Toasters are a staple item in cafes, not just for toasting bread but also for creating hot sandwiches and heating up pastries.

istock 890790350The two basic commercial toaster types are pop-up and conveyor. Low-volume operations preparing smaller-size food items, such as waffles or bagels, tend to use pop-up models. Higher-volume cafes with larger menus tend to use conveyor units, which can accommodate larger-size breads, such as sub rolls, croissants and other specialty bread items.

Conveyor units offer much greater capacity than pop-ups. Depending on the number of slots, a pop-up toaster is limited to producing 60 to 380 slices of bread per hour. Conveyor models can handle 200 to as many as 1,800 slices per hour. Opening heights range from 1½ to ٣ inches.

The footprint of a typical pop-up model generally measures between 8½ inches by ٨½ inches and ١٣½ inches by ٩ inches. The number, width and length of slots on pop-up toasters are available in various configurations. Slot opening sizes generally range from ١ to ١¼ inches wide.

Available space will determine whether an operation’s conveyor model should be vertical or horizontal. Vertical units generally have a 22-inch-by-17-inch footprint and stand nearly 3 feet tall. Horizontal models usually measure 14 inches by 22 inches and are typically no taller than 16 inches.

All toaster varieties require single-phase electricity ranging from 120 to 240 volts. The higher the voltage, the more slices the toaster can accommodate. Bread is toasted with infrared radiation from heating elements. These elements are typically metal coils, though some makers use quartz or ceramic. Conveyor toasters with individual controls for top and bottom heating elements are available that allow for adjustability.

Stainless-steel construction adds durability and helps prevent rust. Chrome-plated steel and aluminum models also are available. Conveyor models may offer a front protection shield to prevent burns. High-temperature insulated wire can help ensure a longer operating life, while high-temperature bearings require little or no lubrication. Some toaster makers also offer damage-resistant, etched-foil elements. When included, solid-state sensors automatically adjust toasting times.

Adjustable browning, defrost, reheat and cancel touch controls are available on some models. Units also may offer a choice of one- or two-sided toasting. Some pop-up toaster controls turn off heating elements not being used in order to conserve energy and maintain product integrity.

Pop-up toasters with two regular-size slots and two extra-wide, single-sided slots offer added flexibility. A high-lift control on some models offers easy product removal. Removable side panels allow easier access to a unit’s mechanics, and cool-to-the-touch exterior materials help to prevent burns.

Conveyor models can include simple conveyor belt speed controls, individually adjustable top and bottom temperature settings, an energy-saving standby mode, an automatic cool-down feature, and front or rear-exit operation. Other features include air-cooled solid-state controls, damage-resistant heating elements, stainless-steel construction and a removable crumb tray. Some conveyors offer extra-tall toasting chambers.

There are various types of conveyor styles for different applications. The standard unit has a 1½-inch inlet with top and bottom heat, while the bagel type has an inlet between ١¾ and ٢ inches and provides top heat only. Conveyor toasters specifically geared toward bagel production accommodate product on a ١٠-inch-wide conveyor belt and provide a pull-out tray and recessed control panel. A high inlet toaster has a 3-inch opening for buns, rolls and larger-size products and heats from both the top and bottom. Some manufacturers offer double-decker toasters, which increase production capacity, but the majority of conveyor toasters are used for counter-top applications.

A sensor system is available on some units that monitors and adjusts the conveyor speed and cabinet temperature to ensure consistent results. Programmable digital controls are another feature as are energy-saver switches that can reduce power consumption by as much as 75 percent. Adjustable metal legs are also available.

There have been a number of conveyor toaster innovations including programmable touch pads, units that provide program updates through a USB drive, and control panels that can fine-tune performance for top and bottom toasting.

While some units require tools to change the conveyor configuration, others do not.

Purchasing Considerations

Cafe operators should consider the toaster’s output capacity, footprint and the types of products that will be toasted before deciding on a model. For space savings, pop-up toasters have smaller footprints than conveyor models but typically handle smaller volumes. Compact models should be considered by operators facing space limitations.

Toasters specifically geared toward bagels and thicker bread items are available. Browning controls are an often-useful option. So are controls that monitor heat to assure toasting consistency. When selecting a conveyor toaster, it’s important to consider the application and requirements. Cafe operators should determine if it will be for public or back-of-house use and the type of bread or products that will be prepared as well as the quantity.

Cafes only making toast with sliced bread will want a toaster with heat on both the top and bottom, while those toasting bagels and English muffins will require a unit that only toasts on top. For added flexibility, a toaster with the ability to turn on or off the top or bottom heat can be utilized.

Conveyor toasters come in various sizes and belt widths, which provide options for the amount of toasting throughput. For most applications, a conveyor wide enough for most sliced bread will suffice. If a larger production capacity is needed, bigger units are available.

One option that should always be considered is energy-saving automatic shut-off capability. Commercial toasters use an abundance of energy when left running continuously. Even smaller toasters use a great deal of energy when left running for long periods of time.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Some manufacturers insist that operators bring units in for service, while others will arrange work on toasters where they are installed. Depending on usage rates and models selected, this could prove a critical difference for operator customers.

Before cleaning or maintenance is performed on a conveyor toaster, it should be switched off, unplugged and cooled down. Also, these units should never be sprayed with or submerged in water.

Since toasters are cooled by having air flowing through their electrical areas, employees must not operate a unit without the side or rear covers being in place. If the conveyor chain touches the top surface of the crumb tray holder, it must be re-tensioned by first unplugging the unit, removing both side covers, loosening front-bearing mounting screws and pivoting the bearing until the chain no longer touches.

Permanently lubricated ball bearing motors on some toasters can provide ease of maintenance. Models with replaceable industrial heating plates are available, which can help extend the toaster’s service life.

Removal of crumbs and thorough, regular cleaning are essential to ensure toasters remain sanitary. This is especially true with conveyor toaster models, which may handle products with toppings, such as cheese, meat or vegetables. Removable crumb trays can simplify cleaning. Staff should keep moisture away from heating elements. Some models come with a nonstick, Teflon-coated return chute.

The stainless-steel exterior should be wiped daily with a damp cloth. Tough stains can be tackled with a metal cleaner. Abrasive cleaners or pads should be avoided as these can mar the finish and create tiny ruts where soil can accumulate. Tough-to-reach places can be cleaned with a small brush and mild soap. The crumb tray and toast collector pans can be removed and cleaned with soap and water. These should be rinsed well and either wiped off or air dried. The toast feeder ramp can be disconnected and cleaned with a damp cloth or a mild solution of 1 cup ammonia to 1 gallon of water.

Check air vents weekly for accumulation of dust and other debris, then wipe clean or vacuum. If this is not done, the unit may overheat and shut down. If lightly soiled, the conveyor belt can be turned to the fastest setting and wiped with a damp cloth. A light abrasive cleaner can be used for heavily soiled units.

The bottom heating element reflector has slots that allow breadcrumbs to fall through. Periodically, these may stack up, clogging the slots. If this happens, crumbs can be swept down into the crumb tray with a bristle brush.