Dialing For The Dish — Room Service Equipment

Specialized equipment packages and kitchen designs are integral to operators' success in responding to the challenge of providing customers with appealing room service meals.

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Among the huge, themed hotels found on the Las Vegas strip, the faux Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triomphe and neon-emblazoned hot-air balloon of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel are hard-to-miss landmarks for "Sin City" visitors. Located in the heart of the strip, the more-than-3,000-room hotel has been a popular destination for vacationers and convention-goers since it opened in the mid-'90s. Providing efficient, high-quality room service meals is extremely important at a venue such as the Paris Las Vegas, where a strong focus on the hotel guest's satisfaction is imperative for continuing success in a highly competitive marketplace.

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A spacious, dedicated hotel room service kitchen is located adjacent to a commissary kitchen and garde manger area on the main floor of the Paris Las Vegas. "While room service menu preparation may be handled in a multi-purpose kitchen in a hotel with a few hundred rooms, at a facility of this size the inclusion of a large, stand-alone room service kitchen really makes sense," said consultant Adam Blumberg, principal, JEM West, Las Vegas, who was responsible for all kitchen designs supporting Paris Las Vegas' various dining options. "A room service kitchen can get hit really hard with a large number of orders all coming in at one time, particularly for early breakfasts when a hotel is hosting a large convention," he pointed out.

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Production equipment found in the Paris Las Vegas room service kitchen includes pieces typically found on a traditional hot line: charbroilers, griddles, salamanders, rangetops with convection ovens beneath and double-stacked convection ovens. Ranges in the kitchen are equipped with French-style tops. "Where a six-burner range is limited to heating six pans at once, a French-top provides space for double or triple that amount, which allows faster preparation of multiple orders," explained Blumberg. Undercounter refrigeration, as well as a prep station with a refrigerated base, safely holds ingredients. This prep point, which is adjacent to the griddles, includes refrigerated rails for omelet mise en place, as well as a refrigerated egg "dispenser" used for keeping flats of eggs chilled and convenient to staff at the cooking station.

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Key E&S For Room Service Prep
  • Charbroilers
  • Griddles
  • Grills
  • Salamanders
  • Fryers
  • Pasta cookers
  • Waffle makers
  • Steam tables
  • Traditional rangetops
  • French-style rangetops
  • Under-range convection ovens
  • Double-stacked convection ovens
  • Reach-in refrigerators
  • Air-curtain reach-ins
  • Undercounter refrigeration
  • Walk-in refrigeration
  • Walk-in freezers
  • Refrigerated prep counters
  • Refrigerated rails
  • Stainless holding pans
  • Refrigerated egg "dispenser"
  • Chef's counter
  • Expediter's table
  • Trays
  • Hot boxes
  • Cold boxes
  • Hot-holding system
  • Insulated pizza bags
  • Wheeled service carts
  • Hanging shelves
  • Wire shelving
  • Warewasher
  • Insulated carafes
  • Plate domes
  • Glassware, dishware, silverware
  • Cardboard picnic boxes
  • Delivery trucks
  • Golf carts
  • Plate warmers
  • Food warmers w/induction bases
  • Mobile tray-conveyor system
  • "In a large hotel, the efficient setup of tables for room service after food is prepared requires additional integrated kitchen space," continued Blumberg. "In room service kitchens, we typically design the chef's counter to be deeper than in a regular production facility. The server's side of the chef's counter in the Paris Las Vegas room service kitchen includes an area where hot boxes can be plugged in to hold heated room service menu items. These boxes are stored in a specially designed multi-level holding system, so that as one is heated and put into use, another slides into place," he related. JEM West provided a custom-designed hot box for the Paris Las Vegas room service program that has now become a manufacturer's catalog item, according to Blumberg. "Our boxes were designed like rolling luggage, including casters and pull-up handles on top for ease of use," he said.

    Carts used in the Paris Las Vegas' room service contain flaps that fold up and lock into place when more surface area is required, and have tops designed to tilt for space-saving storage. JEM West designed the room service staging area for maximum efficiency, with shelves hanging from the ceiling containing the necessary condiments, silverware and cups or glasses required for room service. "Service employees simply travel down the staging aisle with carts and collect what they need before they're out of the kitchen, then they're on their way to guests' rooms," said Blumberg.

    "We also installed a rather elaborate and expensive warewasher in the dishroom of this kitchen, which is used for soiled room service and employee dining dishes," he continued. "In a room service dishroom, the steward works on the front side of the drop-off table rather than the back, to break down returned trays and carts. That's why we decided that a tiered, mechanical conveyor system would be most efficient. We figured that the ROI on this piece of equipment would be about one and a half to two years. The steward in this kitchen, who was not initially an advocate for installing the system, ended up claiming that it was the best equipment of its type he had ever worked with. The estimated ROI ended up being more like three to six months," Blumberg concluded.

    The Sagamore Resort, located on Lake George in New York state's Adirondack Mountains, encompasses 100 rooms in a beautifully restored main hotel and 250 lodge rooms, about half of them suites, located on the grounds of the facility.

    "Room service orders are received in a dedicated office located on the lower level of the hotel adjacent to the production kitchen and a smaller kitchen that serves our casual, pub restaurant," said Ted Bearor, assistant director of F&B at this resort. "The room service office includes storage areas for service items such as wheeled carts and domed stainless plate covers, as well as shelves for insulated carafes and glassware used in room service. Reach-in refrigerators are used to store room service beverages such as juices, soda and milk.

    "Our room service menu now parallels the casual menu in our bistro," added Bearor. "Although we have three other on-site kitchens to support hotel dining options, for greater efficiency and ease of service, room service meal preparation is now accomplished primarily in the bistro's kitchen, with occasional support being provided by the adjacent production kitchen.

    "One challenge for room services here at the Sagamore is the efficient delivery of guests' meals, including box lunches that can be ordered through room service and delivered to locations outside the hotel building," continued Bearor. "Two designated SUVs carry meals to those who may order from lodge accommodations, and those vehicles are equipped with trays, hot or cold boxes or insulated bags used for pizza. Sometimes, employees prefer to use golf carts for deliveries in warmer months, particularly to bring box lunches down to the docks for participants in our sailing school," he commented.

    There is a small revolution underway in hospital foodservice preparation and service. Increasingly, driven by the desire to improve patient satisfaction ratings, hospitals are changing from bulk-prepared, cook-chill patient menus to à la carte bills of fare with meals cooked to order and available from room service programs whenever patients want to order.

    Room Service Technologies, a division of foodservice consultants Romano-Gatland, Lindenhurst, N.Y., was created in response to this healthcare foodservice trend.

    "Not only do we provide kitchen designs and equipment specs for hospital foodservices implementing room service programs, we also provide the education they need to change their focus to seeing patients as 'customers,' such as is the case at commercial operations," commented Gary Conley, a Tampa, Fla.-based principal in the company.

    "Hospital kitchens generally don't have the equipment found in a good commercial kitchen. They may have steam kettles, steamers and convection ovens, but for new, cook-to-order menu preparation, the most important pieces of equipment to be added are charbroilers, grills, griddles, fryers and undercounter refrigeration and refrigerated drawers to hold portioned products," Conley noted.

    "When redesigning hospital kitchens to provide cook-to-order room service meals, we take a designated area with pre-existing hood ventilation and design a cookline that only needs to be 12 ft. to 22 ft. We also add an expediter's dispatch table, which is not generally found in hospital kitchens, but is important to providing proper patient room service for this new style of operation," he advised.

    "We also worked with a manufacturer to design new service carts that would work most effectively in room service programs," Conley added. "Rather than tall, ungainly units that formerly held up to 24 patient trays, carts are now designed to hold eight to 12 trays, maximum. These carts are shorter in height [48 in.], which makes them easier for staff to maneuver and to allow beverage carafes to be carried on top. Since control is given back to patients as to when meals are ordered, those requests come into the room service kitchen throughout the day. The carts also have timers because, whether they are filled to capacity or not, food is never held in them longer than 15 minutes before being delivered to patients' rooms," Conley said.

    "After attending an informational seminar provided by Room Service Technologies, we decided last year to change our patient room service program," said Mary Ann Moser, food and nutrition director for Medical City Hospital, Dallas. "After an initial trial pilot of the program, we made a complete changeover in our kitchens and went live with our new 'City Gourmet' room service for patients on May 18. In accomplishing that rapid changeover, we had a great deal of support from our equipment dealer, Edward Don & Co., as well as a noted manufacturer who provided a new, rolling conveyor for tray make-up in the room service area of the kitchen," she related.

    "We already had an induction warming base to receive hot plates, and also a plate warmer, but we added equipment to a new, 18-ft. cookline in our kitchen."

    The new equipment includes a charbroiler, eight-burner range with a convection oven beneath, pasta cooker, griddle, fryer, waffle maker, four-well steam table, undercounter refrigeration, a refrigerated prep table and an air-curtain reach-in refrigerator that can remain open as food is placed on trays. Room service "ambassadors" are another key element of the City Gourmet program, according to Moser. "These staff members present appropriate, physician-approved menus to patients on admission and explain our room service procedures. They also deliver all patient meals and record their food consumption for the nursing staff.

    "Patient response to our new room service program has been overwhelmingly positive and we are now seeing visitors ordering from room service menus," Moser stated. "They just can't believe how good our food is."

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