If you calculate the cost of the average restaurant kitchen, you generally find that the largest investment by some distance is the cooking suite.
For most businesses it’s the heartbeat of the operation and therefore any decision that is taken on the choice of brand and specification tends to be carefully considered, with longevity firmly in mind.
Manufacturers, in response, are rising to the challenge of providing operators with suites that blend traditional ways of cooking with more modern techniques, while acknowledging the need for flexibility where design and aesthetics are concerned.
Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, says that inevitably the equipment that operators buy reflects the latest food trends. “This year we’ve seen operators showing keen interest in induction ranges with fan-assisted ovens, pump filtration fryers, chargrills and integrated sous vide / water baths.”
Plenty has changed over the past 12 months, but there are some familiar themes that indicate the direction the market is heading. The question of payback on the equipment investment, particularly with Brexit and interest rate increases looming large, has certainly come to the fore, says Ian Clow, sales director of Charvet.
There is increasing pressure on manufacturers to come up with more innovative prime cooking equipment that packs big firepower but from a smaller footprint too, he suggests. “To meet the demand for truly multi-functional heavy duty equipment, Charvet has just launched the Induction Multizone, which performs in a similar way to the much-loved solid top while delivering the energy savings from induction and pan detectors, making it an ideal choice for all-day operators.”
Induction is the first word that springs to mind for Steve Wooldridge, fine dining sector manager at Electrolux Professional, when thinking about key trends. “As a chef, what you want is control and power, which is why gas has been so popular for so long. However, manufacturers are now producing cooking suites where the induction technology feels very similar to gas. The result is that, rather than getting into a kitchen and immediately turning on the oven, stove tops and salamander, you can boil water in 20 seconds and control the temperature to within 1°C.”
The benefits of modern induction are well-documented, with advocates insisting it is over 90% more efficient than gas, and boasts a quicker reaction time and cooking speed. “The fact that this technology is developing at a rapid rate means the cost is reducing, so more and more chefs are now becoming aware of those advantages,” notes Wooldridge.
Over at Nayati, demand has grown during the past year for bespoke kitchen blocks, which the company thinks is reflective of the growing squeeze on kitchen footprints and the need for operators to ensure they have a good mix of cooking equipment that is reliable and easy to use. “Within the block footprint, many different appliances can be supplied and although the bespoke blocks seem large, these are often the perfect solution for small kitchens as they offer a complete solution,” says operations director Mark Reid.
So where are cooking suite trends going in 2018, and what factors will shape the choices that operators make during the coming year?
The emphasis will lean ever further towards build quality, durability, performance, ‘cleanability’ and user-friendly controllability, suggests Falcon’s Hall. “With the increase in theatre kitchens and front-of-house cooking, aesthetics will continue to be an important buying factor. That’s where the latest cooklines, such as our F900 series, really score. They deliver the looks and hygiene benefits of a one-piece top with the functionality of a modular suite. What’s really important is that, as well as looking great, they make life easier for everyone, they are easier to access for service, maintenance and cleaning, and it’s easier to rearrange units in case of a change of menu, change of chef or a breakdown,” he adds.
Space will most certainly be at a premium again, especially within big cities, which could drive demand for bespoke suites that allow chefs to get higher productivity from increasingly smaller spaces. Suppliers such as Grande Cuisine, importer of Athanor, Capic and Mareno suites to the UK, report seeing more engagement between chefs and manufacturers as they seek a solution that delivers the best combination of space saving, energy efficiency and ergonomics.
Undertaking the installation of a new suite, either as part of a new build or redesign, is the perfect time to review how the kitchen actually operates”
“Undertaking the installation of a new suite, either as part of a new build or redesign, is the perfect time to review how the kitchen actually operates and with it an opportunity for the chef to change working practices in order to make personnel more efficient, maximise the available space and produce a more comfortable working environment,” notes managing director Steve Hobbs.
“Are staff spending more time going backwards and forwards to ancillary items than actually cooking? And, if so, can these ancillary items be better located next to or even into the suite/cook line? And, of course, there will undoubtedly be even greater emphasis placed upon energy optimisation. This will include power management systems that automatically drop power consumption when a unit is not in operation.”
Trevor Burke, managing director of Exclusive Ranges, also foresees greater appetite for a more managed cooking solution, and says operators will be analysing the lifetime cost of the investment in their cooking suites.
“We are already seeing chefs that want to manage their cooking processes more closely; temperature and time settings are featuring on prime cooking equipment now, not just combination ovens, and they are giving more consideration to the portioning of food, pan quality and energy management for consistency and repeatable processes. Quality versus value for money will become more significant as many imported products have been, or will be soon, affected by price increases. It’s therefore important that the investment the client is making is the right one.”
Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic, which recently gained the rights to distribute Rosinox suites in the UK, believes there is still a significant trend in new Asian cooking methods, particularly using Vietnamese styles, flavours and ingredients. As such, he expects cooking suites to continue to innovate in this area.
“A focus on quality, fresh ingredients and menus that deliver healthy, nutritious meals are likely to be of significant interest to consumers going forward,” he says. “With many businesses running street-food style grab-and-go operations and the more traditional seated restaurants increasing the dining area, often at the expense of the kitchen size, cooking suites need to be compact yet versatile to meet demand. That’s where we believe innovation in equipment, such as the highly multifunctional bratt pans and kettle cooking appliances, come into their own.”
With modern kitchens on the high street being worked harder than ever, the demand is for equipment that can keep up with the pace. That’s something that Charvet can vouch for. It launched the Charvet One range to provide a more modular solution for multi-site operators that want durable cooking equipment, and Ian Clow insists the move has proved justified.
“Our chain customers asked for a classic 6-burner range in the Charvet One format because they found that other equipment simply does not stand up to the punishment of working in a modern kitchen. The cookline — especially in chains operating all day — is running from morning until midnight and operators have discovered to their cost that buying on a low-price criteria means that equipment fails relatively early in its working life,” he says, adding that increased maintenance costs tend to add up to more than the price difference for buying heavy duty specs in the first place.
Operators have discovered to their cost that buying on a low-price criteria means that equipment fails relatively early in its working life”
Now that 2018 is here, is there anything on the horizon that will bring new functionality or features to cooking suites? Or have traditional cooking suites been engineered as far as they can go?
Wooldridge at Electrolux agrees technology has advanced incredibly quickly, to the point where the latest models are equipped with all kinds of features. But he says this is actually allowing suppliers to make gains elsewhere. “Because the base level of functionality is generally very high, that’s allowing manufacturers to focus on the aesthetics of their equipment.”
The fact that more and more chefs are taking time to explore whether they are making best use of their appliances could also potentially impact on the future design of suites. Could they, for example, benefit from replacing two or more pieces of equipment with one that is multi-functional?
“And what about considering pieces of equipment that can perform different jobs at different times during the day?” adds Grande Cuisine’s Steve Hobbs. “Capic already produces such a product which can be used for making braised stocks or used for direct cooking. Essentially it is designed for one job in the morning during mise-en-place and a different job during service.”
The growth of multifunctional cooking equipment is also on the mind of Hobart Cooking Solutions. Sales manager, John Stewart, says the popularity of this kind of kit means that cooking suites can become smaller.
“We’re seeing more operators purchasing cooking units such as the Bonnet Precipan and Equapan, which can adapt to a multitude of cooking methods. The growth of the food-to-go market is a big opportunity and compact multifunctional cooking units are perfect to help operators make the most of this. The Bonnet Precipan, Equapan and Minijet combi can be used front-of-house, easing the pressure of a busy kitchen environment, helping to improve processes and enabling staff to serve customers quicker and therefore increase turnover.”
New product launches are on the agenda for a number of manufacturers this year. Nayati, for instance, will be launching its newly-developed Meritus series, which builds on the success that it has had with the range over the past three years.
“We have listened to feedback from our customers and this has helped us improve many features on our new products,” explains Mark Reid. “We are very pleased with the improvements and feel that this will be well-received by our customers.”
Ultimately, says Jestic’s Morris, the future of cooking suites continues to be focused on certain key areas: flexibility, reliability, ergonomic configuration, efficiency and attractive design. “The constant advances in technology are enabling manufactures to design smaller appliances with the same output and versatility of older, larger appliances, while investment in the latest induction cooking is achieving outstanding efficiency and ongoing sustainability,” he concludes.
Smart suites for efficient kitchens
Energy efficient cooking suite advocates have long championed the advent of ‘smart’ suites that are designed to be part of the whole building management system for energy consumption. One example of this is the new Mareno IChef range, which is already configured to run with building management systems and won the Smart label award at HOST this year.
IChef appliances, which are designed to be suited, come with an exclusive system specially created by Mareno to control all its multiple functions. The touchscreen’s bright display panel is always clearly legible, under all lighting conditions, so anyone working in the kitchen, from any position, can maintain complete control of all operative settings. “Gone are the old profiles with traditional knobs and in their place are ergonomic designs that facilitate cooking, and cleaning, in the kitchen,” says Steve Hobbs, director of Grande Cuisine, which manages the brand in the UK.
Top-end trends will move into the middle market
The changes already seen at the top end of the cooking suite market, in terms of higher capital spend and more interest in the lifetime cost of a cooker, will move into the middle market, according to Trevor Burke, managing director of Exclusive Ranges.
“We have experienced high-end casual dining operators making investments in better quality equipment as they realise the benefits that better build costs and built-in adaptability can bring,” he says. “Cooking suites will continue to develop with an increase in technology, programmability and energy management. Standards of service management will increase with improved capability to carry out remote diagnostics. This in turn will lead to reduced service costs and a reduction in down-time.”
Burke suggests the market could even be in a phase where the increase in technology and what can be achieved by the manufacturer is somewhat outpacing operator affordability and perceived performance requirements. “But as with the growth of bespoke cooking, which started 25 years ago, the increased quality will eventually
filter down from the high-end part of the market,” he predicts.