Foodservice equipment: the operator needs it and the equipment manufacturer, rep and dealer want to sell and install it. One of the major responsibilities of a professional foodservice design consultant is the selection and specification of the foodservice equipment used in the design of an institutional or commercial foodservice project. The projects can be as simple as a small church kitchen used once or twice a month or as complex as a centralized kitchen responsible for producing 100,000 or more meals a day.

Richard-DieliBy Richard V. Dieli, FCSI, MA, MBA, Dieli Murawka Howe, San DiegoThe final foodservice design represents the collaborative efforts of the user, design consultant, and architectural team members involved in creating a kitchen that may stand for more than 40 years.

As a result, the equipment selected for use in the design has long-term ramifications for the successful implementation of the operators' production process. The foodservice design consultant has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the long term value of these projects.

With that in mind, it is important to note that not all foodservice equipment is created equally, which is why the selection process should never seem random. The specification should flow within the constraints of the user application. Most professional foodservice consultants employ a specific methodology in selecting a particular piece of equipment and brand. In this article, I would like to explore some of the reasons behind and specifics of how a foodservice consultant specifies a piece of equipment for a project.

Where to Start: Programming the Space

The classic design process consists of the following phases: programming, schematic, design development, construction documents and construction administration.

Equipment selection usually takes place during programming, the first phase of design. Programming helps establish the criteria that will serve as the basis for the design and later evaluation of the project. The programming phase decisions determine the users' needs and requirements for the project. During this phase each discipline works with the foodservice operator to draw out the information that will help guide the design. The design team develops the project using the decisions made in this phase. This is the time when we create a vocabulary for the project with the user. We also determine preferences and requirements before building them into the overall picture. Then we invest time in the design. Taking these steps helps make the process more efficient by reducing the need for later backtracking and redesign.

From the initial programming meeting and continuing throughout the design process the foodservice operator has supplied the consultant with information on concept, menu, cooking style and budget that result in the collaborative selection of specific equipment items. The foodservice operator may insist on a certain manufacturer based on their personal research, information, testing, and budget restrictions. In the case of a non-commercial foodservice operator, such as a college or hospital, the end user may select specific equipment manufacturers due to the facility's inventory of parts and perhaps the ability of the engineering staff to service the equipment. The foodservice operator may ask the consultant to provide the specific direction on the selection of the foodservice equipment. Given these performance parameters the consultant seeks the right piece of foodservice equipment that best suits the operator's application.

A Base Guide for Selecting Foodservice Equipment

How does a consultant select a piece of foodservice equipment? The selection process consists of two main areas: base usage criteria and evaluation.

When it comes to developing the base usage criteria, the consultant works with the operator and other members of the design team to answer a series of questions, including:

  • What is the concept?
  • What are the menu requirements for the equipment?
  • What is the perceived application?
  • Can we use the piece of equipment in different operating scenarios?
  • Does the equipment require venting?
  • What are the base utility needs?
  • What accessories are required for the application?
  • What skill level is required of the labor pool?
  • Does the manufacturer provide training for the user?
  • Does the manufacturer provide technical support and is the support easily accessed?
  • Is there a service network set up to provide repair support?
  • Are there environmental impacts (e.g., landfill impact, recycling, composting) when we place the equipment?
  • What are the costs of the selected equipment: base or invoice amount, accessory costs, operating/utility costs, cost of labor, installation costs, ancillary construction costs and warranty costs?

Along with these questions, we then consider the overall quality of the equipment as it is manufactured. These include:

Validity: Will the equipment item perform as the manufacturer describes under daily operating conditions?

Durability: Will the equipment item hold up over its projected life cycle?

Reliability: Can the selected equipment item repeatedly perform at the

operating level defined by the manufacturer each and every time?

Cost Effective: Does the selected equipment item perform in a ratio of use and volume production to the initial cost?

Finally, when seeking validation for a specific application of equipment the evaluation might be scrutinized with the following methodologies:

Side-by-Side Testing: This calls for the operator or the consultant — perhaps both — to personally test the equipment, using side-by-side comparisons where possible. These tests should include identical equipment items from different manufacturers. Sometimes this happens by arranging a meeting with multiple manufacturers and their chefs at a designated location. Executing this might be as simple as going to the utility company test kitchens and firing up the equipment to test specific menu items. Or it could be as complex as getting a manufacturer to arrange a test either at the factory or at an existing facility. In a relatively controlled environment will the equipment item do what the manufacturer says it is designed to do (validity)? The consultant and the user can see all the tested equipment perform, with their menu items, in-line with other pieces of equipment, under similar operating conditions.

We prefer a true hands-on experience and encourage the operator's culinary team to use the equipment in the demonstration. Once the test is complete, the consultant and operator then discuss and evaluate the ease and facility of use. And, in doing so, we hold nothing back in soliciting comments and critiques. We then share this information with the foodservice equipment manufacturer and other members of the supply chain so they can respond and learn from the experience. We also explore extended field trials at that point. Base cost of the equipment, utility usage, historical performance and third party testing results are an important part of the discussion. When the process runs its course, the net result is a final evaluation that we again will share with the manufacturer and other members of the supply chain.

Ask end users. Although not very scientific, feedback from other end users provides a real world evaluation of foodservice equipment based on experiences outside of a testing environment. Most chefs, cooks, facilities and maintenance directors, food and beverage directors, stewards and owners will share performance and service issues with us and their peers.

Service agent reports. Local service agents can be a great source of product information. The agents can relate critical information on general service requirements, manufacturing quality, installation issues and overall equipment performance. Outside issues such as relationships with factories, personal likes or dislikes of a specific manufacturer's representation that may not be related to the equipment can influence many service agents. The reports that indicate the reliability and durability of the equipment after proper installation are the crucial item, not the oral narratives the service tech may have that critique design or the manufacturer.

Input from a trusted manufacturer's representative. A good manufacturer's representative — factory or independent — will be honest when discussing the performance of a specific piece of foodservice equipment and whether it fits the application criteria. The representative knows that the foodservice operator's needs drive the specification.

Feedback from other professional design consultants. The vast experience and knowledge of our fellow consultants represents another incredible resource to leverage during this process.

Selecting foodservice equipment may not be rocket science, but it is critical to the success of the concept. Developing the correct specification takes work and knowledge of the application. When a design consultant, preferably an FCSI member, provides a written specification our client knows it is correct for that required application. With the use of the aforementioned steps the foodservice equipment specification will fit both the base usage criteria and the evaluation test. There will be no substitutions.