Does microwave build quality matter?

RH Hall works with dealers to provide operators with bespoke microwave solutions.

The faithful microwave is a staple of many a commercial kitchen, and there can be a tendency for some distributors to specify more basic models. But does quality really matter when it comes to choosing these swift cookers? Catering Insight asked several prominent suppliers.

According to Ray Hall, MD of Bedfordshire-based RH Hall: “Build quality is an important consideration when choosing any item of cooking equipment and microwaves are no exception. The end cooking result can be hugely affected by models of lesser quality, especially cheap imports which are often only built to domestic standards. This can lead to uneven cooking, cold spots and inconsistent results – all of which can have a massive impact on an operator’s reputation.”

So would he advise distributors to specify higher quality microwaves for higher end operators? “High end operators can have more at stake when it comes to performance expectation. Dealers and operators should look at the operation in detail and the usage requirements to ensure they do not under or over specify,” he said, adding: “Always consider the best piece of kit they can afford to ensure maximum performance. Look for leading brands with an established reputation for quality, reliability and current technology.”

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Hall believes that a main difference between light and heavy duty is often power output. “Light duty models tend to start at around 1,000W, with heavy duty models at 1,500-1,900W. This is very important to get right, as insufficient power can lead to delays and if too high this can lead to overcooking and wastage. However, power output alone does not guarantee high quality equipment and dealers should also consider the warranty and genuine service back up available.”

He detailed that RH Hall works with its nationwide network of dealers to provide many of the UK’s leading foodservice chain operators with bespoke solutions, which he believes offers optimum results.

“We can also provide much more than just the out of the box microwave solution – bespoke branding and pre-programming is all part of the service we are able to offer, plus we regularly work with dealers along with food suppliers or chefs on menu creations at our 3,000ft2 development kitchen, creating and adapting results with optimum timings and utilising the preset programmes available,” said Hall.

“Consulting and advising companies on how to get the best results from microwave cooking and regeneration is an intrinsic part of the service that we offer. Historically there has been some negativity to microwave cooking and by educating operators on the full potential of their equipment, this should be eliminated. RH Hall can demonstrate how tweaking conventional techniques can lead to great results in a fraction of the time it would take with other methods, allowing operators to expand their menus and diversity of dishes.”

Over at Gosport-headquartered Regale Microwave Ovens, MD Patrick Bray feels that for busy or fast food outlets, microwave construction quality is paramount. “We have come across many establishments that have purchased a new microwave just on price and not quality, resulting in the microwave breaking down quite often with various component failures – giving stress to the user as it always seems to be at the busiest times,” he reported.

“There are several ‘copies’ of good quality makes such as Panasonic which on the outside look good but the internal parts are usually of inferior quality, just to make the microwave as cheap as possible – they are normally branded for whoever wants to buy them. The old story is ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and this typically applies to microwave ovens. It many look good on the outside but can the inside give the required performance?”

In terms of specification advice for distributors, Bray cautioned: “If a manufacturer states a particular output of a microwave oven, always bear in mind that there is a 10% tolerance allowance. For example if it is stated that it is a ‘1,900W output’, there could be a 10% difference to what is actually stated. Therefore if you have two microwaves of exactly the same output, one of them could possibly be quicker than the other; this is why you should stick to the same (named) brand and output.”

Furthermore, he warned of the risks of an underperforming oven: “This is always a problem when the buyer is trying to purchase at the lowest possible price and ends up with a light duty microwave oven which is only for re-heating, sweet preparations, back bar heating up from ambient temperature etc. Light duty microwaves should never be used in heavy duty situations as they only have one magnetron, whereas the 1,500W+ output microwaves have two, and when trying to cook from frozen then it should be a 1,800W+.”

Bray concluded: “At Regale Microwaves we are always on hand to give advice to distributors on making sure that the correct power and brand of microwave is correct for the customer’s needs. Our website is an information only site with no prices mentioned. It is there so that the customer and distributor can go through the range of commercial microwave ovens and select the right model.”

Panasonic offers a range of microwaves from 1,000W to 3,200W.

Panasonic is one of the brands Regale supplies, and the manufacturer itself believes that microwave build quality absolutely affects the end cooked product. Sales and marketing manager for Panasonic UK, Iain Phillips, said: “To achieve effective and even distribution of microwave energy around an oven’s cavity is highly technical and requires a lot of research and development. If a product has been produced ‘on the cheap’ it is likely that this is one area that will have been scrimped on, and one which will lead to uneven cooking and hot spots on the food.

“Even the placement of the magnetrons will make a difference; most Panasonic professional microwaves have the magnetrons positioned in the roof and the floor, making for even distribution and improved cooking.”

He would advise distributors to specify higher quality microwaves to all operators, saying: “Whilst the performance of models may not vary too much, it is the build quality of the product that end users will benefit from, and a better overall cost over life. If the distributor wants to avoid their customers calling them to complain that the oven they sold them has just broken down again, they should try to sell up to a known brand.”

Phillips explained that the key differences between light and heavy duty microwaves will be in the number of magnetrons each unit has, as well as the strength of items such as door catches and hinges. Panasonic’s 1,000W microwaves have one magnetron and are designed to be suited to catering operations with medium throughput requirements. The manufacturer’s 1,800W and 3,200W Gastronorm range have four magnetrons by comparison, and should be able to cope with the full rigours of a commercial kitchen.

According to Phillips: “Panasonic has many activities to support its distribution network including sustained advertising and PR activities, sponsorship of high profile industry events, cookery competitions, attendance at leading trade shows throughout the year and, more specifically, a dedicated development chef available to carry out product demonstrations and roadshows, and help with menu and recipe development for operators.”

Uropa Distribution too feels that build quality makes a vital difference. “Microwaves can be a god-send for busy operators but if they are to reap the benefits of microwave cooking it’s essential that operators opt for a well-built commercial model,” said head of brands, Richard Ebbs.

“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. Energy efficient, they are ideal for saving both time and money and given their modest dimensions they are space saving too – so great for smaller kitchens.”

Uropa’s Buffalo brand offers a programmable commercial microwave oven which the firm says offers a robust, stainless steel construction microwave that is built to withstand the demands of a busy kitchen – yet is compact enough even for those with limited space.

When it comes to distributors specifying microwaves, Ebbs believes: “As with any new piece of kitchen equipment, when deciding on which model will best fit their customers establishment, distributors should carefully consider not only current but also future levels of demand as well as the frequency of use.

“Most commonly used for reheating previously prepared meals, microwaves are also great for regenerating both single and multi-portions during busy periods. But 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.”

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