eating your lunch.

How Control Systems Cut Costs

In limited-service restaurants, food and supplies coming in the back door typically account for about one-third of costs, and labor for another third. The number three cost is usually energy, which may represent 5%-10% of the total cost of doing business (depending on the menu, the customer traffic pattern, the age and condition of the equipment, and the climate, among other variables). According to surveys by the Department of Energy, restaurants use more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building—more than three times the usage rate of the average commercial structure—as a result of the heavy demands of both cooking and refrigeration within a compact space. What’s more, the price of energy has risen 30% on average over the past five years.

State-of-the-art control systems can easily lead to energy savings of 5%-15%, says Dean Landeche, V.P. of Marketing for Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions. Some of that is from optimizing startup and shut-down of cooking equipment— something that unit staff tend to be too cautious about when left to their own devices—and some is from better management of the building itself, Landeche explains.

Apart from savings on utility costs, installing computerized kitchen monitoring also can result in better management of equipment, with less downtime, longer useful life and fewer, smoother service calls. “If the system can determine that the refrigeration unit is having problems with the compressor, you can schedule a service call for normal service hours,” Landeche points out. “That can mean the difference between a $200 standard call at an optimum off-peak period, and a double-overtime emergency trip on the weekend.”

Note that energy management capacities available today may go well beyond those of only a few years ago. It’s the quality of data analytics that stops ongoing energy leaks and maximizes savings, according to Michael Gainsley, Senior Director of National Accounts for EcoEnergy, a division of UTC Climate, Controls & Security. EcoEnergy’s Managed Restaurant Energy Services system combines energy savings with advanced analytics including a Service Window or daypart analysis of energy usage, Gainsley explains. For instance, “when a restaurant moves from breakfast service to lunch service, specific assets in the kitchen are no longer required. Our analytics and algorithms detect any operating standard violations where assets are not fired up or down, and the operations center continuously works with the crew to ensure that such violations are eliminated or kept to a bare minimum,” he says.

Specific Issues: HVAC And Water

HVAC typically accounts for about 28% of a restaurant’s energy consumption, second only to food preparation. Computerized management of the building’s HVAC is another big aspect of the communicating restaurant, further reducing energy costs while making the environment more pleasant for guests and staff (and thus more profitable for management). And it removes another layer of worry for unit staff.

“If an HVAC system isn’t operating properly, we can assist the store manager and technician in identifying and resolving the issue quickly,” says Paul Kuck, Senior Energy Manager at Ecova, which offers utility solutions and sustainability management to restaurants. “That allows the manager to do what he’s supposed to be doing, running a restaurant, not troubleshooting issues when the AC isn’t working correctly.”

Water used to be a minor utility bill in restaurants (perhaps 5%-10% of utility spending). But rates are rising faster than any other utility bill, about 8% a year on average, according to Kuck. “People are paying more attention,” he says. Ecova works with clients to implement technologies like aerators, spray valves, low-flow toilets and urinals, and high-efficiency dishmachines and ice machines as part of an overall strategic resource management program, resulting in substantial savings on water bills.

Other companies are water specialists. Ever watched sprinkler systems on timers turn on even though it’s pouring rain? A company called Weathermatic focuses primarily on landscape irrigation—something that can represent 55%-60% of a restaurant’s water bill, according to Bill Georgas, Senior V.P. of Business Development.

“We can show direct and repeatable savings by adding science to the way we irrigate,” Georgas promises. That means not only state-of-the-art hardware like drip sprayheads but also sophisticated computerized control systems that take into account site-specific conditions: heat, humidity, sunshine, even water runoff patterns based on the type of soil. A private internet connection allows managers to monitor conditions at each restaurant and alerts them quickly to any problems.

How Smart Restaurants Are More Efficient

Today’s expensive real estate and smaller kitchens are part of the pressure pushing restaurants toward communicating kitchens, notes Emerson’s Landeche. That’s especially true for limited-service restaurants that have “a more intense system, a smaller footprint that’s not tolerant of disruption,” he says. “As space becomes more constrained and more expensive, foodservice operators don’t have as much redundant equipment. So, one emerging trend in energy management is a greater focus on keeping core devices up and running.”

The connectedness of the smart kitchen goes way beyond the site itself, and that’s a big deal for regional, franchise-system and home-office executives. “Internet-of-things technology can help restaurants deliver real-time data to and from the cloud and monitor the execution anytime from anywhere,” says Mario Ceste, President of Kitchen Brains, which offers energy management, quality management and HACCP compliance management components in its Smart Commercial Kitchen suite.

Bill McClain, a consultant who most recently worked with Kitchen Brains, believes in the transformative power of data. Over time, he says, archived data creates “a deeper understanding of what’s affecting what. If sales are down on a given day, is that because the weather was bad? Or does business depend on which crew was working? What- ever metric you use gives you a quick idea of which stores need your attention. A regional manager who, in the old days, would visit all of a chain’s units on a regular schedule can now wake up on Monday morning, look at the current metrics and see who’s got a problem and should be visited first.”

Automated systems are increasingly important in managing a low-skilled, high-turnover workforce, particularly as minimum-wage increases step up the pressure to do more with less. “The kitchen staff in a full-service restaurant may have gone to chef school, but the 18-year-old in the back-of-house in a quick-service restaurant needs to be monitored,” says McClain. “Even something as simple as a timer can make the operation less labor-intensive, because you don’t have to train a guy to cook by eye.” Food and labor—restaurants’ two biggest costs—are addressed directly by systems like Kitchen Brains’ Quality Production Manager system, which wirelessly networks appliances and guides employees on all aspects of food preparation and service: it tracks market conditions, advises how much food to produce and when to start and stop cooking, monitors hold times, and advises when food should no longer be sold, ensuring 100% freshness. The result is less waste, lower overhead costs, greater efficiencies, and increased annual sales.

Improvements in food quality and food safety also are touted as key benefits of kitchen management systems by Jay Fiske, V.P. of Business Development at Powerhouse Dynamics, developer of the SiteSage asset and energy management system. “Better visibility and control of the equipment means less waste in processes—catching problems earlier so you don’t repeat the same mistakes,” he says. “Digitizing the whole HACCP process is like an insurance policy to remove as much risk as possible, eliminate opportunities for mistakes, and prevent catastrophic situations. What’s the ROI on that?”

 

Before You Invest In A Communicating Kitchen

Thinking about investing in a communicating kitchen? Here are some things to ponder before taking the leap.

1) Think about what you have to work with. How do you expect a new kitchen management system to further your overall business goal of maximizing the customer experience while boosting your bottom line?

How much of a transformation are you able to make? Do you know what’s going on at the unit level throughout your chain or franchise? How much unit or franchisee buy-in can you expect? Just connecting equipment to an energy management system won’t automatically achieve energy efficiency; the data must be collected and analyzed and then you need to alter staff behavior and procedures accordingly.

2) In weighing what to spend, consider the ROI of longer-lasting equipment. Just one example: an energy management system can alert staff when doors are left cracked open on refrigerators and walk-ins, making units work harder, shortening their useful life—and that reduces the monetary value of your initial investment.

3) Make sure before you buy that the system accommodates future improvements. If you want to add new equipment or make modifications to the HVAC system in a year, will you be able to do so?

4) But understand that retrofits are costly. If you’re in a position to make a sweeping upgrade immediately, you’ll save money in the long run. Retrofits are ultimately more expensive in part because they require workarounds for installation.

5) Make sure your management system will be adequately supported. What are the provisions for staff training in using upgraded equipment or going through new checklists? Will managers and maintenance personnel have access to a call center to help clear up questions, do a deep dive on data or troubleshoot problems?

6) Don’t overload unit staff with data. Electronic controls and alarms on numerous individual pieces of equipment can quickly become a burden to kitchen staff. At worst, they’ll be ignored. That’s one of the primary reasons that a central kitchen energy management system is more efficient than installation of separate pieces of “smart” equipment.

7) Figure out the role of remote data access and oversight. What information on unit performance will be available remotely on a computer, tablet or mobile phone? Who will have access to this information—unit managers? regional managers? home-office staff? maintenance people? What modifications can be made remotely—changing temperature levels? changing the irrigation schedule? changing food production levels? Who will be authorized to make these alterations?

8) Plan ahead for a smooth rollout. Especially in older buildings, tasks like adding electrical cables can become a major challenge. Make sure the people overseeing your new facility management system can handle the installation expeditiously when each site is closed.

9) Allow for initial troubleshooting. After 30 to 60 days, you’ll have enough information to make modifications like setting lighting times appropriately or tweaking the thermostat on HVAC units.

10) Pair your control system with a well-thought-out preventive maintenance program. Work with your service agency or agencies on a regular maintenance schedule for each major piece of equipment.

As originally printed in FER Magazine fermag.com

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Cold to Go

They’ve become ubiquitous. You see them everywhere—on end aisles and the foot of the checkout lanes in supermarkets, on the counter of a snack cart in an office lobby, against the wall of a campus or retail bookstore, in the middle of a cafeteria servery, even built in to the counter of a coffeeshop. Refrigerators in every shape and size, with air curtains or glass doors, merchandising a wide variety of foods and beverages.

In the U.S., consumers like icy cold beverages, cold, crisp salads and other cold foods like sandwiches and snacks as much or perhaps even more than a good hot meal. And they’ve grown accustomed to convenience to the point that they’re willing to help themselves whenever and wherever they can, from self-serve checkout lines at the airport or grocery store to grab-and-go cases in foodservice and retail stores.

Refrigerated display cases can help you take advantage of this trend by merchandising a mix of products beyond your normal menu, and offering customers a convenient way to help themselves. Not only do grab-and-go cases generate additional sales, but a large proportion are impulse sales, meaning a higher check average.

But not all cases will work well in all applications. What type and size you spec depends largely on what products you plan to merchandise and the configuration of the space where you’d like to put it. Here’s the skinny on how to narrow down your choices.

Open Vs. Closed

Our focus in this piece is on open display cases, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss closed cases outright. In fact, you may have an application or situation in which a closed case is the better choice. The primary advantages of a refrigerated case with doors instead of an air-screen are a greater assurance that products will be held at the proper temperature, and reduced energy use compared to open cases.

 

There are some situations in which open display cases won’t perform well, which we’ll get into in a bit. If your operation poses these problems, or if you plan to merchandise primarily food products that must be held at the proper temperature from a food safety standpoint, then closed cases may be the way to go.

Where they’re not limited by performance constraints, open cases offer operators a number of benefits. First, products usually are more visually appealing in an open case than behind a closed door, even a glass one. Manufacturers cite studies that indicate sales from open cases are typically 50% higher, and in some cases as much as four times more.

Open cases also are more convenient for customers. They can take the products they want quickly and easily. And more than one customer at a time can take items from the case instead of waiting in line to access a cooler door one customer at a time.

Air-screen display cases come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, including vertical, horizontal, islands and built-ins. In most spaces, at least one of these will fit the flow of the operation and perform to specs.

Placement, Performance

One note to cover first. Presently, refrigerators can meet one of two NSF 7 standards. Type I models operate in environments that don’t exceed 75°F and 55% relative humidity. Type II models operate in temperatures up to 80°F and 60% relative humidity. Obviously, if you have stores in southern states with warmer climates, you probably already have Type II refrigeration units.

However, the Department of Energy (DOE) has mandated that all refrigeration, including open, air-screen display cases, must meet the Type II standard by Jan. 1, 2017. Manufacturers have to meet these standards—you don’t have to do anything except be aware that between now and then, not all manufacturers make open display cases that meet the higher performance standard.

Why is this important? All refrigerators must deal with humidity to some extent. But relative humidity affects open display cases more than refrigerators with doors. Models that meet the Type II standard are better equipped to handle humidity.

Even when all makes and models must meet the standard next year, humidity still will be a factor. You’ll need to locate air-screen cases over or near a floor drain, or purchase a model with a condensate evaporator—essentially an electric heating element that sits in the drain pan and evaporates excess condensate when the pan gets too full.

While air-screen refrigerated cases aren’t yet an Energy Star category, some manufacturers have had third party testing done to determine how energy efficient their models are. Equipment that already meets the Type II standard is likely to be more efficient than equipment designed to meet the Type I standard, especially if ambient conditions tend toward warm and humid.

Be sure to ask suppliers for energy efficiency ratings, and use those to help you determine how much it will cost to operate different models. Factor that into lifecycle costs, too, to give you an idea of which model will give you the fastest payback and lowest operating cost over the life of the equipment.

Remote Or Self-Contained

Another factor affecting where to put display cases in your store is whether you want self-contained or remote refrigeration on each case. Self-contained models, as you know from the reach-ins you probably have in the kitchen, can be noisy and put out a fair amount of heat, neither of which is a desirable attribute in the serving or dining areas of your operations.

Depending on the layout of your operation, remote refrigeration might be relatively easy to do if, for example, you specify vertical cases against a wall. Even if it’s a new operation designed from the ground up, remote refrigeration for islands and built-in units at the counter might be difficult. Remember, if you manage to locate the compressor remotely, evaporator fans will still make some noise.

Self-contained units are more typical in most operations, but plan ahead when thinking about where you want them to vent excess heat. Depending on the model, some units take in air at the front and vent it out the back. Others vent out the top. Be wary of models that take air in and vent it in the front. Some of that excess heat will be drawn back in, forcing the compressor to cycle faster.

Virtually all manufacturers use quieter, electronically commutated fan motors these days (motors that adjust speed to maintain a specific cfm rate), but look for models that have fan blades designed for quieter operation, as well as new, less noisy compressors. If you think noise may still be a problem, some makers offer compressor blankets that dampen sound by as much as 30%.

The 5, 10, 15 Rule

Location is critical to performance in other ways, too. The air-screen that keeps cold air inside the case from escaping into the surrounding environment can be easily disturbed if you’re not careful about where you put these cases.

Think of it like the effluent plume on your hood. Anything that interferes with capture and containment will make the hood less efficient (and also affects other systems like HVAC). Follow the 5, 10, 15 rule to make sure air flow in your operation won’t interfere with the efficiency of open display cases.

Locate cases at least 5 ft. away from exterior windows. Direct sunlight increases the heat load on the case, making the compressor work harder. Windows that open, of course, can let in breezes that will disturb the air curtain.

Make sure cases are at least 10 ft. away from HVAC vents, for the same reason you avoid putting four-way ceiling vents in front of the hood canopy—air blowing toward the front of the case will disturb the air curtain. If the case has a glass front, air from the HVAC vent might cause condensation on the glass.

Finally, locate open display cases at least 15 ft. from exterior doors to prevent drafts from interfering with the air-screen and letting warm air into the case.

Sounds Like A Plan

Form (vertical, horizontal, island, etc.) and the product mix you want to merchandise will help you determine the capacity you need and size of the case or cases you buy. Once you’ve determined your mix, consider how fast it will turn. The last thing you want is to run out of product during a lunch rush when you don’t have a spare employee to restock the case.

The fuller the case, the more effective it is at merchandising product, but don’t overload the case or it won’t cool product efficiently. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, flow of the air-screen in these cases is typically from a plenum or diffuser in the top down to vents in the front bottom of the case (even in horizontal and built-ins).

With that information, and the physical dimensions of the products, you can start to determine the cube you’ll need to hold the product for a certain period of time. Build a plan-o-gram from there to determine the capacity of the case or cases you need.

For example, say you want to merchandise beverages, salads and yogurts. Shelves in a 48-in.W vertical case will be approximately 45-in.W x 15-in.D. You can fit 80 20-oz. bottles on a shelf that size; about 14 6-in. diameter clamshell salad containers; and about 102 2½-in. diameter yogurt cups.

Take into account the heights of the products you want to display on each shelf, with room for customers to reach in and remove products, and you’ll have an idea of the height of the unit you need. Horizontal, island and built-in units may have stepped shelves, so you can put products of varying height on each step.

Featured Presentation

That segues nicely into the features you should consider before you buy. Adjustable shelving will give you more flexibility in the mix of products you display and how much of each. Shelving is available in a wide range of materials and finishes. Solid shelves most often come in stainless, glass, or black paint finish. Wire shelves offer good air circulation to keep products cold, but nothing merchandises as well as glass.

Pick lighting that best shows off the product. Fluorescent lighting is your least expensive option, but LED lighting is more energy efficient and comes in a wider range of colors. Merchandising will be more effective if each shelf is lit individually.

You can spec practically any exterior finish you want, from sleek stainless to the custom color and material of your company’s décor. Not every manufacturer offers this capability, but it’s becoming more common in the industry.

Other features you may want to include rear doors so employees can load cases from behind the counter or the kitchen, casters so you can easily move cases for cleaning, and space and lighting for custom signage. An indispensable option, especially if you have a smart thermostat or energy management system that adjusts the temperature at night, are covers. They help save energy, and some are lockable to prevent pilferage in locations, like airports or kiosks, where cases are out in the open.

As with other refrigeration equipment, little maintenance is required on these units other than cleaning the condenser coil regularly—once a month or so. A couple of manufacturers offer automatic cleaners with brushes that travel up and down a track removing dust from the condenser on a daily basis.

Some models offer slide-out components for easy access during service calls. Check with suppliers to find out what kind of service network they have, availability of parts, if needed, and product warranties.

Refrigerated grab-and-go cases give you a terrific opportunity to offer customers a convenient way to get cold packaged food and beverage products you might not have on your regular menu, driving impulse sales and higher check averages. Taking the time to do a little homework can help you find the display cases that will work best in your operation and add more cold cash to the bottom line.

As originally printed in FER Magazine fermag.com

Discover how Specifi® is designed to provide architects and commercial kitchen designers all of the tools necessary to build all sorts of commercial kitchens.

Cooking from the Hearth

There’s nothing quite like coming home to a fire on the hearth, the warmth and allure of the flames drawing us in. That’s one reason more and more healthcare facilities are making hearth ovens the centerpieces of their retail cafeterias. Perhaps more importantly, though, foodservice directors are finding that these show-stopping pieces of equipment aren’t just for pizza anymore.

While we may have started cooking over an open fire, for thousands of years we’ve cooked in stone or brick ovens, for good reason. The domed shape of these ovens captures the heat from the fire and reflects it back onto the food being cooked. And the stone or brick used to construct them acts like a heat sink, retaining heat and making the oven more efficient.

Today’s versions are even easier to use, and though they grew popular as pizza ovens they’re incredibly flexible and very fast. Healthcare operations are finding that the theater hearth ovens provide, along with the quality of foods cooked in them, help keep staff on campus for meals and increase traffic from outside their facilities.

Built Like A Brick…

The key concepts behind hearth ovens are the domed shape that captures and reflects heat back down to the floor of the oven, and the refractory, or heat-resistant, materials used to construct them. They allow these ovens to get as hot as 900°F to 1,000°F, far hotter than most commercial ovens.

 

Manufacturers use basically three types of materials for oven interiors—red clay brick, alumina ceramic tile or cast ceramic. Aluminum oxide is the compound in clay and ceramic that makes them resist heat. The higher the alumina content the denser the material and more heat resistant.

Wood-and coal-fired ovens built in Italy nearly a hundred years ago used red clay bricks because the material was plentiful and high enough in aluminum oxide content to make a good cooking oven (as opposed to an industrial kiln, which needs to withstand higher temperatures). Hearth ovens imported from Italy still use bricks like these.

Early ovens introduced here in the U.S. also used bricks, again because they’re easy to come by and have enough heat resistance to withstand high temperatures in wood-burning ovens. These bricks typically range in thickness from 2½ in. to 4 in., but can be placed on end to provide thicknesses of as much as 8 in. in spots.

The mortar that fills the gaps between bricks and helps hold them together is a different material, and can act as a barrier to heat conduction from one brick to the next. That has the potential to cause uneven heating across an oven floor. The constant expansion and contraction over time as an oven heats and cools can cause mortar to crack and fail, leading to the collapse of an oven dome. Though very rare, these types of catastrophic failures do occur.

Denser alumina tiles or bricks range in thickness from about 1½ in. on oven floors to 3 in. or 4 in. in the oven dome. The higher aluminum oxide content of these tiles means they don’t conduct heat quite as well as brick, and because mortar has to be used in oven construction, temperatures across the floor of an oven using tile, again, may be uneven.

The third type of construction uses cast ceramic material. One manufacturer casts the floors of its ovens in one piece, and the domes in another (using a proprietary formula for its ceramic material). That eliminates the many seams common to brick or tile ovens; fewer seams means heat conducts more evenly through both the floor and the oven. Another maker casts its domes in one piece, but uses large alumina tiles for its oven floors. Cast floors can be up to 6-in. thick, and cast domes as much as 4 in. or more.

One drawback of cast ceramic is that cracks tend to form from expansion and contraction. They look unsightly, but when the oven heats up again, they close up as the material expands from the heat again.

Hold That Heat

With temperatures ranging from 575°F up to 1,000°F, hearth ovens obviously get hot. Various types of insulation are used to hold that heat, making the oven more efficient and preventing the ambient room temperature from getting warmer.

Hearth floors typically sit on an insulation board, which then sits on ¼-in. mild steel. Domes are encased most often in ¼-in. mild steel, but at least one maker uses stainless around the dome. Manufacturers insulate the gap between the brick or ceramic dome and the steel casing.

Some manufacturers, whose ovens operate at somewhat lower temperatures, use a foamed-in-place insulation. Others use a ceramic-fiber wool insulation, typically effective at higher temperatures. Some use a combination of ceramic wool and solid ceramic pieces depending on oven design.

The thinking behind each is not only how to retain heat inside the oven, but also where to place insulation and how thick it has to be to do its job while creating the most cooking area in the smallest footprint possible.

The other reason to insulate as well as possible is to enable you to install the façade of your choice. Obviously, you’ll want the oven to fit in with the overall design of your servery or cafeteria. Manufacturers try to make it as easy as possible to add whatever material you want to the exterior of the oven, including tile, stone, wood, metal and more. If you want stucco, manufacturers will even ship your oven encased in wire mesh, ready to finish.

Insulation here is key. One manufacturer claims that its insulation is so effective you can use combustible exterior materials (such as wood) with 1 in. of clearance. Another manufacturer needs 3 in. of clearance for non-combustible materials. That not only affects the design process but also the amount of space you may need for the oven, all considerations to take into account before you select and order one.

Fire It Up

Traditionally, hearth ovens were wood-fired, and some old-world Neapolitan-style pizza parlors, particularly on the East Coast, still insist on coal-fired ovens. These days, you have a lot of choices. The key, really, is having a fire, or flames, on the hearth. Wood smoke, especially from fragrant woods such as apple or mesquite, adds flavor to food. But it’s really the caramelization from the flames and the heat of the oven that provide most of the flavor in food cooked in hearth ovens.

 

The fire on the hearth also heats the air in the dome, heating the dome itself, which reflects that heat back down into the floor. The hearth fire also conducts its heat through the floor. When both oven floor and dome are hot, they cook food quickly and impart lots of flavor in the process.

Coal-fired ovens are the most difficult to use since coal fires are more difficult to light, and they require more tending to keep the coals banked and hot. Woodfired ovens, on the other hand, are relatively easy to operate even though they might seem to need as much care and attention as coal-fired ovens. Most makers say that employees can learn the basics of starting and tending a wood fire in about 15 minutes, and can be proficient cooks with a little practice and common sense.

You can also spec hearth ovens as a wood/gas combination or solely gas-fired. With both there are differences from model to model and from maker to maker. Gas-fired ovens come equipped with one or combinations of three types of burners.

One type is what’s sometimes called a “torch” burner or atmospheric burner. Torch burners stick up from the floor into the oven and produce a high amount of Btu as their job is to heat the oven. Atmospheric burners are effective, but tend to be noisy.

Display burners are straight-line burners that look much like those in a gas fireplace. And, in fact, many manufacturers add ceramic “logs” to give them the look of a wood-fired oven. These burners also serve as the primary heat source for many models, but some models may offer the combination of a torch and a display burner.

You can find a third type of burner on some models that’s designed to help maintain both the floor temperature as well as air temperature in the oven. In some cases, makers mount an infrared (IR) burner beneath the floor for operators who expect times of extremely high volume. Remember that in most hearth ovens, the fire or flame on the hearth heats both floor and dome, and the dome’s heat also is reflected back down to the floor. When product such as pizza covers the entire floor of the oven, it may lose some of its temperature. An IR burner beneath the floor ensures more constant, even temperatures. A thermostat in the floor regulates the burner’s operation.

In wood/gas combinations, manufacturers add either a torch burner or an under-floor IR burner as the gas assist. These models also have somewhat more precise temperature control, since the gas burner will turn off if the wood fire is heating the oven adequately.

Down To Size

Hearth ovens are traditionally round, with a single opening. These round models can range in size from about 48 in. in diameter up to 90 in. or more. Round ovens make terrific show pieces in the center of a servery, for example, if you have the space, but also fit well into corners.

Several makers also offer rectangular versions that work well on cooklines, for example, or where space is more limited. Rectangular ovens often have two openings, and if piped for gas, can come with different burner configurations, allowing you to cook a little differently on each end of the oven, for example.

Capacities range from about six, 8-in. personal pizzas or two, large 16-in. pizzas in smaller ovens to around 20, 8-in. pizzas or seven to eight, 16-in. pizzas. Depending on how hot the oven gets, thickness of your pizza crust and amount of toppings, cook time can range from two to six minutes or so. Factor the size you need by determining how many pizzas you’ll need per hour during peak periods, for example, and divide by the cook time and the number of pizzas that the oven will hold based on diameter to get an idea of the size oven you’ll need.

Take A Deep Breath

Manufacturers vent oven models differently. The vent on many round models is in the eyebrow over the opening, but some models locate it in the dome. Likewise, rectangular models may vent exhaust from different locations on the oven depending on model.

Gas-only ovens can be grouped with other cooking equipment under a central Type I ventilation hood. Ovens burning solid fuel (wood, coal or combination wood/ gas) must have their own Type I ventilation hood and ductwork. Ovens that burn solid fuel generate more soot and other compounds such as creosote that can build up quickly in hoods and ductwork. They have to be cleaned more often to prevent the possibility of fire.

Cleaning the ovens themselves is a snap. They tend to burn hot enough that all they require is ash removal each day with a brush. Obviously, wood-fired ovens will have more ash to clean out than gas ovens, but the job is simple. If you do experience any kind of buildup from food grease, heating the oven to about 575°F for an hour will turn the residue to ash.

These ovens will run you anywhere from about $12,000 to more than $30,000, or about $16,000 to $45,000 with installation. They’re not inexpensive, but they cook as fast or faster than conveyor or deck ovens, and produce great food quality and flavor. And the theater they provide should increase traffic enough to justify their cost.

The best time to install them is at the same time as a walk-in, before the space has been walled in. These ovens weigh anywhere from 1,000 lb. to 6,000 lb., and they’re quite large. Some manufacturers construct them in two or three sections to make them easier to fit through existing doorways. But at least one manufacturer constructs ovens in a single unit. Most can be moved by forklift and even pallet jack, but if you plan ahead, often setting the oven in place with a crane is easiest.

As originally printed in FER Magazine fermag.com

Discover how Specifi® is designed to provide architects and commercial kitchen designers all of the tools necessary to build all sorts of commercial kitchens.

From Factory To Kitchen

Different situations can call for purchasing through different channels that you might not otherwise use.

But a general set of guiding principles can help.

Foodservice equipment and supplies arrive at your door through myriad means. The foodservice industry, like media and communications companies, offers an increasing number of channels you can access to get what you need. Just as you can choose a basic cable TV plan, a premium satellite service or a streaming subscription for a limited number of programs, you can pick and choose which channels to use for delivery of equipment and supplies. But truth be told, foodservice equipment has one of the most complicated factory-to-store channel “charts” of any industry in existence.

Consider…

A national chain replacing the fryers in all its stores negotiates directly with a manufacturer, schedules deliveries to its in-house distribution center, and ships them out to local service agencies to have them installed.

A major healthcare facility works with a foodservice consultant to design a new retail servery and room-service kitchen; the consultant specifies equipment, aggregates information and installation instructions, gathers bids from manufacturers’ reps (who work with dealers) and helps coordinate installation with the architect’s general contractor and the foodservice equipment contractor hired for the project.

A regional chain, beginning to expand geographically, orders its entire equipment, smallwares and décor package through a chain-oriented dealer that consolidates, ships, stages and installs kitchens and interiors of a dozen new restaurants in two months.

A restaurant franchisee orders a chain-approved refrigerated sandwich prep table from an Internet dealer and installs it himself with the help of employees. He risks voiding the warranty with his DIY install.

The owner of an independent restaurant buys a contact toaster from a local cash-and-carry.

Why are there so many ways to buy equipment and supplies? Each channel offers its own particular set of services, safeguards and benefits based on what you’re buying, where it’s going and how it gets installed. You purchase equipment from manufacturers that offers the right combination of features at the right price. Choosing a channel through which to purchase and have that equipment delivered is a similar process.

First, there’s a host of people who influence and facilitate your equipment choice and purchase. It includes manufacturers, manufacturers’ reps, design consultants (both independent and dealer affiliated) and dealers. The channels through which you can actually purchase equipment and supplies for delivery includes manufacturers, dealers, kitchen equipment suppliers, broadline distributors, cash-and-carry warehouse stores, Internet dealers, and in some cases even chemical and specialty suppliers. And those may vary depending on the type of equipment or supplies you need.

A couple of approaches can help you navigate your way through these options. Your choice really depends on your needs. One approach is to evaluate those needs from a broad perspective; the other is to look specifically at the item or items you’re purchasing.

Risk/Benefit Analysis
All operators have a unique style and mode of operation. That style influences how you do business, and how you choose to purchase equipment and supplies. From that broad perspective, evaluate your choices based on:

Service. What level of service do you need from your suppliers? Some large chains have in-house facilities teams capable of installing and servicing equipment.

They require a low level of service from providers, and expect little more than on-time delivery. Other operators need a high level of service, from vetting the equipment selection to installing and starting it up onsite.

“It all starts with a customer’s need,” says Michael Keck, Senior V.P., Concept Services, Austin, Texas. “Typically, we offer equipment and services to outfit national chains, but we’ll also work with a one-store start-up because they don’t have the expertise to make equipment choices. They know they need a combi oven, for example, but they don’t know which one.

“Think of it like buying books,” he adds. “If you want to browse, talk to the staff and drink coffee, go to Barnes & Noble. If you don’t want those services you can go to the Internet and buy what you want with one click.”

Risk.

Some operators are willing to assume more risk than others. Foodservice often still is a very entrepreneurial business, and a lot of operators are DIY types. Remember that once you sign for a box or crate that arrives at your dock or back door, you’re accepting the product inside—you now own it. If you open that crate and discover the product is damaged in some way, it’s your responsibility, not a dealer’s or the manufacturer’s.

That risk doesn’t stop at your back door, either. If you choose to purchase a piece of equipment online, for example, have it delivered and install it yourself, you’re on the hook if it doesn’t work properly or is unsafe for employees.

“Beware,” says Mark Pumphret, National Sales Manager at Hatco Corp., Milwaukee. “The Internet has all kinds of ways to sell you the wrong piece of equipment.”

“I met a woman running a bakery who was upset about an oven she purchased,” agrees Dennis O’Toole, V.P. of Marketing for the Americas, Manitowoc Foodservice, New Port Richey, Fla. “She just had the wrong oven for what she was producing. It wasn’t the factory’s fault. She needed to do her homework first, or work through a manufacturers’ rep or dealer instead of ordering online.”

Ongoing Support.

Consider who can best support the equipment you purchase—and your operation—five or 10 years down the road. Service needs don’t end when a crate is dropped on your dock, or even when equipment is hooked up and operating properly. Support can come in the form of menu development help (using the equipment to expand the menu) and employee training when you add a new menu item years after purchasing the equipment. You may need service during the warranty period that some sellers don’t provide, or want service to continue from a local authorized service agent after the warranty period.

Ask The Right Questions

What you’re buying is even more important than your purchasing process. The level of service and support you need will likely vary from one piece of equipment to the next. Each will have its own requirements in the way it’s installed and the way it operates, so you should think ahead.

In general, break down purchases into heavy duty equipment, light-duty equipment and smallwares and tabletop. The larger and more complex the equipment, the more questions you should ask. A few to consider include:

Heavy-Duty Equipment
• Does the delivery truck need a lift gate to get it on the dock?
• Do I need a pallet jack to move it?
• Will it fit through doors, down hallways and around corners?
• Do I have the right utility hook-ups (enough voltage and appropriate amp circuit; the right gas pressure, etc.)?
• Does it require water? Water filtration? A back-flow device?
• If it uses water, does it require a drain? Is the drain in the right spot?
• Does it require a ventilation hood? Type I or Type II?
• Will installation require any fabrication?
• Does the staff need training to operate it?

Light-Duty Equipment
• Does it need to be under a ventilation hood?
• Do I have the right power outlets?
• Does it need a water hook-up? A water filter? What size?
• Do I have enough counter space?
• What clearances are required around the equipment?
• What safety precautions do I need to take?
• Does staff need training to operate it?

Smallwares & Tabletop
• Are any items custom?
• How often will I need to replace items?
• How quickly will I be able to get replacements?
• Is there a volume discount on any items and do I have storage space?
• Can I be sure that replacements will “match” existing items.
• Do I need to touch and see it before ordering?
• Does staff need any instructions on its use, cleaning or maintenance?

Obviously, the larger and/or more complex the equipment, the more likely you’ll need additional services—installation, fabrication, training, etc. Though you may be able to get those services from a number of sources—installing dealer or KES, foodservice equipment contractor, training from a manufacturers’ rep or service agency—you should choose the channel that delivers the depth of services you really need. A school district that relied on its maintenance personnel to install a steamer ended up with crossed water lines (incoming with outgoing), a filter still wrapped in its plastic packaging and a lot of uncooked food.

Flexibility Is Key

Large chains often develop an infrastructure to outfit new stores or replace old equipment. And many of them buy directly from manufacturers since the equipment they specify is proprietary, or it’s the same equipment package in every unit. But they, too, adapt their internal systems to accommodate each project, and often rely on local dealers to get the job done. For large chains, dealers will create specialized installation teams just for that chain.

Pizza Hut, for example, recently replaced its ovens with a new model customized to the chain’s specs with certain controls and set points. To make the transition as smooth as possible for its stores and franchisees, Yum! Brands’ purchasing group worked with the manufacturer on product forecasts and production scheduling so the factory would have a “level load” to build and deliver. To ensure a steady roll-out as well as a predictable production schedule for the factory, the group set up an online reservation system for its stores.

“Stores could reserve delivery dates for the new oven eight weeks or more in advance, depending on availability of the new oven,” says Brenda Lloyd, formerly v.p. of procurement and member services for the group. “We have a warehouse in Louisville and our own in-house distributor, but in this case we had the factory ship them to local installers—the manufacturer’s service agency network—instead of our warehouse or the restaurants themselves. In contrast, for a KFC project we brought all the equipment into Louisville, then shipped it out to an installer we contract with nationally.”

The KFC project was more complex. The chain revamped its menu item production system—what it calls its “pack line”—for drive-thru and takeout, which involves equipment for prep, production and packaging.

“For that project, we had seven equipment suppliers and the national installer with 50 crews out in the field at any given time, with fabrication teams and project teams here to manage them,” Lloyd says. “Don’t forget, with a project like that you also have local permitting involved. It takes a lot of upfront analysis and planning.”

Find The Best Value

As with anything, the lowest-cost channel of distribution is not always the best value. “The best price doesn’t get you the best service,” says Monica Thesing, Senior Equipment Specialist at Rippe Associates, Minneapolis. “If follow-up support is required for kitchen equipment, purchasing through a dealer, for example, ensures there’s follow-up for you in the future. Ordering equipment online often doesn’t give you that kind of support.”

Do you always need that level of service? In the case of a swapped-out replacement piece of equipment, probably not, though even there you need to take into consideration factors such as what it’s going to cost to remove the old piece of equipment, and who’s going to haul it away.

Knowledgeable design consultants, dealers and their sales reps, and equipment contractors add value even in cases of equipment replacement as opposed to new store build-out or complete renovations.

“We offer a lot of value by asking, ‘Why?’” says Keck. “We find out what a customer is going to do with the equipment they want and say they need. We may be able to save them money by specifying a different piece of equipment or coming up with a different way of doing things.”

“A sales rep can take an order for a replacement fryer, for example,” says Pumphret, “or find you a better Energy Star-rated fryer that might cost $200 or $300 more upfront than an economy fryer but qualifies for a $1,000 rebate from the local utility and saves you energy and oil over time.”

“There’s really no ‘bad’ way to purchase equipment,” Lloyd says, “but some ways may not be as optimal as others depending on the equipment. When choosing, you have to weigh suppliers based on path or price, complexity versus risk. Depending on your need, you must have total confidence in a supplier’s ability to provide both equipment and service, whatever that level of service might be.”

Different situations can call for purchasing through different channels that you might not otherwise use. But a general set of guiding principles can help.

“Our selection is always based on the following factors in the order of priority given,” says Bill Williamson, Director of Equipment and Contract Services at Wendy’s Quality Supply Chain Cooperative, Dublin, Ohio. “1) The most reliable equipment delivering the specified food product with the least variation; 2) equipment that best fits or is least disruptive to the existing production process; 3) lowest total cost of ownership, including freight, maintenance, warranty, energy, capital cost-related goods and sales impact, which we view in terms of both ROI and cash flow; and 4) existing supplier relationships.”

So, which channel do you pick? Like all those programs on cable TV, it depends on what you need at the moment—a good laugh, some rousing adventure, or… Don’t think outside the box on this one. Think about what’s inside the box, and choose the best way to get it to your store, hooked up and running right.

As originally printed in FER Magazine fermag.com

Discover how Specifi® is designed to provide architects and commercial kitchen designers all of the tools necessary to build all sorts of commercial kitchens.