Sean King, owner of Culinary Consulting & Design, sees a common occurrence these days: more chains trying to copy and paste a design and spec sheet as it expands from one region to around the country. Here’s the problem, he says: What might work for a restaurant location in, say, California or Colorado, certainly won’t work exactly the same for a location in Tennessee, Georgia or Florida.
“Many people do not consider the effects on equipment due to humidity, heat, cold temperatures, salty, coastal air, elevations and other impacts that regional differences have,” King says. “Just like when we adjust recipes for dough depending on the area and elevation, why not do the same with equipment?”
Here’s a quick list from King of some examples of common mis-specifications when it comes to regional equipment differences and the solutions for each.
Problem: In high humidity areas, and the closer the operation is to the shore of a lake or ocean, the more chance metals on reach-in refrigerators and cooking equipment, even prep tables, will rust. I was in a chain restaurant in Florida and they wanted me to look at a refrigerated pizza table because the bottom had completely rusted and they couldn’t figure out why. It’s because they used a cheaper metal aluminum instead of a 300 series heavy stainless steel and the humid air had literally rusted the corners until the whole bottom fell in. And this is where they were storing food items.
Solution: Specify 304 series high-grade stainless steel for equipment, hoods, worktables, serving lines, sinks, frames for cabinets and more in areas of high humidity, especially in close proximity to coastal shores. It’s more expensive up front, but the durability will pay off over the long run.
Problem: Moisture and refrigeration go hand in hand. This is true especially in the Southeast. Most refrigeration/condensing units are sized for 100-degree F ambient temperatures, which can be a problem when the mercury rises above that level. Problems that occur are higher food temperatures, moisture on glass, compressors continuously running and low refrigerant just to name a few.
Solution: Facilities in hotter climates that reach 110 degrees F or beyond will require an oversized condenser coil to ensure head pressure is down. Use special glass coating to reduce sweating and in some cases heat strips as needed.
Problem: I’m not a fan of specifying walk-in door strips in general because it’s too easy for workers to cut them or take them off the hooks or prop them back and leave the walk-in door wide open during deliveries. In high-humidity places like Louisiana, they pose an even bigger problem because the excess moisture can cause them to easily slime up on them and they can get very dirty. That only provides more incentive for staff to physically remove them, and then you have nothing protecting the air temperature of the walk-in cooler when the door is open.
Solution: Specify air curtains in high-humidity areas. Air curtains are also foolproof for other regions with fast-changing ambient temperatures, such as Kansas and other states in the middle of the country, which can go from dry to humid and see different types of “hot” in the span of hours. Don’t place walk-in cooler/freezer doors too close to the back door. It’s too easy to just keep the freezer and back door open during deliveries, and this can cause the inside of the freezer or cooler to snow, with or without an air curtain. Energy Star-rated units are particularly sensitive to this; any added moisture in the cabinets, especially in high-humidity areas, can cause the fans to frost and slow down or stop, thereby rendering them less efficient than they were otherwise designed.
Problem: I have seen a chain design a restaurant in Tennessee and send it to a masonry contractor in Georgia, Alabama or Louisiana. In some of these instances, the cement pads for outside remote and rack systems and walk-in coolers will literally start to sink over time. Soil density changes from region to region.
Solution: Specify masonry pads, footers and supports to go down into the soil further, at least 8 inches or more in humid, southern regions and others areas near sandy coastal shores. Coordination with the general contractor and architect will ensure proper installation and specifications.
HVAC (Heat and Air)
Problem: Some chain restaurants will specify the same HVAC units for different geographical locales and that can cause a multitude of problems. These challenges include compressor continually running, increased repair and maintenance costs, decreased efficiency, and in the South increased moisture issues.
Solution: Require the architect provide an engineer review each and every project regardless of region. This will ensure proper BTU specification when gas powered, and the electric units have the correct horsepower and correct fan coil run times. Specify larger, thicker coils in high-humidity areas to stand up to the moisture in the air. Many air conditioning systems now run makeup air for kitchen hood systems to create balance, and the air can be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer without the need to rely on ambient, humid air coming in from the outside.
Water Line Equipment
Problem: Ice machines, steamers, combi-ovens and other equipment with water lines can easily erode and get scaled up faster in areas where there is harder water than others, like in the Midwest. Even certain areas of the South have different mineral contents, calcium/lime from state to state and even municipality to municipality.
Solution: Look for a water filtration system that’s specific to the type of water in that distinct location. This usually requires a water test to start. The logical step is to contact the local water department in city or county. Most water departments are very aware of water content and offer additional water tests at no cost.