Like all types of foodservice equipment, determining whether ventless items are right for a specific application requires asking the right questions. Here a collection of seasoned foodservice professionals share a few questions — and answers — they commonly ask when trying to determine whether ventless equipment is right for a given project.

Q: What’s the operation’s menu and volume?

These two items remain critical when specifying almost any type of foodservice equipment and ventless items are no exception. In the case of cooking equipment, operators need to make sure the ventless items meet their expectations for food quality, consistency and more. Ventless rapid cook ovens and fryers, for example, tend to be more suitable for single-serve applications common to c-stores and QSRs.

Menu composition and volume can also impact other important factors. “Ventless ovens have charcoal filters and they need to be replaced over time,” says Ray Soucie, senior project manager for Webb Foodservice Design. “So your menu and volume will determine how often you have to replace these filters and that will factor into your total cost of ownership.”

Q: Is it time to expand the menu?

Say, for example, a foodservice operation has a good-sized and fairly established menu but wants to add a pizza or flatbread. Foodservice operators might not have space under the hood to add the necessary equipment to support this type of menu expansion, points out Chris Wair, design principal, Reitano Design Group. “Most restaurants are definitely maxed out on hood space on day one. In those cases, conveyor ovens or ventless rapid cook ovens become a possible choice.”

In addition, noncommercial operators will often look to expand beyond their traditional dayparts. In those instances, ventless may become an option, too. Some schools now offer a late-afternoon menu that may include coffee and hot food, Wair says. “That’s where we are seeing some of these ventless rapid cook ovens, microwaves and even conveyor ovens being placed.”

Q: Does the operator want to bring the culinary action to its customers?

In some stadiums and arena settings some operators want to cook more out front, but they need to do it fast and don’t want to remodel the whole space, says Ted Doyals, principal, Ricca Design Studios. “In those instances, ventless makes sense. But my first question is about what kind of food they want to run through there and how much. It’s important to understand what they want to achieve. Is the bulk of the work being done behind closed doors or in front of the customer?”

Q: Does the foodservice operator have the ability to install a Type 1 hood?

Often the placement of the foodservice operation can make it difficult to install a hood and the accompanying duct work. If installing a hood is not a desirable option, then ventless equipment can become a solution. “When we have ventilation problems, like getting duct work out of a building, that’s when ventless becomes a given,” Wair says. “That’s when we turn to a ventless combi oven or dishwasher. We have a couple projects where that’s an issue, specifically in a big city.”

Q: What is the project’s budget and time frame?

Budgets and timeframes vary by project and occasionally using ventless equipment can help address these issues. The ventless equipment may come with a higher price tag than equipment that requires a vent but depending on the circumstances, the tradeoff may be worth it. “If our customers are trying to turn around a job quickly and only have a small amount to spend, installing the hood and maintaining it can be more expensive than purchasing the ventless items,” says Tilghman Grandstaf, director of operations for Clark Retail Solutions.

Q: Does the specific piece of ventless equipment operate like a vented machine?

For example, some ventless dishwasher options may not operate as fast as vented units, Soucie notes. Whether that will make a difference will depend on the type of operation. “If it’s a low-volume restaurant, they are not going to know the difference,” he says. “Higher volume restaurants will open the doors more frequently and that could impact productivity.”

Q: Where does the foodservice operator need the equipment in relation to its service?

“If you need to spread out your equipment, you might want to consider ventless because you won’t need as many hoods,” Soucie says. “If you can consolidate the equipment into one place, though, you might want to consider vented equipment because it can be cheaper than having to replace the filters more frequently.”

Q: How does the municipality feel about ventless equipment? Will it allow this equipment to operate without a vent?

Equipment is often advertised and certified as ventless but some locales won’t let you operate it as ventless. “You always need to ask if you can put this ventless equipment where you want without the hood,” Doyals says. “We’ve even had to put panini grills beneath a hood.”