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The Caterer

What to buy for a café

10 May 2007
What to buy for a café

Buying the right kitchen equipment for a café begins with a realistic assessment of the customer base, what they'll want to buy and how much they'll want to spend.

Café business is often light meals, snacks and beverages, and there will be many more spends under £5 per head than over it. Driving up the spend is often about adding value to the offer and the right equipment can help to achieve that.

Cafés often rely on food and drink on display to attract sales rather than just a menu, which means the kitchen equipment needed to maximise sales is split between equipment for back of house and front of house.

Since a lot of the food on offer will be pre-prepared chilled or frozen convenience items bought in ready to sell, good refrigeration is the start point of the kitchen flow-through.

Even the smallest of cafés should use only commercial-specification refrigeration equipment. Domestic refrigeration is not designed for the constant opening of doors. Cold air falls out every time the door is opened, to be replaced by warm air, and the mechanical parts of a domestic fridge will have difficulty maintaining a safe temperature.

Much of the food will be reheated using a microwave oven. Once again, the rule is buy commercial-specification microwave ovens. The build quality is very different between domestic and commercial ovens. Commercial microwave ovens often have two magnetrons for generating the microwave energy and heat-spreading properties far superior to those found in domestic ovens.

To cut down waiting time an additional microwave is good practice, but rather than buying a second microwave-only oven, a combi-microwave will give the versatility of an oven that combines convection dry heat with microwave energy.

Fried food is a key part of a café menu, and to produce it quickly it's better to have two small fryers or a larger fryer with two frying tanks. This allows for production of chips in one tank and coated products in the other to speed up delivery. Coated or salty foods such as sausages also break down the oil ..

"Good refrigeration is the start point of the kitchen flow-through"

..much more quickly than chips, reducing oil replacement costs.Front of house is about attractive display to promote food sales. Cafés which offer table service rather than a cafeteria-style tray line can still benefit from good food display. Sandwiches on a platter, salads and chilled desserts can offer point-of-sale marketing of food. A refrigerated cabinet is essential for food safety, but the cabinet can also contribute to merchandising.

A dedicated baked potato oven on the counter gives the ambience of freshly cooked, although the jackets may have been prepared in the kitchen earlier with the oven used just for display merchandising.

A table-top soup kettle is another way to drive up snack sales. The soup is prepared back of house but served in front of the customer, giving a home-made appearance.

On a self-service tray line, hot food needs to look fresh, hot and appetising. While high-traffic, self-service operations will use a bank of bains-marie, for the café there are also electric table-top heaters to keep the food hot.

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