Archive for April, 2010

Our post today is from a guest writer, Greg McGuire, from The Back Burner.

The presence of a large multi-burner gas range at the heart of the cooking line is about as fundamental as it gets in any restaurant. That iron and stainless steel behemoth uses a lot of energy, throws a lot of heat, and requires a dedicated ventilation system just to keep the cooks from getting overwhelmed.

For decades no proper chef would have it any other way. That’s beginning to change, and the catalyst of that change is the induction range. Induction cooking works in a completely different manner than traditional gas or electric ranges. Instead of using a superhot medium like burning gas or an electrically heated element, induction ranges use the energy created by two opposing magnetic fields driven by an electric current to make the metal in the cookware itself become hot.

Sound a little geeky? It is, in a cool science project kind of way. For professional chefs, the most interesting thing about induction cooking are the practical advantages it can bring to the process, including:

Precision temperature control. While there is certainly a steep learning curve in the beginning, once a chef gets an induction range dialed in based upon the numbers on the knob, you can be sure you’ll get consistent, perfectly even heat every time. This is especially beneficial for low temperature and simmering applications, because an induction range can maintain a much lower heat than a traditional gas or electric range.

Speed. You’ve never seen a pot boil faster or oil heat up quicker than on an induction range. Because the metal of the pot or pan sitting on the burner becomes the heating agent instead of the medium, induction is by far the fastest way to heat whatever you’re cooking.

electric-induction-rangeEfficiency. An induction range uses a fraction of the energy used by a traditional range. There’s also almost zero energy waste since the energy used to heat food is created in the metal of the cookware instead of below it. This energy is also created by a relatively weak electrical current, which can be much more inexpensive than natural gas.

Safety. An induction burner that’s turned on to full heat is still cool to the touch. As it heats metal cookware it will become hot, but the burner itself creates no heat. This makes induction much safer than traditional ranges. Some induction ranges even have automatic detectors that shut off the burner when there is no pan present, when the pan is empty, or when foreign objects fall onto the surface of the range.

Ventilation. Because induction ranges don’t burn fuel like a gas range, minimal ventilation is needed, and much less heat is created, even if you’re running induction all day on a busy line. This can save any restaurant a boatload of money on the ventilation and cooling costs normally associated with a traditional gas range. Make sure you consult the local regulations in your community when deciding how much ventilation you need to install for an induction range. In general, however, the requirements should be a fraction of those for a gas range.

Induction cooking isn’t for every restaurant. Some chefs don’t like the fact that cookware cools off rapidly when it’s not in contact with the burner – a distinct disadvantage for techniques that call for using the pan to flip or sautee ingredients as they cook. Induction also supports only certain types of cookware – usually stainless steel or cast iron – which means your aluminum cookware will be useless on an induction range.

If you are interested in induction cooking, Vollrath has been a pioneer in developing induction ranges, countertop burners, and even chafers for the food service industry. So far another factor slowing the widespread adoption of induction technology in restaurants has been the cost of equipment. As energy prices, especially natural gas, continue to rise and the cost of quality induction equipment comes down, however, induction cooking starts to make more and more sense.

Greg McGuire blogs about restaurant marketing and management at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant equipment and other food service supplies.


dollar signTime for more fuzzy math!!

Everyone looks at the total savings that energy efficiency, or any sort of resource efficiency measure achieves, but restaurant owners rarely look at the cost of not implementing green measures. One thing to think about when considering any sort of resource efficiency in a restaurant is the amount of sales that would be needed to create the same additional profit if NOT implementing the efficiency measure.

So, for instance, say a skeptic says a particular green measure (lets say installing a low-flow pre-rinse sprayer) may save some money, but isn’t going to bring in any additional customers and they can’t afford it right now anyway. That may be true, but by not implementing the measure the business must now sell more product to earn the same amount of profit that would be earned by implementing the measure – buying the sprayer in this case.

Here’s the math:

Savings from green measure / Profit margin % of the restaurant = Amount of sales needed to equal savings from green measure

Lets say a restaurant has $1 million in sales per year, and a 5% profit margin. By replacing a 1.6 gpm with the most efficient low-flow pre-rinse sprayer on the market (.65gpm) they will save about $945 per year in water, sewer and water heating costs. (Pre-Rinse Spray Valve Water Cost Calculator) Taking that savings minus the $60 cost of the sprayer leaves $885 in savings in the first year alone. Putting those numbers into the formula equals nearly $18,000 in additional sales the restaurant would have to make up to equal the same additional profit of the efficiency measure.

$885 / 5% Profit = $17,700 in additional sales needed

Lets work backward to check the math.

With the sprayer: At the current 5% profit margin, this restaurant makes $50,000 ($1,000,000 x .05) adding the $885 savings from the sprayer = $50,885

Without the sprayer: $1,000,000 + $17,700 in sales x 5% profit = $50,885

Of course this math is a kind of easy and on the fuzzy side because pre-rinse sprayers don’t cost a lot and the savings are big. While something like a demand exhaust hood is expensive and savings usually need to be calculated over at least a couple years. However, the point is that there is a cost to not implementing sustainable practices. I’m sure there is an accounting term for this. I call it; you can’t afford to not go green…


1. Start-up, Shutdown Schedules
Not everything needs to be turned on right away when the first cook arrives. Equipment start-up schedules similar to just-in-time ordering saves energy with no investment.

2. Low flow aerators
These are potentially one of the lowest priced efficiency measures a restaurant can buy. Aerators range from .50 to a several dollars and return the investment almost instantly.

3. Pre-rinse Sprayers
At about $60, these devices pay for themselves in about a week depending on your usage and prior sprayer. Some of the newest units on the market use as little as .65 gallons per minute compared to the old units that use around 3.5 gpm. New regulations require all pre-rinse sprayers to use no more than 1.6 gpm so go as low as you can find.

4. Turbo Pots
Research from the Food Service Technology Center shows that Turbo Pots use about half as much energy to boil a pot of water compared to a standard pot. If you have a pot of water boiling all day in your kitchen these pots are a must have.

5. Thawing Meats
A little bit of organization and scheduling could save many restaurants thousands of gallons of water and hundreds of dollars a year. If you must thaw meats with running water make sure the faucet has a low-flow aerator, and turn the flow down to just enough to keep water flowing across the product – not full blast.

6. CFLs
They are simple and almost old school at this point, but CFLs save a lot of money. Today’s CFLs are cheap and high quality, but don’t buy the cheapest ones you can find. You get what you pay for. Use them in hoods, storage areas, offices, back halls and walk-in coolers.

7. Training
All the green gadgets and gizmos in the world don’t save money unless the users are using them correctly. Moreover, training staff to be conscious about the resources they are using will go much further than any piece of energy efficient equipment.

8. Recycling
Even restaurants that currently recycle should audit their garbage once in a while. More than likely, recyclables are being thrown away and potentially costing the business extra hauling fees. Recycling is a simple task, and can cut a garbage bill in half if the restaurant is not currently taking part in the practice.

9. Composting
Food waste makes up something around 50% of the volume and 75% of the weight of most full service restaurants. Implementing a composting program can be a little more involved, but like recycling it soon becomes second nature to the staff.

10. Food Waste Tracking
Before starting a composting program, start tracking the restaurant’s food waste, and make changes to reduce that waste. Whether through simple paper logs or more complex digital systems like Leanpath, food waste tracking helps chefs and management actualize their waste and make adjustments to par lists, menus or schedules.