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Smart spending

The August 2009 NRA expectations Index reported that “45 percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months.” Whether that prediction comes true remains to be seen. But this year’s crop of new products puts the emphasis on helping operators maximize every dollar.

Big things

Energy saving continues to be important, as manufacturers tweak their major equipment to make it more energy-efficient. The 30-pound frypot in Frymaster’s Protector Gas Fryer, for example, delivers the cooking ability of a 50-pound frypot—which means lower energy costs and less oil usage. Vulcan recently introduced a line of Rapid Recovery Heavy Duty Gas Griddles, which have a proprietary composite griddle plate. These claim to have a quicker recovery time than regular stainless griddles, thus allowing for faster production. And operators who are menuing grilled sandwiches now have a space- and energy-saving alternative in the Electrolux Professional High Speed Sandwich Press. In a 24- by 27-inch footprint, the unit combines heated contact plates, infrared radiation and microwaves to grill panini sandwiches in less than a minute.

Small things

Many back-of-house serving and prep items have been rethought to save time and alleviate waste. Cambro’s IceExpress Water Glass Filler nests on top of a standard dish rack and fills 25 water glasses in seconds, minimizing handling of glasses and ice. Spring USA’s new Spadles are long-handled spoons with curved bowls that fit into pan corners. Ranging from 2 to 6 oz., they help manage portion control.

Repetitive stress injuries can lead to decreased productivity and time lost from the job. Ergonomic kitchen tools, like Todco’s Meno Trigger Grip Tongs, can help lessen hand stress and reduce the risk of injury. They feature a curved handle that is less likely to cause hand fatigue. Plus, they have silicone tips that are heat resistant to 500°F.

Green things

Sustainability continues to make its mark. Hatco’s Ecoization company-wide program covers everything from producing more energy-efficient products to in-plant recycling efforts.

Disposables, often the target of activists, made strides in using more recycled or biodegradable material. The new Culinary Classics Crisp Food Container from Anchor Packaging is not only reusable and recyclable, it also has a ridged base and airflow channels in the lid to keep takeout food hot and crispy. Eco-Products introduced a hot beverage cup containing 24 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, double what is currently used in single-wall paper hot cups. And the new line of Conserve gloves and bags from Food-Handler are fully compostable.

Ask the experts

We asked industry insiders if they agree with the NRA’s assessment that equipment purchases will increase in 2010. Here’s what they have to say:

Restaurant designer Thomas Ligocki of Lean Kitchen Solutions in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, concurs. “Our phones are ringing more and e-mails are coming in more frequently. A few customers mentioned that they would like to start new projects and finish by January 1. Others want to get started now for restaurants opening by April 1.”

Dean Landeche, VP of Marketing for Manitowoc Foodservice, calls the NRA report “good news.” “Restaurants have been in a holding pattern when it comes to purchasing new equipment and remodeling,” he feels. “With the economy showing signs of improvement, they can feel comfortable investing in capital expenditures that will save money in the long run.”

Don Fox, Chief Operating Officer of Firehouse Subs, has a different take. “Speaking with my peers in other companies,” he says, “the 45 percent number seems high. A lot of them would like to be taking advantage of some favorable aspects of the economy, but many are simply not in a position to pony up the capital to do so.”

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