With consumers placing an emphasis on menus that use fresh and local ingredients, foodservice operators find themselves pressed for time to make food-to-order in a manner that meets guests’ expectations for speed of service. At the same time, operators now look to set up shop in smaller spaces to lower overhead costs and allow them to serve new areas.
While this has long been the case in the U.S., it continues to become more commonplace in Canada, too, according to Stephanie Perry, president of Permul, Inc., a manufacturer's rep firm in Toronto. For example, some Canadian-born fast-casual concepts, such as Smoke's Poutinerie and The Burger‚Äôs Priest, are looking to do fresher food in smaller spaces and with more speed.
As a result, Perry sees an increasing demand for multi-purpose, accelerated cooking equipment. Here she shares her thoughts about how various pieces of foodservice equipment can help save on labor and space, too.
Some space-saving impingement toasters rotate product in and out with a backwards-forward motion rather than through a long vertical unit that can take up extra footprint in the kitchen. One unit can be adapted with a paddle that will hold a bagel bottom or other bread topped with egg, sausage and/or cheese and cook the breakfast sandwich with a booster cycle. The operator simply tops the sandwich with the other piece of bread and it‚Äôs ready to go.
‚ÄúA piece of equipment that once toasted a 25 cent piece of bread can now create a $6 breakfast entr?©e simply with this paddle,‚Äù says Perry. ‚ÄúWhenever you can elevate the ticket price for the end-user that leads to overall higher profits.‚Äù
This equipment is most common among coffee shops, juice/smoothie shops and other smaller operators, but Perry has seen a variety of operators including golf courses, drive-thru operators and other businesses with small, confined cooking areas use them, too.
As kitchens shrink and the need for speed increases, interest in rapid-cooking ovens continues to accelerate. In addition to their relatively small footprints, many operators are drawn to the ventless technology these units employ, which makes placement easier. Today‚Äôs rapid cook ovens make it possible to not only toast sandwiches, but also cook pizza, chicken wings and other proteins.
‚ÄúThe other problem rapid cook ovens solve is cutting back on the need for labor when staff is hard to find or there is a lot of turnover,‚Äù Perry says, noting their automated, programmable appeal. ‚ÄúThis is a way to offer a wider menu without necessarily having extra cooks or chefs on staff.‚Äù
More operators, especially in Canada where there are different ventilation requirements, are moving toward induction cooking as a space-saving, accelerated and ventless form of cooking, Perry notes.
Induction technology works by generating heat directly to the food using a magnetic pan. In a process referred to as ‚Äúelectromagnetism,‚Äù when a stainless steel or other magnetic, metal pan is placed on the surface of an induction cooktop, electric currents flow through a tight spiral of cables. Those currents create alternating magnetic fields, which excite molecules in the metal base of a pan to produce heat used to cook the food in the pan only.
As such, induction burners are known for bringing up temperatures quickly, and then holding them steady over a fixed amount of time. Some induction units can boil water in 90 seconds or less. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre seeing a lot of customization when it comes to induction technology,‚Äù says Perry, who has seen many drop-in countertop units and others with refrigerated bases or convection oven bases.
‚ÄúInduction marries cooking and design,‚Äù she adds. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm seeing a lot of multi-unit operators that might have an induction cooktop with a convection base in a footprint of 30 inches plus a refrigerator and some prep space, and that is the entire kitchen.‚Äù
Clamshell Griddles and Charbroilers
The latest buzzword of accelerated cooking, clamshell units cook burgers and other proteins in half the time than traditional one-sided cooking appliances.
While some foodservice operators use conveyor broilers for burgers and other foods to introduce a more automated approach to fast cooking, clamshell griddles and charbroilers use a non-stick coated secondary contact surface to cook food more evenly and consistently, Perry says.
Sure, you think a rice cooker is just for cooking rice. While many small operators and chains may be quick to brush off a rice cooker, Perry has seen an increase in sales for this small footprint appliance as brands of all types venture into the healthy arena.
‚ÄúOne national pizza chain I work with uses rice cookers because sometimes the mom or dad in the family doesn‚Äôt want to necessarily eat the same pizza as the child does,‚Äù she says. ‚ÄúRice cookers can be used for quinoa and other healthy grains that can be used in entrees and on salads.‚Äù
The hands-off benefit of rice cookers have also appealed to chains as they look to maximize their menu while minimizing labor costs.
Some higher-level food processors have adapters that can emulsify ingredients to create sauces, soups, dressings and hummus in addition to just chopping vegetables and shredding cheese.
Again, this small equipment can cut back on labor because it requires only a single staff member to operate and can prepare a variety of menu items or ingredients.
Vacuum Sealers and Immersion Circulators
Sous-vide cooking represents a combination of vacuum sealing and immersion circulation. But those pieces are not mutually exclusive. Some operators use vacuum sealing alone to infuse different herbs, marinades and flavors in proteins and vegetables, as well as to preserve the freshness and integrity of different foods.
These operators will then use an immersion circulator to cook the product ‚Äî or not. It‚Äôs possible to recreate this low temperature, moisture-controlled cooking in a combination oven using a water bath and programmable settings.
‚ÄúVacuum sealing is great to have because you can do a lot of pre-prep and maintain the freshness of all different types of foods,‚Äù Perry says. ‚ÄúIf you have a sporadic customer base and are busy at lunch only, a vacuum sealer will keep the integrity of the product longer by sealing it, and refrigerating it. This works with lettuce, poultry, and other fresh vegetables and proteins.‚Äù
When it comes to smaller footprint and higher speed cooking, the type and caliber of cooking equipment designed to fit this need continues to expand, just like the restaurant concepts using it.