The rise of on-the-go, to-go and food delivery programmes is a trend that has been accelerated by the global pandemic. It all points to a greater need for equipment that can facilitate the holding of food and pre-prepared cooking operations, writes Robert Simmelink at Alto-Shaam.
Self-service food programmes are on their way out. Latest statistics from Technomic (June 2020), for example, suggest that almost two out of every three (64%) operators are moving away from self-service in favour of pre-prepared, staff-served food options, like grab-and-go, to-go and delivery food programmes that can be ordered in advance.
It’s a trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic for both commercial and non-commercial foodservice programs – having been identified as one of the most efficient ways to feed large groups safely, efficiently and with zero or minimal contact.
Operators have quickly adapted to establish greater customer confidence. In schools, for example, self-serve stations have become impossible to manage under new sanitation standards.
Here and elsewhere, the need to rebuild consumer confidence is the primary reason that self-serve food programmes are unlikely to return any time soon. Indeed, it seems to be indefinitely on hold.
Maximising food quality
Which leaves foodservice operators with a challenge. Pre-prepared food programmes are clearly the way forward, but how do operators address the dual challenge of maximising food quality and minimising waste?
Poor quality is invariably a result of inconsistent cooking applications and harsh holding techniques – issues that can both be easily overcome when armed with the right equipment and supported by the appropriate knowledge.
The range of Alto-Shaam hot holding products is extensive, from heated shelf merchandisers and cabinets through to drawer warmers and hot food wells.
Choosing holding equipment with gentle, precise Halo Heat Technology allows operators to maintain the highest food quality, and achieve longer hold times without harsh heating elements, fans or added humidity.
They allow for food to be produced in advance, before peak service times, and held at the optimal temperature for on- or off-premise service.
So how do you make the most of the equipment you have, or are considering to buy, in meeting the needs of a post-pandemic world?
First off, be sure when using heated holding equipment, such as heated shelf warmers, holding cabinets, or food wells, to preheat the unit to the desired temperature well in advance of presenting any food.
Whereas this might sound obvious, it might not be so obvious that you also need to consider how the food is packaged, and the impact such packaging can have not only on the quality of the food, but also how well the food holds.
At a practical level, wire shelves may be necessary accessories for sandwiches wrapped in paper when using a heated shelf warmer.
Display cases similarly benefit from being pre-heated at least 20 minutes in advance and to the desired holding temperature setting, and heated with the pans already inside.
These pans should be the pans used for the hot food and food placement is key: dense/thick foods on one side, and items like fried chicken on the other.
Operators should only use the appropriate amount of food that can be held by the pan to ensure consistency and quality (i.e. chicken should be no higher than the sides of the pan). The back doors of the Deli case should not be removed as they have an obvious effect on temperature consistency.
Of course, not everyone will be convinced that pre-prepared food is the way to go, and this view will partly be influenced by misconceptions in the market regarding what hot holding can deliver.
One of the most common misconceptions, for example is that if the food is cooked to a higher internal temperature, it will hold longer with or without holding equipment. This simply isn’t the case.
In fact, the higher the temperature a food is cooked to, the more moisture is removed, and this shortens the holding time and quality. Holding moisture in a food will enable it to keep its heat for longer.
On the other hand, releasing moisture – by opening a few vents in a heated holding cabinet – has the advantage of holding of crispy items, like fried chicken, for longer.
Pre-prepared food programmes will grow in popularity. Buying the right equipment and taking the right advice on how such equipment is used, will be the difference between a successful programme with quality hot food, or one where your customers go hungry.
Robert Simmelink is corporate executive chef at Alto-Shaam, a leading provider of cooking and holding equipment for commercial kitchens. www.alto-shaam.com/culinarysupport