Energy-Efficient Restaurant Trends

The fact that energy-efficient equipment reduces energy costs is a given, but it can also improve food quality and consistency, according to equipment experts who shared their insights on a webcast entitled, “Amp Up Productivity, Turn-Down Energy Costs: Cooking Equipment Technology Revisited.”

In the presentation, hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, and sponsored by Vulcan Equipment, featured speakers — Ann Lovecik, foodservice energy efficiency consultant for CenterPoint Energy in Minneapolis, and Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education for PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. — discussed the variety of ways energy-efficient equipment can save money despite the higher initial cost.

Lovecik said combination ovens — which combine the abilities of a convection oven and a steamer — are among her favorite types of kitchen equipment. Developed in Europe, where space is tighter, these ovens arrived in the United States in the 1980s and were mostly used for institutional cooking, but are becoming more widespread in restaurants. With their ability to bake, steam or cook with moist heat, these multitaskers take up less space in the kitchen. That means restaurants can install smaller ventilation hoods, which on average cost around $1,800 per linear foot.

Lovecik said that modern combination ovens also can be labor savers, because multi-step cooking instructions can be programmed into them, adjusting the temperature and steam ratio over the course of the cooking, allowing, for example, for a quick sear followed by low-and-slow cooking.

“It speeds up cook time and allows for retention of juice and less shrinkage of proteins,” she said.

They also can be programmed to roast meats overnight and then hold them at a safe temperature for use in the day. Most of them have probes that can be inserted into the meat so they can be cooked to a precise internal temperature, she added.

Many of them also record cooking times that can be transferred via their USB ports to computers for easier food safety HACCP documentation.

Young noted that modern Energy Star convection ovens and combination ovens can reduce operating costs by nearly 50 percent.

Lovecik also noted that high efficiency fryers with heat exchange baffles recover lost heat faster, making them more productive and also improving the quality of the fried food, which ends up spending less time in the oil.

Demand control ventilation systems were discussed as well. Unlike typical hoods, which turn on at full power whenever any equipment is turned on, Lovecik said these systems have sensors that monitor equipment use and ramp up or slow down exhaust as needed, resulting in less energy use. That is particularly important with ventilation systems, since they generally account for about 20 percent of all energy use in a kitchen.

Young looked at how some classic equipment has evolved. Broilers, for example, traditionally are just grates over flames.

“They’re not thermostatic — they’re like your backyard grill,” he said. “You turn them on and they run all day with very limited controls.” They’re such energy guzzlers that one year of operating them can be equal to their purchase price, he said.

However, after a decade of development, better designed lidded broilers are available with lower input rates and radiant heating that make them more energy-efficient.

Griddles, too, now have infrared burners that transfer heat better and result in savings. Young noted that even simple advances such as finned-bottom pots increase energy efficiency and can reducing cooking times for items like pasta, because water comes to a boil faster in them.

Young noted that energy efficient equipment can be a lot more expensive to begin with: an inexpensive, but also inefficient fryer, can cost around $800, while a high efficiency one will be closer to $1,500. High efficiency fryers recover their heat faster, which means they’re better for high-volume environments, and oil in them also tends to last longer than in conventional fryers.

He said that, assuming a fryer is used 12 hours per day and that 125 pounds of food is cooked in it each day, a high efficiency fryer will save more than $13,000 over the course of five years in energy and oil costs.

Lovecik addressed the benefits of energy efficient conveyor ovens, which have conveyor belts that run food through a heated cavity at a set pace.

Lovecik said new versions have sensors on the belts that slow the belts down and lower the temperatures during times of no activity.

Although it’s common knowledge that energy will be saved if ovens are turned down when they’re not being used, it’s difficult to follow through on that, especially since you want the ovens to be hot as soon as your restaurant gets busy. The new conveyor ovens take care of that automatically, which Lovecik said can result in a 40 percent reduction in energy use.

Young said there also are new cold preparation tables that are kept cold using chilled liquid rather than chilled air. The result is more even temperature and 20 percent energy savings.

Similarly, better griddles with more uniform heating can result in faster cooking times, easier use and lower energy use.

* Abridged from NRN, Bret Thorn at [email protected]

 

Restaurant Tech Trends – 2015

Restaurant operations will be tapping technology with greater gusto in 2015 in both the front and back of the house.

“Technology will perhaps be the largest arena to see some rapid innovation in 2015,” said B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group. “Technology is just another tool in the operator tool belt, but 2015 is poised for a much more substantial integration of the technology into the typical restaurant operation.”

The restaurant industry will see some tech items become more affordable as prices dip, such as tablets for line-busting in quick service to tabletop devices for ordering and payments.

“Individual’s basic expectations for a restaurant experience includes technology,” Riehle said, from smartphones to websites to front of the house and back of the house. “As the price points come down, there will be much more substantial integration of technology into the basic restaurant experience.”

After 2014’s data breaches at restaurant concepts as varied as Dairy Queen, Jimmy John’s and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, 2015 may push many restaurant companies in the U.S. to finally adopt point-of-sale systems compatible with the EMV standard that is widely followed outside of the United States.

EMV, named after its developers (Europay, MasterCard and Visa), requires cards that have embedded microprocessor chips that store and protect encrypted user data and is aimed at better protecting merchants and issuers from fraud losses at the point of sale. More U.S. banks and credit card companies are issuing the chipped EMV cards to their users.

In addition, a 2015 POS Software Trend Report from Hospitality Technology showed that 56 percent of restaurants say their top business reason for upgrading their POS is enabling new payment options such as e-wallet. Adding mobile capabilities and prepping for EMV is prompting 47 percent of restaurants to look at POS upgrades, according to the report.

“Yield management” or “dynamic pricing,” which means varying prices based on factors such as time, has been common in the hotel industry for years. Now, digital menu boards and sophisticated POS systems may pave the way for more restaurants to vary prices by day part to drive traffic.

“Restaurants can do really quick tests of not only pricing but menu substitutions,” Riehle said, noting that alternating pricing could generate incremental demand in the industry, according to NRA research.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “that capacity did not exist because menu boards and tablets were not there yet. Now, it does allow the average restaurant operator to step up their game to generate additional demand.”

Technology applications will also continue to help cooking equipment to save time and labor.

For example, winners of the NRA’s Kitchen Innovations Awards at the organization’s annual show in May included combination ovens that saved energy and reduced cook times by as much as 20 percent, ice machines that sanitized themselves with ultraviolet light oxidation, and dishwasher technology that reduced water use and sped drying times.

While the restaurant industry expects to see modest growth in 2015 and increasingly intense competition, operations will become more streamlined. The challenge for operators, Riehle advised, “is to remain high-touch in a high-tech environment.

* Abridged from an article by Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless