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Trick or Treat: How to Determine the Right Equipment for the Job

Every piece of equipment offers many features and benefits but not all are right for every foodservice operation. When you find the right piece, it’s a treat. But when you spec the wrong item, operators can feel tricked. In honor of Halloween, we caught up with a couple of consultants to hear their thoughts on the key considerations when making informed specifying decisions to ensure operators enjoy more treats than tricks and steer clear from any ghastly situations.

1. Determine owner and operator expectations.

In larger projects, the owner and operator may be two different people, which means they might have different expectations. “Be sure to meet with both team players,” says Ray Soucie, FCSI, principal of RSA Inc. “You want to discuss the need for the equipment and expectations on its ability to deliver a consistently high quality product.”

Eric Norman, vice president of MVP Services Group, Inc., notes that volume and production needs are important considerations when determining expectations for equipment. “For example, let’s say I’m deciding on a combi oven: the first thing I will look at is capacity.” That means looking at the ability of the equipment to produce the amount of food required by the operation’s volume within a certain amount of time. For high-peak-time operations like K-12 schools, colleges and universities, the equipment needs to be able to handle the high volumes but also meet the demands of a fast lunch or dinner service.

2. Work within the budget.

While equipment can vary widely in price, Soucie recommends, “only specifying equipment the owner can afford, and that the operator can operate, maintain and rely on over time.”

Norman agrees. “You have to choose equipment that will best fit the needs of the end user but also fit into the overall project budget,” he says.

Also take into consideration how often the operator replaces equipment. “If the operator replaces equipment every five to seven years, a lower cost option might work,” says Norman. “But if you want the equipment to last 10 or more years, I recommend choosing a mid- to high-level option. Schools tend to take much better care of equipment versus a high-volume casino serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. That operator might need to replace the equipment faster and will have the capital to do so, so a short-term option is OK.”

3. Consider utility usage and needs.

Utility requirements represent an important factor, too. “Is there adequate gas service, electrical, treated water?” Norman says. This can mean the difference between choosing one manufacturer over another.

More operators look to lower their expenses by reducing utility costs. “You might spend more upfront on energy-saving equipment, but you’ll save much more over the long term if that’s important to the operator,” says Norman.

 4. Pay attention to employee training and maintenance requirements.

“You want to consider the ease of use for employees,” says Norman. “How technical is the equipment? How advanced are the controls? Some combi ovens, for example, have just a simple time and temperature dial but others feature a fully programmable, touchpad and interface for 400 or more recipes.”

Less skilled labor might handle a simpler interface. However, if the staff includes more skilled managers who want to program recipes to make it easier for their employees, then a more advanced model might work better. “You have to understand the skill level and training requirements for the employees,” says Norman.

Don’t overlook the importance of daily and planned maintenance requirements. “How easy is it to clean the equipment and to get replacement parts and service?” Norman says. “If the client is in a rural location and doesn’t have a service agent that can get there right away, that impacts the equipment purchasing decision.” In that case, a more durable, easily maintained piece with a good service record is the right choice. 

 5. Justify the return on investment.

Justify the return on investment above all else, Soucie advises.

“This is a big one,” Norman agrees. “You want to determine the total cost of ownership to help the operator make the right decision. What are the upfront costs and what are the lifecycle costs in terms of utility, operational and maintenance costs over the life of that piece of equipment? You may buy a cheaper dishwasher, for example, but if it uses more water and energy and chemicals over time, in the end, that equipment might cost more money than buying a better quality piece of equipment upfront.”

Determining total cost of ownership not only helps operators justify investments, it helps them consider all the above factors as a whole. Those consultants who take a more holistic approach like this help their clients make the most informed decisions they can when purchasing foodservice equipment.

Now that’s a treat.