The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the foodservice landscape, spurring a number of new trends in the way that catering businesses operate and altering their approach to kitchen management. But what is the knock-on effect for a vital area of the kitchen such as warewashing likely to be? FEJ investigates…
Given the entire purpose of a dishwasher is to clean the items inside it, it perhaps isn’t a surprise to hear manufacturers of such systems agree that hygiene has rocketed to the top of the priority list for customers.
But that is, indeed, what has happened as restaurants and cafes have reopened their premises under conditions they could never have imagined.
Creating restaurant spaces that comply with social distancing is one challenge, hygiene is the other. Suppliers report an increase in service calls as site owners and facilities managers bid to ensure their warewashing kit is capable of tackling the demands placed upon it.
“Covid-19 is only killed by the correct combination of heat, time and dishwash chemicals,” explains Paul Anderson, managing director at Meiko UK.
“What managers may not understand is that the temperature calibration on their dishwasher — and this applies to any make of dishwasher — will require regular checking, such as every six months, to ensure continued accuracy.
“In the meantime, of course, machine temperatures should be independently checked in-house using thermometers or labels and recorded as part of the daily routine. Any deviation from the norm should be reported to the service company or manufacturer immediately.”
Meiko has even created a window sticker for users of its warewashing equipment so they can demonstrate to customers that their dishwasher inactivates Covid-19.
Stickers are available for owners of Meiko machines that have been recently serviced directly by Meiko or by a Meiko-approved distributor service contractor, or customers that have installed a new generation Meiko glass or dishwasher within the last six months, where a commissioning service is part of the package.
“The fact that a properly maintained and regularly serviced dishwasher actually prevents the spread of Covid-19 means that something rarely talked about before with customers is now appearing on the entry doorway,” says Anderson. “Managers like the visible assurance it provides.”
According to a new study carried out by the NPD Group, 76% of consumers stated that good hygiene is now a more important factor to consider when choosing where to eat or drink than before the lockdown, leading many UK foodservice operators to review their kitchen hygiene measures.
This includes a new-found, higher prioritisation for hygiene-led warewashers, suggests David Glover, UK and Ireland country manager at Wexiodisk.
“By investing in a high quality, hygiene-led warewasher, such as those that Wexiodisk is renowned for producing, operators can ensure a safe, sanitary and efficient warewashing system, giving both operator and customers peace of mind.
“In addition to prioritising hygiene, operators have been tasked with prioritising new social distancing measures. This has led to a surge in demand for spacious warewashing systems that are specifically designed to minimise touchpoints such Wexiodisk’s PRM and sorting unit.”
Over at Maidaid, sales have been steadily building since the slump that the market experienced immediately after lockdown. Sales director Rob Wager says it’s a sign that operators understand the significance of a competent warewash set-up.
“With health and safety concerns more important than ever before, catering establishments realised that reliable and efficient warewashing equipment is paramount. With Maidaid equipment being sensibly priced, and unrivalled stockholding maintained throughout the period combined with next-day delivery, it has helped with many emergency purchase requests.”
Winterhalter has observed increasing interest in its Pay-Per-Wash (PPW) scheme, which offers operators a machine, chemicals and service back-up with no up-front cost. Customers just pay as they wash, topping up credits by phone or over the internet.
“The great thing about PPW in the current climate is that the costs are directly linked to how busy you are,” says marketing manager Paul Crowley. “If business gets quiet, you wash less so you pay less. If the machine is standing idle, it costs you nothing.”
PPW was originally conceived for independents but bigger chains are looking at it too, attracted by the prospect of freeing up cash for other business costs. “We’re also offering a package of alternative finance deals, including 0% finance with a four-month payment holiday at the start. We’re expecting that to be popular, too,” reveals Crowley.
Returning to the hygiene theme, Winterhalter has also been getting enquiries about whether its machines kill Covid-19.
“The answer is, yes, they do,” says Crowley, adding that any “decent” dishwasher or glasswasher that complies with the relevant DIN standard, and is operating correctly and using appropriate chemicals, will kill the virus.
“We’re looking at introducing a MOT-style certificate that foodservice operators can display in their site, confirming that their warewasher has been serviced and is operating at the correct temperature, and is using Winterhalter chemicals,” he reveals.
It’s quite simple for our machines to be repurposed in this way — an engineer can easily change the parameters so that a glasswasher or dishwasher can be transformed into a utensil washer”
Riccardo Scuotto, export managing director at Krupps, reckons the pandemic situation has dramatically altered the way operators used to work and says that is reflected in recent orders. He, too, agrees that demonstrating the hygienic capabilities of equipment is important.
“We see a high demand for sanitising warewashing equipment that can guarantee safety for operators. Focusing on this new trend, we carried out some laboratory tests on our Elitech models. Used together with our chemical products, the results are excellent since they stated that our products are able to eliminate over 99% of bacteria found on plates and glasses. Those tests are giving more reassurance to all operators that have chosen and will choose Elitech for their business.”
Scuotto says that remote assistance has also proved itself to be a valuable tool over the last few months.
“Through a wifi connection to our iKloud platform, our engineers are able to check and manage technical issues by distance; this provides the opportunity to limit personal contact, solve technical issues and, at the same time, help to stop the spread of the virus,” he comments.
Takeaway and delivery
One trend that gathered pace while dine-in custom remained off limits was the rampant move towards delivery and takeaway. That has an obvious knock-on effect for the volume and type of wares being washed.
Maidaid’s Rob Wager says it’s almost certainly triggered a shift in the sort of machine types that buyers are hunting for. “The biggest change has been in the demand for higher specification and larger capacity models,” he reveals. “In particular, Maidaid‘s Minirack and pot/utensil washer ranges have proved very popular,” he adds.
Those that have dived head-first into the takeaway and delivery sector will know how fast-paced it can be. From an operational standpoint, there will inevitably still be prep items, cooking utensils and pans to wash up on a frequent basis, even if the usual throughput of cutlery and crockery isn’t there.
Manufacturers such as Smeg have been helping operators to deploy their equipment in the right way. “We have reminded all customers with existing hood machines that our basket support has always accommodated utensils and pots and pans directly onto it, allowing less shadowing by the basket and therefore improving wash results and cleaning performance,” says the manufacturer’s commercial channel director Phil Coulstock.
“Coupled with unique and extended utensil and cutlery cycles, as well as dedicated glass-only cycles on our HTY models, Smeg hood machines already offer the ability to diversify with the operators,” he continues.
It’s the same story at Winterhalter. It received enquiries from customers that had branched into takeaway and wanted to wash utensils rather than crockery in their machines. That doesn’t actually pose a huge problem, insists Paul Crowley.
“It’s quite simple for our machines to be repurposed in this way — an engineer can easily change the parameters so that a glasswasher or dishwasher can be transformed into a utensil washer.”
While it’s an inevitable consequence of the lockdown that many restaurants haven’t been using their warewashers for anything like their normal frequency, Hobart’s sales director Tim Bender says it’s not the end of the world.
“Modern machines are built to roll with these types of punches and can be utilised to run fewer cycles in the day without consuming large amounts of water and energy. It may also be that a regular undercounter machine can help take the majority of the strain instead of a passthrough, but operators shouldn’t, in my view, be looking to reconfigure. As things begin to pick up — as they surely will — these workhorses will come into their own again,” he adds.
Electrolux Professional has fielded enquiries from organisations that had to adapt their own cleaning and hygiene processes to accommodate business contingency plans over the last few months. It worked closely with one major supermarket to create a warewashing solution that could safely clean the boxes used for home delivery orders, for example.
But in terms of sites that diversified into takeaway and delivery, there hasn’t been any real appetite or need for a redesign of warewashing applications, according to sales manager Alex Reed. “Firstly, many businesses that adapted to a take-out approach did so out of a need to survive, and so kept any non-essential spend such as new equipment to a minimum,” he reasons.
“Secondly, while many businesses that adapted may have enjoyed success with this approach, more often than not it is a temporary solution until dine-in trade returns. Therefore, while the wares that have been washed may have changed, for example less plates, cutlery and glasses and more prep equipment such as boards, bowls and trays, many operators have been able to accommodate this with their existing equipment.”
Make do and mend
There is a consensus from some quarters that we are heading for a sustained period of market austerity, which could push operators to adopt a ‘make do and mend’ approach as they resist expensive capital foodservice equipment purchases.
Meiko’s Paul Anderson acknowledges that tougher economic conditions will always result in extra scrutiny on purchasing strategies.
“Operators are looking to extend machine life spans and maintaining rather than buying. This is where the true build quality of a dishwasher is proven. But some machines do need replacing and new operations will always open or expand,” he says.
If growing numbers of operators do try and get additional mileage out of existing equipment, he thinks those that are adept at providing technical service support will prosper.
“Machines sold without good technical support will be like second-hand cars without a service history: more likely to be problematic and much less desired!”
Machines sold without good technical support will be like second-hand cars without a service history: more likely to be problematic and much less desired!”
Electrolux Professional’s Alex Reed also cites the service implications that come from changes in buying behaviour among users.
“Maximising the operational life of existing equipment is likely going to be the favoured course of action for a number of operators. This correlates with an increase in enquiries for our Essentia service packages that we have seen in recent weeks, especially from June onwards as sites began to reopen. That said, given the heightened focus on hygiene, we have already had significant interest in our hygiene&clean range from operators looking for a robust approach to thermal disinfection.”
Operators need to be careful, of course. If they were considering new infrastructure investment because systems needed upgrading prior to the lockdown, trying to sweat the assets for too long could prove harmful.
“If you’re an operator and you’re sitting on some very old equipment that was struggling pre-lockdown it’s better to put your money into something new,” counsels Hobart’s Tim Bender.
“We understand that operators may be more protective over capital so our advice would be to spread the cost by using something like our 0% finance package and basically save a lot of hassle long-term. Covid or not, the arguments for buying new to replace old in terms of greater efficiency and productivity still apply.”
Other suppliers, including Wexiodisk’s David Glover, concur with the view that operators shouldn’t put off the inevitable.
“It is understandable that operators may want to minimise costs at this time by delaying equipment repairs or refurbishments, however in the long-run these short-term money-saving measures will catch up on them, and operators may be left in a position where their warewasher is unable to operate or meet the demands of a venue.”