Consultant Q&A with Marcin Zmiejko, associate principal of WC&P, Denver

FE&S: What are the main applications for panini machines?

MZ: This is very simple equipment that provides operators with an inexpensive method to offer toasted or pressed sandwiches. These units can be used for paninis or Cuban sandwiches as well. The plate surface can be flat or grooved for different foods. For example, the flat plate is preferred for original paninis and stuffed sandwiches, while grooved plates provide markings on bread or products for a grilled appearance.

FE&S: What are the biggest benefits of these machines?

MZ: The advantages are the small size, increased flexibility and low cost. Operators appreciate that panini machines can be plugged into a 120-volt outlet and only require a small footprint.

FE&S: Are there options for higher-volume use?

MZ: When operators need to accommodate bulk cooking or larger quantities, we can specify a larger machine with two independent heating elements. This provides the means for uninterrupted service.

FE&S: What are the biggest challenges with utilizing panini machines?

MZ: One issue operators contend with when using 120-volt units is recovery time. It can take time for the plates to get back up to temperature after finishing a sandwich with some models. This is why higher-volume operations should consider a larger model with 220 volts as the recovery time is faster and won’t impact speed of service.

FE&S: Are there ventilation requirements for this equipment?

MZ: Panini machines are looked at as cooking equipment, so there are municipalities that may require a ventilation hood. Most likely, a grease hood won’t be needed.

FE&S: Is kitchen location a factor for panini machine operation?

MZ: It depends on the application. If the food being cooked emits strong odors, the unit shouldn’t be placed too close to the front of house. Also, because this equipment emits heat, it should not be in an area that’s confined.

FE&S: Are there new innovations with this equipment?

MZ: Traditionally, these machines are simple and inexpensive, but there are newer, fully enclosed models with updated technology geared for sandwich shops’ high volume.