Guest expectations don't get much higher than at top conference venue Highgate House, a former 17th-century coaching inn in Northamptonshire. Its 30 meeting rooms, five private dining rooms and a main suite for up to 200 recently won two awards for customer service. "Superior standards are paramount," says general manager Patrick Mauser. "Dirty glasses with lipstick or residue are unacceptable."
The front-loading Hobart ASGW25 glasswasher in the venue's traditional cellar bar was chosen partly for its compactness and quietness but also because it incorporated a fully automatic "intelligent" water softening system. This analyses the incoming water supply and uses salt only when required, to ensure optimal wash and rinse action. One key result is that there is no "baking" of residue on to glasses, Mauser says.
The standard yardstick is that water with more than 100 parts per million of dissolved chalk and limestone will cause scale formation on pipes, tanks and heater elements that come into contact with hardness, causing maintenance problems and lowering glass cleaning standards.
"My understanding from the water suppliers is that water is now frequently transferred between different regions," comments Francis Hill, operations manager of the 13-pub Brunning and Price group. "So places that once had soft water can now have hard water."
Brunning and Price specialises in bringing back large traditional pubs, often rurally located, to their former glory. Most of its houses are in north-west England but it also has two in Sussex.
Vigilance Hill believes that the best solution is to install a softener able to treat all incoming water entering each pub, rather than rely on individual softeners fitted to machines, where much depends on staff vigilance. The company specifies duplex systems supplied by Kinetico. These comprise two tanks, one of which treats the water while the other is regenerated automatically using brine. "We virtually programme it in as part of our costs on a pub refit," he says. "So there is never a time when we don't have soft water available," Hill says.
The high level of water hardness in Norfolk encouraged Iain Wilson, co-owner of restaurant-caf-deli Byfords of Holt, to install reverse osmosis, a water treatment system that differs from standard ion-exchange softeners in not requiring regeneration with salt. "It wasn't cheap but it's already paying for itself because we're saving so much time," Wilson says. "The glasses come out sparkling clean and we handle them less - so there are fewer breakages. That's going to save us even more in the long run."
The unit works by feeding the incoming water through a carbon filter and a five-micron particle filter before forcing it at high pressure through a microporous membrane. The effect is to take lime-scale as well as impurities out of the water, helping to reduce detergent and rinse-aid usage. Called RoMatik, the unit was supplied by Winterhalter when it installed a new GS undercounter washer to deal with glasses. It works automatically under microprocessor control and the manufacturer says it removes up to 96% of all dissolved mineral salts.
The membranes typically require changing twice a year but there is otherwise no ongoing maintenance. The flow through the filter membranes is sufficient to purify up to 182 litres of water per hour, consistent with glasswashing needs. Units can be connected to several warewashers simultaneously, if necessary, with an intermediate tank storing the purified water.
The RoMatik accepts mains water so there is no requirement for a pre-softener, an add-on which otherwise pushes up glasswasher installation cost. However, reverse osmosis does not come cheap: list prices of from 3,670 to 6,050 are quoted for the three sizes of RoMatik unit, which are rated to handle from 160 to 420 litres per hour.
With 180 weddings a year and many upmarket events, the 53-bedroom Chilston Park Hotel near Lenham, Kent, needs to keep its glassware looking good. Expansion of activity within the listed building has cut the amount of space available for warewashing, so the hotel replaced a hood-type dishwasher with a Meiko K200 rack transport conveyor dishwasher and introduced a potwasher. For glasswashing, a Meiko ECO545D hood-type washer is now dedicated to the job, with the pass-through handling of the racks of glasses proving a faster and more productive approach than a smaller cabinet-type glasswasher. Glasswashing results are further aided by a reverse-osmosis system. "Glasses don't need polishing and that has made a big difference," comments head chef Giles Stonehouse.
Not everyone is convinced about this type of water treatment. John Campbell, executive chef at the one-Michelin-starred Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire, has a reverse-osmosis system attached to his glasswasher but, in line with the restaurant's demanding wine service requirements, he still finds it necessary to have glasses hand finished.
Reverse-osmosis systems are still a rare sight in UK kitchens but the principle is beginning to gain attention. Softener specialist European WaterCare won the award for Distinguished Development Design for its latest Dishwash RO system at this year's Berlin conference of the FoodService Consultants Society International (FCSI). The compact units are built into stainless steel cabinets in two sizes able to handle three or six litres of water per minute.
Kinetico also offers a range of reverse-osmosis systems, from domestic to large commercial systems. Sales engineer Andrew Mitchell believes the benefits outweigh the extra cost over standard ion-exchange water softeners but it's taking time to get the message through. "We have been trying to get warewasher companies to consider RO systems but so far they have tended to dig in their heels," he says.
Poor results? Kay Phillips, director of water softener supplier Ward (Saffron Walden), believes it will take time before caterers consider alternatives to standard ion-exchange softeners - despite the problems that sometimes occur with them. "Many of our customers have huge softeners of this type but still complain about poor results," she points out. "However, when you check, it turns out they have not put salt in to regenerate the system. It should not be a problem but it often is."
However, she is sceptical about magnetic devices fitted to incoming water pipes, which are sometimes promoted to caterers as low-cost, trouble-free methods of dealing with water scale. "As soon as you heat the water, you get scale problems with these devices because the calcium and magnesium is still in the water and has not been removed," she points out. "So it sticks to the sides of the glasses and cutlery and you end up dosing with more rinse-aid."
After trials, 27 magnetic water conditioners installed across a leading restaurant chain were removed and salt-based water softeners were put back in. "Some of the restaurants using them complained loudly that they were having to re-wash glasses and in some cases acid rinse them because they were so badly scaled up," Phillips says.
- Hobart: 0700 2101101, www.hobartuk.com
- Winterhalter: 01908 359000, www.winterhalter.co.uk
- Meiko: 01753 215120, www.meiko-uk.co.uk
Specialist water softener suppliers
- European WaterCare Systems: 01279 780250
- Kinetico: 0800 0151380, www.kinetico.co.uk
- Ward: (Saffron Walden): 01799 540983, www.everpure.co.uk
Image courtsey of Winterhalter