Staff might hanker for the latest kitchen gear and technology, but will it make you money? By Meg Crawford
There’s a myriad of enticing commercial kitchen equipment available on the market promising everything from consistency through to the ability to micro-puree frozen foods without thawing. However, given the hefty price tag that inevitably accompanies this type of equipment, restaurateurs and cafe operators need to query whether it’s worth the investment.
The answer is, predictably, that it depends, with factors like skill level, the necessity for consistency and the nature of the dining experience (high-end or casual/fast) dictating the response.
Is it really necessary?
Food stylist and restaurant consultant Olivia Casson urges her clients to carefully consider the scale and requirements of their operations before committing to particularly pricey kitchen equipment, citing Rational combi/steamer ovens as a popular current example.
“From my experience, people often want but infrequently need them,” she says. “They are incredibly clever and take huge amounts of skill out of cooking, and if you’re doing mass production or event catering they’re essential, but many restaurant clients really just need a convection oven.
“Rationals are really at the point where you can go on your phone and preset them to roast chickens, make pasta or risotto—they even have fish and eclair settings. They’re genuinely fantastic, but it’s a bit like automatically buying a MacBook Air—unless you’re a graphic designer, you might just end up using it to send emails. Likewise, the Rational, it does all of these amazing things but if you have a certain skill level in the kitchen, you don’t require a button to cook a roast chicken. It’s like ordering the Ferrari of ovens to do the school run.”
“Combi ovens are genuinely fantastic and can do amazing things, but … if you have a certain skill level in the kitchen, you don’t require a button to cook a roast chicken. It’s like ordering the Ferrari of ovens to do the school run.”
Olivia Casson, freelance chef, food stylist and restaurant consultant
Carlos Swinton-Lee, principal consultant at Bar & Restaurant Consultants, agrees that they have a time and place. In particular, the combi oven can be a blessing for fast and casual dining and franchise operations.
“You can use a top-of-the-range combi oven to monitor your hazard analysis control checks and the programs can be transferred from one piece of equipment to another, which means that franchises open with the same consistency across their product in terms of quality,” he says.
It might radically reduce costs
The flip side of the equation is that while the equipment might be expensive, its return might come in the form of a reduction in labour costs and wastage.
Tight profit margins mean commercial kitchens operate with fewer staff now, so equipment that enables lesser skilled staff to be productive and efficient in the kitchen (like a combi oven) becomes essential.
This should be factored into your equations, says Swinton-Lee. “We’re struggling in Australia at the moment to fill the skill gap between average cooks and great chefs and there’s not a lot in between,” he says. “These pieces of equipment help to reduce that gap.”
Swinton-Lee also points out that some newer kitchen and cafe technologies are creating demonstrable savings by eliminating waste, citing chilled-milk dispensing systems as a good example.
“We’re struggling in Australia at the moment to fill the skill gap between average cooks and great chefs … These pieces of equipment can really help to reduce that skills gap.”
Carlos Swinton-Lee, principal consultant, Bar & Restaurant Consultants
“There’s a sensor in each tap which detects the size of the jug being used and dispenses the appropriate pre-set dose of milk, so if you put a medium-sized jug under it, it knows that you’ll be making two coffees and dispenses just the right amount of milk, meaning that you don’t get wastage and you’re not going back to the fridge all the time and opening milk,” he says.
“It drives a much higher profit margin. We estimate that around 20 per cent of milk is wasted across a day in most cafes and restaurants, so that’s a big reduction in wastage.”
If you are going for a premium product, spend wisely
Casson reminds her clients of the old adage that you get what you pay for. For instance, she says there is a practical case for induction cook tops in certain circumstances. No-one will do their best work in a stinking hot kitchen in the height of summer.
However, Casson has seen people bitten by purchasing a cheaper product.
“It’s a huge investment, but in most cases, if you’re not buying the best stuff it can lead to problems. I’ve seen this happen recently, where someone has been sold something that has caused problems with service in the restaurant and never really worked. A year on they’re still having someone come in and fix it every week.”