On the spot: John Benson-Smith answers your catering equipment questions

John Benson-Smith

Leading chef John Benson-Smith answers your catering equipment questions — and he has no qualms about saying it how he sees it!

How much attention should I pay to where equipment is manufactured?

There is good, bad and evil equipment everywhere in the world. My concern is that as the catering industry weakens its skill base due to the recruitment and retention crisis, unscrupulous distributors and manufacturers take advantage. Manufacturers need to deliver robust products that are designed with the end-user in mind. The bright ones will definitely invest in understanding long-term trends within the catering industry. One thing I would ask before some manufacturer thinks about putting Facebook or Twitter on a combi oven is to make them like Tonka toys so they are simple for everyone to use and, for God’s sake, spend time in kitchens so that whatever you create is ‘fit for purpose’. From my experience in Europe, the UK generally wishes to buy cheap and doesn’t get the quality thing — I therefore understand the frustrations that quality distributors have over this.

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What is the minimum warranty term that I should accept from a catering manufacturer?

It’s up to manufacturers to put their products forward with warranties where their mouths are. I am amused by the number of projects where the warranty offered by the manufacturer or distributor starts the moment the equipment is installed and not when it actually starts to be used or is commissioned. It is also frustrating how, in some cases, distributors and manufactures don’t want to get stuck into ‘live’ staff training on site with the operators — surely it’s all about being one team? I feel that 12 months warranty will become increasingly scarcer as time moves on.

What’s the best piece of catering equipment innovation you have seen in the past 12 months?

I am not easily impressed and tend not to cuddle or become fantasised by what amounts to nothing more than gimmicks or flash products. The best pieces of innovation I have probably seen recently have been great fabrication and the uses of this to assist the ergonomics of the end-operators.

The worst standards I see are where a new project comes under a main contractor, unfortunately”

You’ve worked with your fair share of distributors over the years — but what are your three pet hates?

I’ll give you four! The first is ‘bodge it and scarper’ merchants, especially where there is no-one at the operator’s end who has a clue about workmanship or what standards are. The worst standards I see are where a new project comes under a main contractor, unfortunately. The second is the ‘we only sell boxes’ attitude or approach. The third is those which install with terrible attention to detail — hammering in screws, for example! Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all! And the fourth is companies who are asked to fit and install equipment which they know will cause issues or is completely inappropriate or downright stupid. Their crime is they just go along with it.

Have you ever bought anything as a result of seeing it at a trade show?

Never. It’s about getting to look at sites live and talking to the real end-users of repute who say it as they find it. You then need to understand their views and opinions. Trade shows can be a huge networking opportunity where long lost friends enjoy great coffee and beers (why not!). But I am generally not a fan and only attend if I am asked to demonstrate. And even then I would only do this if I thought it was a really great piece of kit.

What’s the biggest lie that you’ve ever being told by an equipment manufacturer?

Being streetwise with 40 years’ experience under my belt tends to help these days. But it does concern me that there are NO recalls within the industry from manufacturers when there are real issues out there, and that when design faults appear it all goes into a hush on occasions. There are plenty of stories I could tell, but I’d need to speak to my lawyer first! For me, the expression and classification ‘heavy duty’ is a licence to print money as it has no actual meaning other than being an over-used marketing term.

John Benson-Smith is a catering consultant and trusted advisor to leading brands from the hospitality sector. His company, The Food Consultancy, offers operational delivery, design, project management, food creation and new product development.

Got a question for John Benson-Smith?

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Andrew Seymour

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