Breakfast sales opportunities are everywhere, from add-on menus at hotels and function venues to early morning promotions at coffee shops, juice bars and staff restaurants. But a common denominator is the importance of well-designed self-serve areas. The right choice of buffet equipment not only helps clarify menu options, it also aids customer flow.
With 475 hotels all deriving valuable revenue from breakfast - more than 53 million now sold annually - the Whitbread-owned Premier Travel Inn chain last month expanded its three-tier buffet-style breakfast. All sites with more than 120 bedrooms now offer a hot breakfast buffet at £7.50, while Continental and grab-and-go breakfasts across the chain are priced at £5.25 and £2.95.
New fittings on buffets help the chain's guests serve themselves and emphasise greater choices in healthy eating. For example, stands with bowls on rotating arms aid selection of cereals and toppings such as fruit salad and dried fruits. There is also a jug for pomegranate juice and a new display case featuring Twinings fruit teas.
The latest buffet equipment reflects the priority accorded to both healthy breakfast components and self-serve convenience. For example, the Pure Nature line of buffet ware from Pasadele enables ingredient vessels to be arranged at varying levels to create distinctive sections. Its component units are designed to complement fresh, seasonal ingredients with combinations of natural wood bases, china, black metal and ceramic slate, plus pure stone label holders.
A cereal-dispensing innovation on the Deagostini range from Merlin Buffet Systems is the use of brushes instead of plastic paddles. These help reduce the crushing of brittle cereals and permit longer, thinner containers for holding them, thus increasing visibility. Merlin can also supply rotating dispensers for mini cereal packs, in four- and six-chute designs.
A revolving chromed-steel display stand from Moha (distributed by Gilberts Food Equipment) takes a different approach in tackling the problem of empty cardboard packets littering the serving area. It comprises four clear acrylic bowls, each large enough to hold 500g of cereal. Each of the stand's arms can be independently rotated 360°, ensuring that up to four guests can access their choice at the same time. The bowls can also hold toppings and yogurts. Moha also makes a similar stainless-steel stand with five 14cm bowls for jams, yogurts, sachets and other items.
Another line considered to offer special breakfast appeal is the Corynthe Buffetline made by Guy Degrenne and distributed in the UK by Signature FSE. Component items in stainless steel and Perspex - chosen for its transparency and hygienic quality - include cereal flutes, stands, cloche trays and juice urns.
Keep the toast flowing
Self-serve is no longer restricted to ingredient display. Larger outlets are increasingly augmenting or replacing behind-the-scenes toasters with guest-friendly machines directly on, or adjacent to, the breakfast buffet.
Conveyor toasters have the attraction of big outputs - one slice of toast every 15 seconds - and reasonably straightforward feed-in and pick-up by the guest, but they can be bulky. Hence Dualit's introduction of a one-slice conveyor toaster measuring just 27cm x 64cm x 40cm yet still capable of toasting up to 250 slices per hour.
Radiant quartz quick-start elements above and below the single-track conveyor belt drop down into power-saving mode at quieter times, reducing electricity consumption by up to 75%. Forced convection aids evenness of heating, while a secondary system protects guests by keeping the equipment cool to the touch.
Enodis has tackled the issue of matching large toasters to the front-of-house line-up by making its latest Fusion conveyor models in a choice of five colours - including red, green and navy blue - as well as plain stainless steel. Conveyor speed is adjustable from 15 seconds to five minutes. The company has also addressed the question of guest safety with a "cool skin" exterior. A dome-shaped heat reflector concentrates the heat where it is most needed. Users wanting a more compact machine have the option of an Express model, priced at £3,350.
For a significantly lower cost, boiler specialist Burco now offers a machine rated to produce up to 400 slices per hour but priced at just £465. Features include an economy setting for use during quieter periods and the ability to operate upper and lower elements together or independently, widening application beyond sliced bread to buns and bagels.
However, for many breakfast applications, the pop-up slot toaster remains the most economical option, thanks to the way it switches off the heat after every slice. The challenge of building in sufficient flexibility to suit differing guest needs has been addressed by Rowlett with its latest Esprit toaster, specifically designed for self-serve applications. Each two-slot section is fitted with its own ringer timer, neon indicator and toast ejector handle, so two guests can operate each half at the same time but independently.
Lincat, which offers both conveyor and slot toasters, cites jammed slices as a common problem with self-serve pop-up toasters. The company's answer is a scissor-action toast-lift mechanism which helps avoid damage to each slice as well as avoiding element damage. Prices start at £153 for four-slot toasters and £189 for six-slot. Lincat's CT10 conveyor toaster, rated to produce up to 315 slices per hour, costs £724.
Nick Pendlebury, managing director of Pantheon Catering Equipment, maintains that slot toasters are the answer for faster toast. "On a breakfast buffet the conveyor could have no bread going round until a customer puts two slices on it," he points out. Pantheon offers four-slot models from £99, and it is possible, he points out, to purchase several four- or six-slot manual toasters for the same price as a two-slice conveyor toaster. The company has also found growing interest in soup kettles for porridge, another beneficiary of the healthy-eating trend.
It's hard to see the main parts of the traditional English or Scottish cooked breakfast getting a more healthy spin, but Apuro, which sells the Ital range of contact grills, argues the virtues of offering a "grill-up" rather than a fry-up. "Lean bacon is a good source of protein eggs are a good source of iron and calcium and mushroom and tomato can count as one of the daily five," the company points out.
By cooking foods such as bacon and sausages on both sides simultaneously and without extra fat, fold-over-style grills can, the company maintains, help cut down calorie and cholesterol content as well as virtually halving cook times. Machines are priced from £389 to £569. Ray Hall, managing director of RH Hall, likewise sees the contact grill as an important new complement to breakfast production, especially for grab-and-go occasions with hand-held breakfasts based around Italian-style panini toasted sandwiches.
Pop-up toasters, such as the Pantheon (top) and Rowlett are economical
Below: Dualit's one-slice conveyor toaster
Bottom: Enodis Fusion toasters come in a range of colours
Pasadele's Pure Nature breakfast dispensers and (below) Ital contact grill from Apuro
Deagostini cereal dispensers from Merlin Buffet Systems
Apuro 0121-744 0968 www.apuro.co.uk
Burco 01709 577120 www.burco.co.uk
Dualit 01293 652500 www.dualit.com
Enodis UK 0845 370 4888 www.enodisuk.com
Gilberts Food Equipment 0845 230 0681 www.gilberts-foodequipment.com
RH Hall (Microwave) 01296 663400 www.maestrowave.com
Lincat 01522 875500 www.lincat.co.uk
Merlin Buffet Systems 0870 160 0057 www.merlinbuffetsystems.co.uk
Pantheon 0870 990 5790 www.pantheon-ce.co.uk
Pasadele 020 8959 0040 www.pasadele.com
Primeware Ceramics 020 8995 1119 www.primeware.co.uk
Rowlett 01372 453633 www.rowlettrutland.co.uk
Signature FSE 01908 745500 www.signature-fse.com