TIMING is essential in the kitchen, and for chefs in various outlets – from bars and gastropubs to restaurants, a commercial microwave can be invaluable during a busy service.
But, as with any kitchen equipment, choosing the right kit – and maintaining it – is vital. And according to equipment suppliers, there are a few dos and don’ts that operators should follow when replacing or upgrading their microwave.
Ray Hall, managing director of RH Hall, reckons the most obvious advantage a microwave brings to an outlet’s kitchen is speed of cooking.
He said they are “essential for speed of service – considerably faster than conventional ovens and they also allow an operator to offer a wider choice of menu”.
“Microwaves are versatile, space-saving (units can easily be stacked), have low running costs and are also extremely affordable,” said Hall.
“In comparison to the tasks they undertake, they provide great value for money.”
Sharing a similar view David Watts, Buffalo brand manager for Nisbets, said microwaves “can be a god-send for busy establishments”, but in order to reap the benefits, “it’s essential that operators opt for a commercial rather than a domestic model”.
“Commercial microwaves are fast, efficient and do not produce large quantities of steam, heat or odours meaning they require little extraction and ventilation, making them ideal for use within a busy kitchen environment,” said Watts.
Glenn Roberts, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), also stressed the importance of buying commercial kit, warning that domestic models “will not cope with the repeated usage of a busy commercial kitchen”.
He warned that using a domestic model can lead to consequences for service.
“Staff misuse and abuse are two leading reasons for machine breakdown. Training staff on new equipment and operational procedures is vital. It should be considered at the planning stage of a kitchen redesign.”
– Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA.
“It’s easy to overspend on equipment that is too sophisticated and large for your menu. Far better to buy what you need and, if you have to at some point, add to it.“
– Stuart Hayes, sales director at Pantheon Catering Equipment.
“Consider your menu type, service style, the ease of cleaning and level of throughput when choosing any new item of equipment.”
– Trevor Burke, managing director of Exclusive Ranges.
“It’s not unusual for new appliances to be operated and managed at the touch of a button – or the swipe of a screen. The connected kitchen uses technology to improve our industry, creating an ergonomic environment that ensures equipment and staff can work effectively.”
– Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA.
“This can lead to a drop off in performance that will cause unsafe food heat temperatures,” said Roberts.
“Some low-cost commercial [models] are based around a domestic model and, whilst they have no turntables, their performance is no more than that of a domestic model.”
Stressing the strain that a commercial microwave can be put under in the course of a single day, James Marks, of catering equipment importer and distribution firm Bradshaw, said “there is no point choosing a unit suitable for up to 50 uses per day because it’s cheap, when in reality you use it more than 150 times a day”.
And the microwave’s versatility mustn’t be forgotten, reckons Watt at Nisbets.
He said that as well as reheating food, “it’s important to remember that there are many items that can actually be cooked completely in a microwave”.
“Any recipe that requires poaching, steaming or braising can be carried out in a microwave making them an extremely versatile piece of equipment within a commercial kitchen,” said Watts.
And technological innovations in the sector offer operators even more convenience, according to Hall of RH Hall.
For instance, RF solid state technology is said to provide “far better and more consistent power control, along with many other benefits”.
And combination microwaves, which often include pre-programmable menu facilities, allow operators to set up different menu settings and store them via an SD card.
Innovations aside, operators must ultimately consider what they intend to use their microwave for before deciding on a replacement, reckons Hall.
“To choose the right kind of microwave, operators should look at their menu offering and decide what tasks the microwave oven should undertake,” he said.
“If the microwave is to be used mainly for simple reheating and defrosting of foods then a straight-forward commercial microwave will suffice. However, if you wish to reheat and cook food products then a combination microwave oven is well advised.”
Hall pointed out that the latter will correctly cook pastries or other delicate food items.
Another important consideration is choosing the correct oven wattage.
Too low powered, said Hall, and delays can ensue, too high and it becomes tricky to judge the timing of smaller portions.
Again, choosing the right model for the job is essential, and Roberts of CESA said that different power outlets are better-suited to different tasks.
Q. What sets a commercial microwave apart from a standard domestic model?
A. Most domestic models have turntables. Commercial models do not. Also, to withstand the repeated use and to prevent a potentially dangerous drop-off in power output, commercial units will often have two magnetrons – these are the units that produce the microwave power. They will also have higher power output to heat food faster.
Q. Microwaves can get dirty very quickly. How important is it that a microwave has a removable liner?
A. What’s vitally important is to ensure that the microwave is kept clean. Food debris build-up will cause cavity burn ups and will lead to reheat time issues. Problems caused by a microwave oven not being kept clean will not be covered under the makers’ warranty.
Q. How long should a commercial microwave last?
A. A genuine commercial microwave oven can be expected to last many years – some are available with extended warranties of up to five years. However, in order to maximise service life staff must be trained to operate, clean and look after the microwave correctly.
Q. What’s more important when choosing the right model for my business: frequency of use, how much food is to be cooked in it at once, or how quickly it needs to work?
A. All three factors should be considered. If you need to use it frequently, or need to cook a lot of portions, or want it to work quickly, then you will need a higher-powered model.
This gives flexibility, as you can always reduce the power; you can’t increase the power of a lower-powered model.
He advised microwave ovens with a power rating in the region of 1000W to 1200W are best suited for point of service heating, dessert and sweet dish reheating, and for instances where speed isn’t a critical factor.
But ultimately, ‘heavy duty’ models tend to be the more popular choice, and range from 1800W to 1900W; though they can vary from 1400W to 3200W.
Power output aside, accessibility remains a vital factor when selecting a new microwave unit.
Marks of Bradshaw said ease of use “is very important”, adding that “one button operation is preferable over a non-digital manual control”.
Hall, of RH Hall, agreed.
He said: “Models with manual controls are incredibly straightforward to use and offer an out of the box solution for unskilled kitchen staff.”
However, he admitted that these models “can often lack the advanced features that have become available in recent years”.
And while a touchpad, programmable model “may seem daunting at first glance”, once it is set up “it can actually be the most straightforward option”.
In the end, regardless of what model operators choose, Marks of Bradshaw reckons reliability is key.
“Reliability is the number one [priority] and although price is always a concern it should not be the main [factor] influencing the purchase,” he said.
“There are many makes and models out there these days so it pays [to select] a unit with pedigree.”