Kitchen innovations guaranteed to save you time and money make this an exciting time to be in hospitality. By Rachel Smith
If you worked in hospitality back in the ‘good old days’, you’ll remember kitchens requiring a lot more labour, bookkeeping being done in an actual book, and the mark of a good waiter being someone who could remember 10 orders without writing down a single word.
Fast-forward to now, and waiters cart around iPads Minis, while hi-tech cloud solutions handle staff rosters, stock intake, temperature control and more. Similarly, smart equipment is helping to do everything from slashing bills to reducing waste.
The recent Kitchen Innovation Awards (KIA) in Chicago, assessed by the USA’s National Restaurant Association, gave a glimpse further into the future with its accolades for products improving back-of-house operations—helping restaurant operators become more efficient.
Locally, Neil Willis, former restaurateur and owner of Sydney Commercial Kitchens, is at the vanguard of kitchen innovations and says it’s not so much about new advances, but rather improving and changing the way existing equipment works. “And while Australia is ahead of America in a lot of this innovative technology, Europe still leads,” he adds.
Steve Sidd from Catering HQ and owner of the award-winning Moorebank Sports Club agrees. “It’s a lot easier to run a restaurant now with all the technology we have today—it’s a lot more time-saving and efficient,” he says. “And there’s so much new tech coming out, it’s hard to keep up.”
Smart ovens, self-serve smoothie machines, energy-saving ice machines and illuminated safety slicers all got a tick for innovation and good design. Even Australian company FLAT was recognised for its FLAT Equalizers—a hydraulic compression and spring system for wonky table legs.
But for any commercial innovation to be considered in your kitchen, it needs to save costs, too, says Ken Burgin, community manager at Silver Chef. “We need to look at becoming more automated and investing in equipment that does what three people used to do,” Burgin says.
“For example, the Level RF Oven mentioned in the KI Awards, which uses radio frequency to ‘learn’ to recognise food ovens, is similar to the speed ovens we use here—and from a cost-cutting perspective, that kind of equipment means you use less skilled people and take away the need for long-time training.”
Similarly, the Vector F Series Multi-Cook Oven, also recognised at the KI Awards, and available now in Australia, has huge potential for the quick service restaurant (QSR) market, especially at its price point, says Willis. “For stand-alone businesses, the combi oven could be used to achieve similar results. They’re useful if you’re a cafe needing to output a dozen bacon and egg rolls quickly, or a restaurant needing to slow-cook things like soups, pulled pork, lamb. That’s real labour-saving technology and because you don’t need staff, it costs you nothing in wages.”
The future is green
Sustainability is a big factor for many businesses these days and while some back-of-house innovations can cost more, they’re likely to reduce your outgoings, make for a more efficient workplace—and be better for the environment to boot.
“We need to look at becoming more automated and investing in equipment that does what three people used to do.” —Ken Burgin, community manager, Silver Chef
“Those in the industry who are more environmentally aware are getting the benefit of all this new technology coming through,” says Willis. “It’s really important to look at controlling and reducing your costs moving forward and by buying the right equipment from the outset, you can save money from day one.”
It’s no secret that the average commercial kitchen is a hot, uncomfortable environment to be in—but technology is changing all that. Induction cooking is one of them, so it’s no surprise the Instinct Induction Countertop Line, a multi-sensor induction cooktop with different zones, was recognised at the KI Awards.
“Induction cooking is great. It’s got instant heat and it’s only on when it’s required,” explains Willis. “It uses less energy to cook with, and it keeps heat out of the kitchen which means it’s a better environment to work in.”
And alongside energy-saving fridges and cooktops, are water-saving dishwashers, like one from commercial firm Hobart that uses an incredible two litres per cycle. “A typical dishwasher at home probably uses 15 litres on average, so that’s a huge water saving,” says Willis. “There are also dishwashers that use steam from the latest cycle to generate the next lot of hot water—which reduce the temperature in the room by as much as eight degrees. So you’re looking at a better working environment, less hot water and detergent usage; it’s a win-win.”
Green waste solutions are also helping operators divert a lot of their garbage away from landfill and minimise or eliminate food waste. “There are systems now which can compact wet and dry garbage and send the wet garbage or food scraps to local farmers for use as fertiliser,” says Willis.
Steve Sidd is a big fan. “We use the Orca for general waste and have trained all our staff to use it—you just scrape general food waste into it. It’s great for the environment.”
On the horizon
Sure, cooking robots and 3D food ‘printing’ may be on the horizon in the future—in fact, probably sooner than we think. But in the short term, restaurant owners are likely to follow Europe more closely by adopting newfangled kit that reduces the need for expensive staff, and safely extends the life of cooked food, predicts Willis.
“Equipment like a combi oven, blast chiller and vacuum sealer are pretty much mandatory in Europe now, but they’re not yet a requirement in Australia. This kind of equipment is a game changer for caterers and clubs doing functions, for example—because again, you can cook food Monday to Friday when wages are cheaper, blast-chill and vacuum-pack it then regenerate it on weekends, saving you paying expensive weekend wages.”
Can restaurateurs who ignore tech advancements be left behind? Absolutely, says Sidd, who alongside back-of-house innovations, is a big fan of systems such as Typsy and the Genie app. He’s also realistic about what’s possible for many restaurateurs. “For whatever tech you adopt, it all comes down to your capital,” he says. “It’s more larger establishments that can afford a fit-out with new water-saving, energy-saving technology—and it’s something we look closely at for new venues than current ones.”