Whether a hotel’s kitchen facilities are cavernous or tiny, choosing the best equipment for the property in question means striking a balance between practicality and indulgence. The staples — refrigerators/freezers, ovens, dishwashers and ventilation — are a given when it comes to budgeting, but there’s also considerable effort put into choosing equipment that is energy-efficient, versatile and can reduce footprint and labour requirements.
“When you look at large hotels, there’s only a certain amount in capital expenditures a year, so you have to be first to put your hand up,” says Sean Ellis, former executive chef, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel in Toronto (he recently transferred to the Westin Seattle). He estimates the equipment budget would be approximately $200,000 to $300,000 a year for a facility of Sheraton’s size.
Ellis joined the hotel two years after its main kitchen (or “mega-kitchen”) was moved to the second floor convention level. The hotel also has another smaller kitchen for its BnB burger concept restaurant as well as a flight kitchen for prep work. And, since the main kitchen services 140,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 1,400 rooms, combi-ovens represent a major investment. The hotel has a total of seven Alto Shaams in its kitchens, along with 30 hot boxes that accommodate roll-in racks for keeping food warm. “We also have full-size, eight-foot blast chillers from Alto-Shaam, so everything is compatible,” Ellis notes. “They’re great for chilling ice cream quickly while doing large dinners and can also be used as refrigerators.” Additionally, there are two large reach-in freezers and eight walk-in coolers from Coldmatic.
Although there are lots of options, choosing equipment doesn’t have to be overwhelming. “I’m a big believer in brand: Rational, Garland, True — I like to stick with what I’ve had success with,” confesses Ellis.
The chef also appreciates the value of specialty kitchen tools, such as temperature probes that communicate with iPhones to notify users when refrigeration temperatures drop below guidelines. “That would help immensely when third-party companies audit our refrigeration logs,” he says.
One big acquisition of note at the Sheraton is the ORCA, a composting system that converts organic waste into grey water. It can be reused for irrigation, toilet flushing and in other places where it’s not consumed.
Composting and waste reduction is playing a big part in hotel restaurant budgets these days, confirms Patrick Watt, principal, A Day in Life Foodservice Development, a Saint John, N.B.-based consultancy. “Champion has an interesting composting system that allows you to send waste through a garburator to a big tank where enzymes break it down to a water and CO2 byproduct,” he explains, speaking of a trend that is picking up as more operators aim to reduce the waste they’re sending to landfills.
Of course, such machinery isn’t always an option for everyone. At The Prince George Hotel in Halifax, for example, there’s limited space for foodservice facilities. “The original kitchen was built to service about 100 guests. Four years ago we added a banquet room for 200,” says Craig Norton, director of Operations, adding: “The kitchen footprint did not get any larger.”
That means one key thing when choosing equipment. “Everything has to be multi-functional,” he says. “If we can save steamer space by paying for a combi-oven we will, because our footprint isn’t big enough for both. We really have to be smart in making sure equipment is very functional and not trendy.” Versatility even counts in the pastry area. “The Pacojet is a prime example, because it makes fantastic ice cream without the labour,” he says. One machine that is used non-stop is a PolyScience circulator and a chamber vacuum-packing system. “That’s our favourite piece of equipment and well worth the money,” Norton says of the tool, which aids in slow-cooking.
But, when an appliance is reaching the end of its life, Norton’s team considers the following: Is it necessary?, Can its functions be combined with something else and is there something smaller and more efficient? “I would like anti-griddles and [equipment that is] trendy and fun, but they really don’t add to the benefit of the kitchen or operations as a whole. No one has that budget,” notes Norton, who often focuses on core pieces of hardware, such as the new ventilation system he needs. He estimates it could cost up to $150,000.
At hotels where space and money are tight, such as the The Prince George, and especially limited-service hotels, choices become simpler, notes Watt. “A lot [of operators] are now marrying breakfast areas with a bar concept, so they’re going back to accelerated cooking [ovens] such as Turbochefs. Some places are moving towards smaller combi-ovens and rapid-cook items like the Accutemp steam griddle, which takes up less space than burners and cooks faster. Instead of six-feet of grill, you can have three- to four-feet of griddle and faster turnover,” he says.
When it comes to smaller ticket items, many operations are building a supply of portable equipment with induction burners, woks, griddles, fryers and waffle machines. It’s because pasta and sauté stations are growing in popularity as hotel operators realize guests don’t always want to be served in a dining room. “Many [operators] are getting into accelerated cooking, panini machines and mobile induction,” says Watt. “Electrolux and Vollrath have terrific mobile counters with induction or cold surfaces built in. Silver King has a countertop refrigerated insert unit, and Cambro has a mobile hand-washing system. And there are always new ideas coming out on the coffee brewing side.”
But, on-trend equipment isn’t always fun. In fact, these days, dishwashers are a popular kitchen component. “A lot of hotels put conveyor machines in 15 to 30 years ago and are due to replace them,” explains Watt. “Now [operators] want flight machines, because their footprint is smaller, they’re less labour intensive, and they save energy and water.” In this type of dishwasher, dishes are put on trays and fed into the machine by rollers where they are steamed, washed and rinsed. Whatever the need, operators have to be strategic when buying kitchen equipment, advises Sheraton’s Ellis. “There’s always lots of great equipment on my wish list, like anti-griddles or a mini doughnut machine for the action stations, but typically you get what you need, not you want.”