Labor costs stand near the top of a restaurant operation’s expenses. Upping the proverbial ante are national conversations about instituting a $15 minimum wage, which is already on the horizon for such areas as New York City, Washington, D.C., and the state of California.
Making kitchens as labor efficient as possible becomes critical to bottom line success. Take, for example, the ubiquitous fryer, and the kitchen workhorse combi oven, whose cutting-edge upgrades and features save labor and time, while turning out consistent, top quality product.
Hands-Off Fryer Operations
Let’s start with open vat fryers. Today’s open vat units, such as the Evolution Elite by Henny Penny, work on the premise that “less oil is more.” The Evolution Elite’s compact cooking vat holds roughly 40 percent less oil than traditional fryers — about 30 pounds instead of 50 pounds — yet it can still crank out the same or a greater volume of fried foods.
The features — automatic top-off, automated filtering, and an easy-to-clean filtration — that make the Evolution Elite a faster fryer also happen to save on labor.
“Automatic oil top-off means you are reducing the number of times workers need to work with oil — carrying it, pouring it, and thinking about it,” says Henny Penny product manager Matt Greear, who specializes in open fryers. “The unit monitors oil levels and temperatures, and on its own pumps in new oil to replace the oil lost during the cooking process. There’s no need to worry about keeping an eye on the oil amount, and no need to pour oil into a hot vat. And the steady adds of new oil extend the sweet spot — improving overall food quality.”
Automated filtering frees up workers to attend to customers or focus on “value added” work such as food production. “An onboard computer calculates filtration frequency and timing,” Greear says. “When the time comes, you have the option of pushing the ‘yes, filter now’ button for the 4-minute cycle or hit the ‘snooze’ button if the line is busy. By contrast, a traditional unit would have workers scurrying to procure filter media, open valves and otherwise divert attention away from guests.”
Another benefit — from the worker’s point of view especially — is the unit’s easy-to-clean filter pan. “You simply pull out the filter pan, bring it to the dishwashing area, pull out the components (lid, crumb catcher, frame), and start washing. By contrast the filter system on traditional fryers tends to be larger, heavier and harder to disassemble for cleaning.”
Arby’s Restaurant Group has specified Evolution Elite as the fryer of choice for its new restaurants. In fact, the Atlanta-based quick service sandwich chain in September honored Henny Penny with a “Red Hat Supplier of the Year for Service & Quality Manufacturing” at its Worldwide Franchise Convention.
“We worked with Henny Penny to custom program the filter cycle so the fryers would prompt filtration automatically after a certain number of cooking drops,” says Peter Cryan, Arby’s director of equipment R&D and new technology. “No handles; no levers—simply push button for employees to activate the filtration process.”
Cryan also points out another energy- and labor-saving feature appreciated by the energy-conscious chain: “The [secondary] fryer will switch into idle mode if not used for 20 minutes, taking the pressure off workers to remember to adjust temperature settings in order to extend oil life,” Cryan says.
Henny Penny’s low-oil, high-efficiency fryers have worked well for Arby’s. “We’ve seen about a 35 percent savings in oil costs and a 50 percent savings in energy compared to the previous, traditional fryers we had been using,” Cryan says.
Combi Ovens Take Away Guesswork
Combi ovens represent another way to maximize kitchen labor. Enter Henny Penny’s FlexFusion combi oven, which combines high output with an intuitive, user-friendly touch screen display and a powerful one-touch cleaning cycle.
For starters, the combi’s full-color touch/swipe display has slashed training times. “It used to take 30 to 60 minutes to show people how to program a combi,” says Henny Penny corporate executive chef Ben Leingang. “But with this new control panel, which includes customizable videos and help buttons on every screen, I can finish that part of the training in about 5 minutes.”
The combi’s video component of pre-programmed recipes is especially ideal in settings where worker turnover is high and product consistency a must. “For example, the video might show how to arrange food — such as six pieces across and four down on a half-size pan — followed by instructions to slot pans into the oven’s first, third and fifth rails before starting the cook cycle,” Leingang says.
“Most people want to do a good job, do the right thing,” Leingang adds. “It’s when you don’t know how to do something that stress levels and frustration start to build.”
Henny Penny combi’s cleaning regimen has also been engineered to save time and labor. “The combi uses a two-in-one cartridge. You simply pop off the lid, put the cartridge in the oven and start the ‘wave-clean’ cycle,” Leingang says. “Workers have zero contact with the powerful chemicals-- a nice safety bonus.”
“App-based controls for ease of learning, use and communication make the combi a great added ‘team member,’ allotting more labor time to food production and customer-facing activities,” Leingang says.
The FlexFusion Platinum series can replace steamers, grills and convection ovens, saving floor space and maintenance costs. From a labor point of view, that translates into fewer steps to accomplish tasks, and fewer pieces of equipment to learn how to operate, maintain and clean.
Win, win, win!