It’s no secret that rent is going up, footprints are getting smaller, labor is getting pricier and food costs are a constant concern. So inside restaurants, the pressure is on to save both money and square footage—and that includes the kitchen. While some operators have streamlined their menus so that they don’t need five different heavy-duty cooking machines, others have turned to pieces of equipment that offer up an array of functions in one hardworking package. In fact, about 30 percent of restaurant operators are using “more high-volume production, beverage service and combination equipment,” found market researcher Y-Pulse in its recent Dream Kitchen Survey.
The upfront cost of these larger multifunctional cookers might be higher than a single-function piece of equipment—units can range from $8,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the size and model—but the savings are recouped elsewhere. Not only can operators eliminate the cost of buying several different pieces, but these multifunctional cookers help cut food waste, labor and utility costs.
Kevin Meyer, executive chef at The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., sous vides many items in a multitasking combi oven for the high-end menus at the hotel’s multiple restaurants. The result: A longer shelf-life for sous-vide foods and fewer instances of over- and undercooking due to the equipment’s temperature probe, cutting down on food waste. “It makes it a little foolproof to get your product out without having to worry about that,” he says.
At gastropub The Coupe in Washington, D.C., executive chef Stephen McRae has been able to cut about six man hours a day—essentially one full-time employee, he estimates—because he can run programs on a self-cooking center unattended. For example, instead of having a cook monitor an ingredient like oven-dried tomatoes, the machine slowly roasts tomatoes overnight and automatically flips to a dehydration setting.
There is a learning curve with this high-tech equipment, says McRae. “It takes a while to understand how to program it. Once you do, it is very easy, but teaching it to other people and employees can be a challenge,” he says.
With back-of-house areas shrinking, more operators are bringing the kitchen up front. High-speed ovens must save room when space is tight, and they need to be visually appealing, too. Manitowoc’s Merrychef Eikon E2S oven—which launched in October—cooks, toasts, bakes and reheats in one compact unit (24.4 inches high, 14 inches wide, 23.4 inches deep) and comes in a stainless, red or black finish.
Alto-Shaam’s Combitherm Combi Oven performs the job of a dehydrator, smoker, fryer, steamer, kettle and convection oven in one unit. It’s been useful for Meyer, who, like others who have upped their catering business of late, has turned to banquets as an extra revenue stream. “You can cook your meats to a certain temp, and it’ll hold them at that temp until you need [the food] for service,” Meyer says. “It gives you more time to focus on other things rather than having to check your meat every 15 minutes.”