Trend watch: Labor-saving equipment and supplies
The cost of labor is high on nearly every operator’s list of concerns, particularly amid national conversations about minimum wage. If minimum wage soars to $15 per hour, many operators would need to seriously rethink their operations. And many are already headed in that direction – attempting to preempt sudden wage increases that could cripple their business.
In addition to smart scheduling, and taking advantage of more prepared foods and ingredients, equipment and supplies can play a big role in labor savings. And while robots in the kitchen aren’t beyond the realm of possibility, there are other, more immediately within-reach solutions. Keep in mind, not all technologies will be right for your operation – weigh the costs and benefits to find the best solutions.
Automatic and smart
Any equipment that does the work for you is a win in the labor-savings department. Conveyor ovens are a perfect example of longstanding cooking equipment that can be used in new ways – for sandwiches, pizzas and nachos, to name a few. Cook-chill systems can allow for automatic cooling and packaging for more advanced food preparation.
Smart technologies can remove manual labor and human error, such as blast chillers that automatically monitor and record food temperatures. The more user-friendly the technology, the less time spent training and troubleshooting with employees. Either way, any modern equipment technology will require thorough upfront training to avoid issues.
Finally, automated ordering kiosks and other equipment and supplies that enable self-service are not only popular among consumers, but helpful for operators. Some are getting especially creative: Sprinkles Cupcakes has a “Cupcake ATM” that takes payment and dispenses cupcakes – no human interaction at the point of sale.
Combine to save
Modern equipment technologies are even enabling operators to combine service and cooking labor. Particularly in quick- and limited-service applications, more compact, cleaner technologies (ventless fryers, induction cooking) mean that the order taker also can be preparing the food. This setup also plays into the transparency that customers crave—letting them see the ingredients and food preparation process.
Combining the equipment technologies/processes themselves also can be labor-friendly. Multipurpose technology that allows operators to streamline the amount of equipment they need means fewer employees and less time spent moving between equipment. Combi-ovens and conveyer ovens are good examples of this.
Speed of use, cleaning and maintenance
Speed is an important element—the faster the prep/cooking, the faster the throughput and the lower the labor costs. High-powered combi-ovens, turbo microwaves and blast chillers can all help speed throughput.
Fast cleaning and daily maintenance also count for something. Manufacturers are considering this in their equipment designs, particularly with equipment that has traditionally been cumbersome to clean – slicers and food processors, for instance. Interestingly enough, too much speed can be a bad thing. In the case of a large warewasher, for instance, too much capacity and not enough landing-table space can mean the need for more manpower to unload.
Regardless of how much equipment or supplies can save in labor costs, operators everywhere agree that quality still trumps all. Being able to see new labor-saving technologies in person, try them out and compare to other options is hugely valuable.