On the spot: John Benson-Smith on energy efficient kitchen equipment

John Benson-Smith

Leading chef John Benson-Smith answers your equipment questions — and he has no qualms about saying it as he sees it! This issue we asked readers to quiz John on all things energy efficiency.

How much attention should I pay to the energy efficiency or utility consumption of a product when purchasing catering equipment?

It is very relevant in 2016, however on many occasions anything which puts a premium price onto equipment can get the cold shoulder in the industry. For this to become effective the end-business will have to become stronger, more aware and also see the investment as important and NOT a bloody luxury. There is also the education of consultants and builders, construction companies and facilities management companies to ensure they also act responsibly. As the industry gets its head around the present 20,000 vacancies for chefs, and what I understand is the bigger challenge on the horizon of a huge shortage of front-of-house staff, they will be forced to invest more into quality people — both in their welfare and development — so the logical thing is to save on utilities. Some hotel groups appear more switched on than restaurants. There are some superb companies out there, which will interface and measure your energy consumption and assist you with better understanding of costs.

What item of equipment has impressed you the most when it comes to energy efficiency?

It’s got to be induction (I was only the second establishment in the UK mid-1980s to have an all-induction kitchen, which was an interesting time as we literally had an engineer sleeping overnight sometimes!). Induction has come and gone since a number of times, however it’s disappointing that the domestic market seems more keen on it or interested in it than the catering industry. The younger chefs accept it; the more mature ones like to see heat and flames.

Have you ever bought a piece of catering equipment on the premise of it being energy efficient only to be left disappointed?

What I would say is that few establishments see energy efficiency as being important still and very few businesses measure utility usage, however it will hit everyone very soon.

I visited a restaurant a few months ago that proudly told me the kitchen cost them £17.98 a day in power”

A lot of suppliers claim to offer the ‘greenest’ equipment in their product class or sector. What’s the best way for my business to really measure the legitimacy of those claims?

Borrow it free on loan or get legitimate references from other users, but to start this you need to be able to pinpoint the exact comparisons and naturally measure equipment efficiencies.

What’s the biggest barrier to purchasing energy efficient catering equipment?

Distributor ignorance, in most cases, and also the general UK approach to purchasing quality equipment, which has a cheap and cheerful attitude towards it, unlike most of Europe. I remember visiting a restaurant a few months ago that proudly told me the kitchen cost them £17.98 a day in power, however it was not 20 or 30 years old!

Kitchen picThis month sees the launch of Minimum Energy Performance Standards, which means refrigeration equipment that doesn’t meet a certain level of energy efficiency will be excluded from being sold in EU markets. What does this mean for my business?

The start of awareness, which is positive, but the huge offloading of outdated equipment ending up on the market worries me. Unfortunately it may take 10-15 years to rid the industry of these. Who the hell designs and sells something which is not energy efficient anyway?

I’ve deliberately invested in energy efficient catering equipment, but my staff always leave appliances on and don’t operate them properly, which defeats the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve. How can I solve this?

Education, education, education, awareness, awareness, awareness — and policing, BUT ensure that you are purchasing user-friendly equipment, which is fit for purpose, great quality and able to deliver performance to assist the end product and the customer. Also, train your staff on the equipment’s use and abilities. Unfortunately many distributors install, commission and then forget or sidestep the ‘training’ bit. Yes, you can have a ‘kick chef’ mentally about leaving the water running into the sink all day and putting the salamander grill on full power for eight hours, but then this is destructive if the grill is ala 1970s and takes 30 minutes to heat up. The smart equipment companies are working upon assisting and helping everyone, not just themselves.

John Benson-Smith is a food and catering consultant and trusted advisor to leading brands from the world of restaurants, hotels, leisure and food manufacturing. His company, The Food Consultancy, offers operational delivery, design, project management, food creation and new product development. www.thefoodconsultancy.com 

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