Welcome to the Machine

Next time you look around your campus kitchens, take a special glance at your appliances. These expensive implements make your staff’s lives easier and your foodservices run smoothly. What does it take to choose the right appliance and keep it chugging along for years to come?

The first step in choosing the correct equipment is determining the amount of usage the product will get. How does one do that? “That’s the million dollar question,” quipped Chape Whitman, principal, Ricca Newmark Design. “It’s a combination of usage over time, peak operating periods, and style of service.” Whitman points to special cases as well. “A military service academy may have only 4,000 students, which is not a big number, but they eat one meal a day in one room at the same time. That now becomes a huge burden on the kitchen and its appliances.”

Juliane Kiehn, director of campus dining services, University of Missouri at Columbia, reminds us not to forget the small appliances as well. “The new style of foodservice demands mass customization,” she said. Her school houses around 28,000 students, and she estimates they make about 5,000 food transactions a day at seven different, independent restaurants scattered around campus. “We don’t use large kettles for anything anymore. Instead we need smaller appliances that are used throughout the day.”

With offerings ranging from sushi to lattés to a Brazilian grill, Kiehn’s needs include a meat smoker, coffee roaster, wood-fired pizza oven, and a churrascia for the Brazilian grill. “Our expectations for these smaller appliances are different than the bigger, more expensive ones,” she said. “They are still heavy-duty, industrial grade, but they won’t last as long or cost as much.”

Life Expectancy
So what is the life expectancy for appliances? Our experts agree that large items like ranges and dishwashers should last between 15 to 20 years. Exhaust hoods, another big-ticket piece, should last, “well into the next building renovation, like 30 years,” according to Kiehn. Considering appliances like these can cost upwards of $75,000 to $150,000 each, that expectation is not unrealistic. However, they require proper maintenance to age gracefully. “You could blow out a $60,000 to $80,000 dishwasher in five years if you don’t take care of it,” warned Whitman.

The first step to proper maintenance is water treatment. “They say the soft pretzels in Philadelphia are so good because the water is so crummy,” joked Whitman. “Well that same bad water will eat through your appliances if it isn’t treated first.” Don’t look for a one-size-fits-all solution to water treatment, either. “Each region of the country has a different water issue,” he continued. “It’s important to know what your specific needs are.” All appliances that pipe water, like dishwashers, ice machines, coffeemakers, and steamers, need to run on treated water to reach that optimum life span.

Every appliance, whether it uses water or not, demands proper maintenance. “This means daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly care,” insisted Kiehn. Maintenance can be as simple as hosing out the exhaust filters to tweaking the water pressure. Unfortunately, some institutions don’t put a maintenance schedule into place until there has been a problem. “When you’re putting a new building on line, there is so much to deal with, from operations to customer satisfaction, that maintenance gets pushed to the side,” said Whitman. “Then something doesn’t perform like it should and people realize it’s time to start thinking about a cleaning regime.”

Finding the Right Equipment
Choosing the right brand and model of appliance proves a large task as well. “We look to designers, vendors, and our peers when choosing a new appliance,” revealed Kiehn. “Once we are happy with a model, we tend to continue to spec it.” Whitman agreed that this is the usual path his clients take when choosing appliances. “In a perfect world, we would make recommendations and the client would come back with comments,” he said. “A collaborative effort works best. Sometimes a client will be happy with a brand and very familiar with the service technician and want to stay with that person. That’s a great reason as well.”

With the new green options available, appliance choices have widened, but does green necessarily mean better? “Green products can cost more, and budget is always a big concern when choosing appliances,” said Whitman. “My rule of thumb is if the product offers a payback in two years or less, then it is a definite buy.”

Installing a new kitchen is another aspect to consider. “With packages ranging from $100,000 to $5,000,000, installing appliances is not something to be taken lightly,” Whitman stressed. “It usually involves a kitchen equipment subcontractor who put the products in place. Then an electrician and plumber take over to finish the job. Manufacturer reps also play a role in the installation and operation training. A particularly complicated piece of equipment may require an equipment installation supervisor to make sure the item is assembled correctly.”

Whitman pointed out that even though he has overseen hundreds of kitchen installations, there is never a cookie-cutter solution to fit all projects. He strongly recommends due diligence and patience when planning a new kitchen and appropriate appliances. Whitman also points to new trends gaining a foothold in foodservice. “Some schools are trying to get rid of trays completely,” he said. This experiment, which started on Earth Day as a way to cut food waste, is gaining popularity with school kitchens around the country.

“Our foodservice has gone tray-free,” revealed Kiehn. “It cuts down on consumption because students take what they will eat and not more. It also is a sustainable choice because now there are no trays to wash.”

However, this trend begs the question for schools in snowy areas. What will students use for makeshift sleds in the winter?