Figuring The Value Of Equipment Packages
By Mike Sherer
Your equipment's worth extends far beyond the price you paid. Its placement, performance and total cost of ownership all factor into its true value.
Sometimes it's relatively easy to find a piece of equipment that will meet your specs. While many concepts use custom equipment to prep or cook their menu items, straightforward concepts often can rely on off-the-shelf equipment or a choice of two or three models from different manufacturers.
Whether you're getting value, though, from the equipment packages you spec and purchase is another matter, one discussed during the FER-sponsored MUFES for Fast-Growing Chains conference in May. Three panelistsAndy Dunmire, v.p. design and construction for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group; Rob Foraker, facilities manager East for Red Robin Int'l.; and Don Fisher, president of Fisher-Nickel Inc., which runs PG&E's Food Service Technology Centerdiscussed equipment placement and how to figure out the performance of a particular product.
"It's all about speed, service and sanitation," Dunmire said of equipment layout. He suggested mov-ing beverage stations as close to the point of use as possible, putting equipment on casters to make cleaning easier, locating freezer doors inside walk-in coolers, and being aware of the height of equipment you may add later, like microwaves, to be sure they're accessible.
Put dishwashing as close to waitstaff as possible, he added, and install a centralized drop-off to minimize handling of dishes. Eat'n Park has found that a compartmentalized dishroom works better than a straight-line system.
In terms of the equipment itself, "make sure it meets HACCP expectations," Foraker said. "The one item that the staff is terrified to make ends up being made on all types of equipment," so all your equipment should factor into your HACCP plan. " And every year refrigerators need to maintain lower temperatures and we have more items to refrigerate," he went on. "Make sure you'll always have enough refrigeration."
Other tips Foraker offered included getting ice ma-chines out of corners where they can't breathe properly, and choosing equipment that's easy to clean and easy to take apart without losing parts.
"Don't customize your equipment too much," he advised. "Work with food suppliers when you spec equipment." He cited an example of a milkshake machine that whips so much air into the product that the container overflows. "Don't buy more bells and whistles than you need, and make sure when you buy a piece of equipment that you can get service."
Determining the energy efficiency of a piece of equipment is far easier now than it was 20 years ago, said Fisher. Two decades ago he was asked what the ROI was on a charbroiler's infrared burner, and at that time there were no test methods to help answer such questions. Eventually the Food Service Technology Center was opened to help California utility customers find out how well dif-ferent types and models of equipment perform. Since then, the FSTC staff has developed 35 ASTM standard test methods.
"Performance is part of efficiency," Fisher said, "and vice versa. "In years of bench testing, we rarely found big differences in performance. In most equipment categories it's a pretty level playing field, but in terms of efficiency there are differences."
Spec'ing For Energy Efficiency
Questions from attendees focused initially on how to find and specify efficient equipment. One audience member wanted to know what processes and procedures panelists have in place and how they communicate equipment needs before they specify equipment, as well as how they test equipment.
"Our operations folks have a lot of input," Dunmire replied. "When they want to add an item, we go out to look at the operation and see how they prepare it or plan to prepare it."
"We go out to our restaurants and come up with a report on how equipment is actually being used," oraker added.
As to whether you should test equipment with real product or take ASTM test results at face value, Fisher said that lab and operations tests end up being pretty close. When testing refrigerated prep tables, for example, the FSTC discovered the one with the best performance used the least amount of energy. But efficiency isn't a factor in all equipment categories. Range tops and underfired broilers are two types of equipment where there's little difference.
Panelists said the best resources for questions about performance, efficiency and layout are the FSTC Web site at www.fishnick.com, manufacturers' reps and equipment suppliers. Data from your own stores and input from peers at other chain companies also are great sources of information, Foraker added. An audience member also suggested contacting your local utility company. Many have test kitchens and will test the equipment you use for free.
Next question from the audience: When it comes to efficiency numbers, which should you believe?
"That's the problem we faced 20 years ago," Fisher said. "We got tired of seeing fryers becoming 50% more efficient every NAFEM Show. Now data is starting to exist on performance. There's a fairly extensive library at our Web site, and now Energy Star has standards for fryers and steamers, and they're developing standards for more categories."
What About Lifecycle Costing?
Collecting service data on out-of-warranty equipment is another issue operators wrestle with. Dun-mire said Eat'n Park collects data on all service calls, but even if it's a warranty call they don't always know what part broke.
"Manufacturers don't always share what's wrong with their product," he said.
Even with all its performance data, the FSTC can't tell you what the lifecycle or maintenance cost of equipment is, Fisher admitted. "There's a reluctance to share this data, but chains are starting to compile it themselves."
"We had a microwave that was costing us as much to repair as it came out of warranty as it costs to replace," Dunmire said, "but we can't always share information like that."
It isn't always relevant, either, since every operation is different. Even two operations using the same piece of equipment in similar ways may experience different lifecycle costs if one, say, uses tomato sauce and the other doesn't.
As more chains become interested in lifecycle costing, efficiency plays a bigger role in the purchase decision. And baseline efficiency has been going up, Fisher said, especially in the past three years.
"Manufacturers are really embracing ASTM testing now," he said. "It helps them develop innovations. I'm proud of the manufacturing business."
The tipping point between operational considerations, efficiency, performance and cost is changing as more data on performance, efficiency, service and other lifecycle costs becomes available.
"There always will be pressure to lower your capital investment," Foraker said, "but you have to look at performance, safety and each individual piece of equipment, and see where to allocate that capital investment."
More operators today recognize that equipment purchases aren't just an initial capital expense but a long-term investment. While many still want manu-facturers to "take the cost out" of the equipment, they have more latitude now to spend more upfront if they can save operations costs later.
"You have to feel confident there's an $800 per year energy savings, and confident there's a reduced lifecycle cost," Fisher said, "but you need to have data that the ROI is there to get that confidence."