The bespoke production model is one of the most demanding and labour intensive for manufacturers of commercial cooking suites, but the UK market isn’t short of suppliers eager to build chefs their ultimate dream machine.
1. Turnaround times
Most customers accept that if they want to get their hands on a purpose-built cooking suite tailored to their exact requirements, they’ll have to show a little patience. While cooking suite manufacturers are working hard to reduce the time between order and completion, lead times for bespoke units typically range from eight to 12 weeks.
Charvet, for instance, which builds its products in Charavines, France, notes that a fully bespoke system takes 10-12 weeks to turn around versus a modular bespoke suite at 4-6 weeks.
2. Expanding market
Exclusive Ranges brings in Rorgue from France and Menu System from Switzerland, and managing director, Trevor Burke, believes the market has grown significantly in recent times. “More people from across different market sectors are investing in the long term,” he says. “The expectations of what they are getting for their money has not really changed because it has always been high and it always will be, but the whole life-cost of having a bespoke range is now being considered more closely.”
3. Cool customers
Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic, which brings in the Marrone brand, believes that buyers are much more willing to look at the bigger picture these days. “The current demand is for a cooler working environment, as evidenced by the inclusion of more induction, which is somewhat about its efficiency and somewhat about the ambient heat reduction it brings,” he says.
Exclusive Ranges’ Burke says bespoke manufacturers need to demonstrate conviction. “Always remember that you are building something that will be right for the operation in the long term, not necessarily for the person with the loudest voice at the time,” he says.
4. Going the distance
Most manufacturers of quality bespoke suites insist the major USP versus modular alternatives is the build standard and robustness. Steve Hobbs, who imports the French Athanor brand for Signature FSE, reckons a bespoke suite should last 15 to 20 years. “The suite will be used 16 to 18 hours per day every day of the week, therefore performance of component parts over a long period of time and the durability of those components is important.”
5. Quality build
Theoretically anybody can buy a bespoke suite, but traditionally it has been the domain of fine dining restaurants, hotels and Michelin-starred chefs. All are bonded by a common desire for kit that will stand up to the rigours of a commercial kitchen environment. John Braithwaite, who manages the Ambach brand in the UK, says: “Bespoke units are still requested on projects that are built for purpose and Ambach continues to produce cooklines and island suites locations including hotels, restaurants and football stadia — where the chairman’s personal dining facilities must, of course, be
in the correct colours!”
6. Paying a premium
Bespoke production tends to be a very labour-intensive process, so customers can typically expect to pay a premium of around 25% versus modular equipment. Ambach’s Braithwaite, however, believes that pricing pressure is causing the gap between the cost of bespoke and modular suites to narrow with every year that passes. “This has been one of the major contributors to our view of the future and the product development plans and launch of our new Ambach CHEF 850 range,” he says. “It offers all the flexibility and configuration options, but without the cost of a one piece top.”
7. Bridging the gap
The purchase of a bespoke suite is normally based as much on the function of the kitchen brigade and the efficient use of space as it is on the invoice price of the item. Having said that, Jestic’s Morris argues that it would be unrealistic to suggest that every tailored cooking range is specified with an unlimited budget on the table.
“Prices have narrowed as more manufacturers have entered this field and there are many companies advertising modular equipment that seeks to bridge the design and performance gap between standalone items and truly custom-designed suites — and often price is the major factor.”
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8. Changing tastes
Exclusive Ranges’ Burke suggests that the market is now seeing a real integration of traditional and high-tech features into cooking ranges. He points to induction planche plates and water baths being built into very traditional Rorgue lines as an example of this. “Trends are quite market specific,” he says. “The UK market will demand more flexibility and innovation from manufacturers. Both Menu System and Rorgue have already adapted manufacturing to suit the UK.”
9. Manufacturing flexibility
There is no room for rigid production processes in a bespoke manufacturing world. Instead, suppliers have to demonstrate absolute flexibility to accommodate customers’ requirements, says Ambach’s Braithwaite. “The capabilities of Ambach to produce truly bespoke products include the ability to manufacture a variety of island or cookline configurations that can be plug and play, are ready to be connected to an energy optimisation unit and that can include cold cabinets plus large volume units such as pressure bratt pans and kettles,” he says. “Other capabilities include precision laser cutting and shaping of multi-layered one piece tops up to a 6mm thickness.” At its plant in Kaltern, Italy, Ambach has a dedicated area for bespoke assembly, which dovetails nicely with its volume modular production facilities.
Wayne Cuomo, managing director of Charvet, meanwhile, says the flexibility expected of bespoke cooking suite manufacturers starts from the moment a customer expresses an interest in a tailored offering. “A true bespoke range is properly researched, built by hand and has the power to do the job it was designed for,” he says. “Our reference sites for bespoke ranges include The Dorchester, where the Charvet bespoke unit is approaching 25 years old and still in use 21 hours a day! We have similar expectations for the Chester Grosvenor suite, which was installed last year.”
10. Energy boost
Bespoke suites give chefs the chance to make their mark on the product in a way that normally wouldn’t exist. Tim Charlton, managing director of Leicestershire-based Euro Catering Equipment, which brings in the German Palux brand, says that energy efficiency considerations are shaping many chefs’ thinking at the moment. “Energy-saving features are now a key element of the equipment design, with low emitted heat leading to reduced energy costs and heat load in the kitchen, with subsequent energy saving on extraction costs, he comments.”
11. Great pretenders
One of the biggest bones of contention among commercial cooking suite producers is the very definition of ‘bespoke manufacturing’. Charvet’s Cuomo says that a major source of frustration is manufacturers muddying the waters by seemingly offering full bespoke ranges when they are really just selling a modular unit or units assembled under a single top. “Certain European manufacturers are dressing their mutton up as lamb and trying to sell something that looks bigger, more durable and powerful than it actually is,” he laments. “Beware the imposter!”
12. Variety show
The bespoke market is less predictable and formulaic than its modular counterpart, but that tends to gives manufacturers greater licence to differentiate. Charvet’s Cuomo notes that bespoke units can incorporate a vast choice of components. “We have developed new applications such as paella burners, wok burners and Teppanyaki griddles,” he says. “We are also able to mount induction hobs over ovens thanks to the remote siting of the induction generator.”
Euro Catering’s Charlton adds that Palux equipment can be customised and even have the customer’s own colour scheme fitted to the front. “It can also be linked into an energy optimisation system allowing customers to fit equipment on a lower kW rating supply than the total appliances rating,” he says. And Marrone prides itself on producing truly bespoke ranges which include any extras demanded by the chef. “We are building a suite right now for a UK customer that contains a pair of ultra-high production Henny Penny electric deep fat fryers from the USA which we shipped to Italy to be built in,” says Jestic’s Morris.
13. Packing punch
Bespoke units are constructed with the view that they will serve as the workhorse of the commercial kitchen, but customers no longer expect this ruggedness to come at the expense of eye-catching design. Ambach says that it can now produce doors, panels and appliance parts in any colour, including gold-plated. “For many projects it’s very much like buying a car,” observes Braithwaite. “It might be very similar to others in that it’s a Rolls Royce, but it’s ‘my Rolls Royce’. Personalisation is the key for both the chef and the client. They may well be one and the same, but sometines they’re very different characters.”
14. The real deal
Although bespoke designs are becoming sleeker and more aesthetically-pleasing, there is less overt coloured enamelling and more demand for the simpler but timeless appeal associated with stainless steel, suggests Jestic’s Morris. “Design considerations have become more intense for a couple of reasons,” he says. “Firstly, new food styles and concepts demand that more specialised equipment is included, such as woks, planchas and refrigeration. At the same time, overall kitchen space allocations have shrunk as floor costs have risen,” he says.
15. Power shift
Signature’s Hobbs claims the ongoing shift from traditional gas-style elements, such as solid tops and open burners, to electric appliances, such as planchas and induction, marks a major directional change for the industry. The cost of gas, as well as stricter ventilation requirements, have both contributed to this. “Fundamentally, in any suite a chef needs a mixture of instant heat items and retained heat items for different styles of cooking and service, and flexibility in the components on the suite to adapt his cooking style depending on food trends and menu changes.”