High-tech equipment heightens the need for training.

2017-06-21Chef-Mark2-copyAs today's foodservice equipment gets more high-tech, training becomes that much more challenging — and it becomes that much more important to ensure operators get the most from their investments. That's why manufacturers' reps and other members of the foodservice equipment supply chain continue to leverage a cadre of resources, from video technology to test kitchens, in order to step up their educational efforts.

"The biggest challenge is getting operators and everyday users to care about the new equipment," says Richard Young, senior engineer and director of training at the PG&E Food Service Technology Center  in San Ramon, Calif. "You can buy all the top of the line, most efficient equipment on the market, but then you put them in the kitchen with humans. It takes all of us to work as a team to get the users to understand and know how to operate the equipment to get the most out of the money spent."

Here are a few incentives and best practices Young's team suggests:

Offer paid training. Companies that pay for their cook staff to go to a training center or other demo/test kitchen see better results in the long run. Also consider training more managers as a way to combat high employee turnover.

Assign leadership over each piece of equipment. That person then becomes responsible for the on/off schedule as well as maintenance and efficient operation. Ownership equals care.

Communicate the cost savings. Use visuals like pie charts and graphs to help employees see the difference they make every day when they use the equipment correctly. This particularly resonates with younger employees, who tend to care the most about efforts to help the environment.

Align with service and maintenance crews. Young's team points out that some operators might be tempted
to hose down a piece of equipment at the conclusion of service. This may have worked in the past, but today's energy-efficient/high-tech equipment like combi ovens have controls that are not waterproof. Train staff on how to properly clean and maintain foodservice equipment.

Seek the best service techs. Energy-efficient equipment (and all equipment for that matter) needs to perform optimally to save on energy and keep operating costs in line. It's best to invest in certified technicians (such as a CFESA technician) to ensure proper maintenance. Also, ensure equipment is installed properly. For example, an efficient fryer could be 20 degrees F off after installation if not calibrated correctly.

Consider a preventative maintenance program. A well-thought-out, preventative maintenance program
helps avoid performance and energy issues even more. Energy-efficient equipment has specific parts that tend to require more attention, including automatic ignition systems, thermostat controllers, burner blowers, rubber gaskets, condensate coolers and oil filtration pumps.

Check inlet water quality. In hard water areas, consider filtering or adding a water softener to lessen the need for constant deliming and descaling and to prevent equipment from breaking down faster.

Start at the culinary school level. Teach culinary students how to use newer equipment like combi and high-speed ovens in different ways. Younger students tend to be more tech-savvy and are often more willing — and more excited — about using higher-tech equipment.

Using Demo/Test Kitchens

IMG 7625Chef David Ash provides a demonstration and training session at a Zink Foodservice Group test kitchen.Zink Foodservice Group, a manufacturers' rep firm, relies on its six remote kitchens, plus a test site at the company's Westerville, Ohio, headquarters to train operators on a more local level. "Our overall goal is that our customers don't have to drive over two hours to see and test out the equipment," says David Ash, director of culinary operations.

Test kitchens offer a chance for potential buyers to conduct presale demos so they already know how to use the equipment when they buy it. The kitchens also offer opportunities for hands-on cooking, menu testing and recipe development after the purchase. It's often easier for operators to get through a new menu launch outside their own kitchens to avoid distractions from day-to-day activities.

Ash also travels regularly, training users on equipment after installation and offering follow-up help. This combination of pre- and post-purchase training is key to helping customers get the most out of their equipment.

"Our customers are all so different, so being able to offer these different ways to train really helps meet their needs," Ash says. "In a perfect setting, you have two demos — one for general cooking staff and another one for managers and chefs so you can show them more programmability and password-protected features. Roughly a month or two after an initial demo, I will go in for follow-up training as needed."

Understanding Different Segment Needs

Operator training needs will differ by industry segment, according to Chris East of Chrane Foodservice Solutions, a manufacturers' rep operation that serves Oklahoma and Texas. "In the K-12 world we're seeing a concentrated push to go fresh and do more scratch cooking, so from an equipment training standpoint, we have to do a lot more staff development to help them be successful," East says.

Chains, on the other hand, are all so uniquely different. East takes more time on the front end to understand a chain's operation to be able to provide the right kind and right amount of training. "You can't come in with the same set of assumptions from chain to chain," he says. Chrane Foodservice Solutions also conducts much of this training in its test kitchen, bringing in at least one or two groups per week, sometimes for a whole week of testing and training.

Working with Industry Partners

Establishing strong relationships with dealers and consultants only helps improve training efforts. "We like to say we have two different sets of customers — operators and dealers," East says. "We have strong relationships with the dealer community and will even do ride-alongs with them and work with them to help educate their operator customers about our products." The firm also sends out a series of e-blasts to dealers with different ideas of what to cook and how to use different new products.

"We also teach dealers about the impact different equipment can have on their end-user customers, from increasing sales to decreasing food and labor costs," East says. "People go to the hardware store because they want a hole, not a drill. Operators don't always know what exactly they need, but they know they want sliced meat and cheese." And when they do get that slicer, they need to know how to safely and effectively use it to get that perfectly sliced meat and cheese.

Continuing Education

As equipment goes higher-tech, it's all about ongoing education and training, especially in an industry with such high turnover.

Realizing this, Zink Foodservice leverages its Zink University program to bring in foodservice directors from schools, chain representatives, American Culinary Federation members and others to learn how to use combis or test out new applications for different equipment.

Ash is also the star of a series of seven-minute YouTube videos that demonstrate how to use different equipment. For International Coffee Week, he used a combi oven to prepare coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin with a balsamic-espresso glaze and roasted Brussels sprouts. "Everyone is looking at faster ways to get information and stay on top of information," Ash says. Videos and online content like this also help train customers remotely when travel becomes difficult or not feasible.

Buying and selling equipment is one thing. But the steps all industry partners can take to work together to train operators on their new purchases is what keeps them coming back for more, time after time.