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The secret life of kitchen kit

17 August 2006
The secret life of kitchen kit

Inside Kitchens has already covered the importance of preventive maintenance and energy efficiency in getting the best out of kitchen equipment. In fact, when you look beyond the purchase price, making sure you get the best value from kitchen equipment goes a lot further than maintenance and energy cost.

The bigger picture of the total cost of an item of equipment is called whole-life cost. This includes the purchase price of equipment, which is the start of the cost of owning and operating an item of kitchen equipment.

What a smart kitchen also needs to know is what is going to be the cost from purchase to disposal? The whole-life cost of an item of equipment can give a different perspective on the choice of which brand and model of equipment makes the long-term best buy.

Whole-life cost of equipment can be divided into the following areas:

Energy Cost
This is the huge cost issue of 2006 for all professional kitchens. Ten years ago it was not a consideration when buying new kitchen equipment. Five years ago it came on to the radar of chain operators with large energy bills. In 2006 any kitchen ignoring the cost of energy is driving a financial black hole into the operating cost of the kitchen.

The cost of energy used by an item of kitchen equipment to cook food during its working life will often be greater than the initial purchase price. An increasing number of manufacturers are now giving energy efficiency information in sales and technical information.

Maintenance costs At first glance it might seem that every combi-oven, fridge or microwave oven would have very similar maintenance costs. This is not always true, and so is part of a whole-life costs assessment. The cost of similar spare parts between different makes can vary. Some equipment may need a whole unit replacing, while others may just need the broken component replacing.

Talking to a service company can be a useful guide in assessing the whole-life cost of an item of kitchen equipment. Service engineers know the cost of replacing parts that will wear out or suddenly break down. They will also know the ease or difficulty of getting those spare parts.

Service engineers also know the time it takes to service different brands of kitchen equipment - and an engineer's time spent in servicing is part of the whole-life cost.

Heat recovery
When heat is generated in kitchen equipment, there will be a loss of heat through conduction through the walls of the equipment into the kitchen or into waste water drains. Kitchen equipment manufacturers are looking at how to recover this heat or contain it better. Warewashing manufacturers have for some time been recovering the heat from waste water before it goes into the drain. Now heat-recovery technology is going into combi-ovens and fryers and is set to become a feature of more commercial kitchen equipment.

Keeping the heat inside an oven lowers energy costs just as much as keeping the cold inside a fridge. Look for insulation efficiency as part of energy efficiency when buying new kitchen equipment.

Manufacturers and distributors of kitchen equipment know this is growing in importance and many will be able to give pre-purchase information of the energy-efficiency benefits of insulation. Any heat expelled by an item of equipment will also have to be removed through ventilation and that adds to the individual whole-life cost.

Cook performance The volume of food that items of kitchen equipment can cook is a basic measure of the whole life cost and varies between models. For example, the oil capacity on three similar electric fryers may be the same, but the power output of the heating elements may be quite different.

The power output affects the time it takes the elements to heat the cooking oil to the required temperature. The speed of oil recovery in a fryer also affects oil absorption into food being fried. Oil below the recommended frying temperature will be absorbed into food and lead to oil loss from the fry tank.

How equipment is used can contribute to cooking performance. A combi-oven can reheat a couple of frozen lasagnes, but a more efficient way is in a microwave using much less energy to achieve the same result. Conversely, preparing 50 jacket potatoes for a lunch service can be done in a microwave, but will be more efficient in a convection or combi-oven.

Another important part of whole-life cost is the cost of consumables. These are materials associated with kitchen equipment which are necessary for it to do its job. An example of this is detergent for warewashing. Some machines take more than others or work best with a more expensive formulation.

Cooking equipment also has consumables. A fryer needs oil and the amount of oil a fryer needs to operate at optimum performance varies. Busy frying operations will be changing oil at least weekly,
so the quantity of oil the fry tank needs is a big contribution to the whole-life cost of a fryer.

Labour efficiency Whole-life cost of kitchen equipment also includes examining any cost savings which can come through buying labour-efficient equipment. For example, buying a semi-automatic dishwasher could reduce staffing costs in the dishwash area. A fryer with automatic and timed basket lift can allow kitchen staff to work on other equipment without having to stand over a fryer while frying chips to prevent over-cooking.

A contribution to whole-life cost is made if a new item of equipment can fulfil the role of two existing items of kitchen equipment. A combi-oven purchase will for many kitchens replace the need for a convection oven and a steamer as a combi-oven can cook in both those modes.

Working life
The expected working life of the equipment is also a factor in making an equipment choice. A chef may expect to get at least 10 years' work out of a piece of equipment but heavy use will give fewer years of service while more measured use and a planned preventive maintenance programme may offer more years of service.

Equipment is broadly graded into light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty. This is an indication of ruggedness of manufacture and performance, to match the output demand of the kitchen and to give a normal working life expectancy.

The best practice is to choose the duty level that fits the kitchen output needs. Opting for a higher level of build strength will extend the life expectancy of equipment in the kitchen, but buying a lower-duty level than the kitchen needs could lead to early replacement.

Buying equipment that is not designed for the intensity of use a kitchen needs is a huge contributory factor to equipment not meeting expectations and coming to the end of its working life prematurely.

Disposal cost When an item of kitchen equipment comes to the end of its working life there is the cost of disposal. There is increasing legislation to encourage recycling of metal rather than sending it into landfill. There is also the issue of environmentally harmful components such as refrigerants in older fridges and the plastics used in insulation. The cost of equipment disposal is not large, but in managing whole-life cost it is the final part of the equation.

\* For more information on whole-life cost of kitchen equipment and to find a supplier, search the CESA website at www.cesa.org.uk.

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