The pace of technological change is ever increasing and the catering equipment industry must ensure it is not left behind. One of the major drivers over recent years is to network appliances to allow remote monitoring and control, with combi ovens especially taking the lead in this respect. While this is useful for foodservice operators, what is it that dealers need to know about the technology, and how can they turn this information into a sales advantage?
Catering Insight asked major combi oven manufacturers about their own advances with networking, with Rational detailing that its new ConnectedCooking 2.0 offering is designed to be particularly beneficial to central production units and large scale operations with multiple units. This allows users to link their Rational SelfCookingCenters and Frima VarioCooking Centers to a network, and monitor operation over the internet.
UK MD Simon Lohse believes the connected kitchen is the future, saying: “Dealers should emphasise that connected cooking will improve operators’ efficiency, enhance safety and help areas such as consistency.
“Caterers can check on overnight cooking processes from home, managers can check on operational efficiency of multiple units and maintenance engineers can check a unit’s status. Connectivity will make kitchens safer and more efficient, and make managing equipment simpler.
“ConnectedCooking users receive push messages about the latest status in real time, notifying them about what is happening with their appliances. It’s ideal for anyone who is working across various kitchens. Just as important for operators is the management of user profiles to make specific appliance functions accessible only to a clearly defined user group. This ensures consistent quality in spite of different levels of training amongst the staff.”
Personal cooking programs and several thousand recipes from the international recipe database can be transferred directly from PC, tablet or smartphone onto appliances and managed centrally. Updates are also performed automatically and free of charge, doing away with the need for more complicated transfers via a memory stick.
Lohse concluded: “This makes it an easy process, while also ensuring that all Rational appliances are working with the same standards.”
At Middleby Group brand Hounö its online system is called the Let’s Cook Cloud Solution. The cloud ecosystem enables a real-time overview of an oven fleet. It lets users access and monitor ovens anytime, anywhere, and on any device, plus there is no limit on how many ovens can be connected.
Business development manager Vincent van Delft reported: “Hounö developed Let’s Cook based on industry input. We interviewed end users, dealers, service partners, chain accounts and more in order to identify their needs and wants. The combination of understanding customer challenges and Internet of Things/cloud technology is the foundation of Let’s Cook. We therefore know that the services available through Let’s Cook are of upmost importance and value to the people of the foodservice industry.
“It is a complimentary product to Hounö combi ovens – an optional additional feature, which can be purchased together with our SmartTouch ovens which are connected to the internet; sensors in the oven send data to a secure cloud. Let’s Cook adds a digital element to the oven, which is a traditionally physical product.
“The digital tool enables easier recipe distribution and software updates, proactive maintenance, easy overview of consumption data as well as a HAACP library. Furthermore, users get access to a training environment and a community hub with recipe inspiration and much more.”
This month sees the global launch of Let’s Cook, after the platform has been tested in professional kitchens in Denmark and the USA since the end of 2016. Van Delft detailed: “Testing the cloud solution in a real-life environment has shown how Let’s Cook performs under real conditions. The tests have demonstrated that the cloud solution is reliant on a stable internet connection.
“With this in place, this proves that Let’s Cook offers valuable services through a user-friendly interface. During the test period, the oven fleet overview has especially been of great value to service technicians when servicing the ovens.”
Elsewhere, Retigo’s combi ovens can be linked to the internet via a LAN cable which is hard wired, or via a WiFi link with a WiFi USB stick or router. Non-executive director Radford Chancellor said: “At this stage, Retigo has not built WiFi into its units, as the requirement for combis to be connected to the internet all the time is still limited – and of course, every extra only adds to the price of the unit.”
However, he acknowledged: “The benefits of having a combi oven connected to the internet is that you can access the oven remotely or from an office in the same building, you can write and update programmes, check HACCP data, monitor energy usage and maintain service logs. Allowing professional kitchen appliances to talk to one another means that you can share programs, cooking settings and user settings.
“The downsides of this includes the risk of data viruses, but this can be removed with the implantation of good internet safety and firewalls.”
He underlined to dealers: “Internet-enable combi ovens are great for national accounts or multisite restaurants with the same or similar menu as recipes and menus can be shared between multiple appliances through the internet.”
Over at German-headquartered Eloma, the Genius MT and compact Joker MT units have LAN as a serial feature, with WLAN as an option. The expert Multimax series also includes a LAN option.
In addition, Eloma offers a data management software called ProConnect. This enables the operator to create recipes at their PC and set up menu plans in the office which can then be transferred to multiple combi steamers via LAN or WLAN. They can also attribute pictures to the recipes to make it easy for the user to choose the right programme.
Eloma’s head of product management and marketing Saskia Smeets advised dealers: “If an operator has a multi-outlet business and needs consistent results and reliable kitchen equipment, internet-enabled units are a competitive advantage. Furthermore, if users employ unskilled staff, they can supervise the operation.”
She further detailed: “The benefits on the operational side are that recipes can be uploaded to numerous outlets very quickly at the same time. This allows users to react immediately to changes in the ingredients due to availability or other needs.
“From the service point of view, the benefits are relevant as well. Connectivity enables service organisations to support customers in a very efficient and precise manner. This reduces travelling and labour costs. Connected cooking equipment reduces downtimes by the possibility of preventative and/or predictive maintenance. The right parts in the right quantity can be delivered in time on site. For chain customers, this might be crucial soon.”
However, Smeets warned: “A potential drawback of more automation could be that the staff do not feel responsible for the cooking results any more. They might be less motivated as their contribution is only a touch of a finger and not the work of a chef.”
On the advantages of enabling professional kitchen appliances to talk to each other, she commented: “If kitchen equipment communicates, it can support compliance with food safety and hygiene regulations. Work flow and processes in the kitchen can be made more efficient. In addition to that, you can achieve energy savings by minimising standby times: the cooking appliance will only heat up if the food processing has reached a certain point.”
With Falcon Foodservice Equipment now taking over the supply of Lainox combi ovens to the UK, it considers that internet connectivity is a ‘must have’. Product development chef Shaune Hall said: “Unlike many combination ovens, all of our Lainox Naboo units come with WiFi connectivity as standard. This means that they can be connected straight out of the box, without the need for purchasing additional equipment.
“We have made using this technology as easy as it could possibly be. This ease of connectivity enables users to access the Lainox Cloud, from where they can manage their ovens and recipes. Users can make a change on their computer and this can be copied across all the ovens, enabling consistency of menu no matter the number of sites in the chain. Chefs can also benefit from the many recipes, ideas and tips, offered by chefs around the world, stored on the Cloud.”
When connected to the Cloud, the oven will automatically synchronise at regular intervals, ensuring any changes the user has made to their oven is saved.
Hall remarked: “For dealers working with operators of multiple sites, internet-enabled combis are a no-brainer. Being able to access and update all the operation’s combi ovens remotely, ensuring consistency of output across the entire chain, without any additional cost or having to leave the office, is invaluable and a real time saver.
“When set up properly and securely, like any other device connected to a company’s network, there are no drawbacks to such connectivity.
As well as WiFi connectivity as standard, the Lainox Naboo combis come in a variety of different sizes, from 6 x 2/3 GN compact models all the way to 40 x 1/1 GN versions.
Supplier Euro Catering provides Giorik brand combi ovens to the UK market. The Evolution model is WiFi-enabled and features a USB port, thereby allowing chefs to upload recipes via a USB stick. This enables recipe sharing across ovens operated at different locations within a multi-site operation. Using the WiFi module, the oven can also be operated remotely. In terms of servicing, component failure can be diagnosed on the spot.
Sales director Justin Towns remarked: “Giorik has used all of its 25+ years’ experience within the world of combi ovens to bring this technologically advanced combi to market, giving technology a symbiotic relationship with the extensive functionality of the oven and thereby enhancing what is already an amazing piece of equipment.
“Giorik studied what might make life easier for a chef – and also chains and groups wanting a consistent menu offering across their sites – and built this into its R&D, to ensure that the Evolution ticks the boxes of those confident with technology and wanting to reap all the advantages of internet-enabled programming.”
For distributors he concluded: “Dealers should examine the type of operation they are selling to and see if it is one for which an internet-enabled combi-oven is ideal. We would define this as one that is part of a chain or group that operates the same menu across all pubs or restaurants, as this is a scenario in which consistency is key.
“However, they may also find themselves selling to an individual operator who is tech-savvy, but time-poor and so would welcome any assistance that technology can provide within their food service environment. Another target customer would be one who needs to slow-cook some of their menu when service is over and who can remotely control the oven from afar, out of service hours.
“If a chef is not confident with technology, and if a highly advanced internet-enabled combi would frighten their kitchen staff, there is no point in offering an oven purely on this feature. Something simpler on the IT front, but which still offers all the versatility and functionality of a combi, across many different cooking methods, will probably serve them better and Giorik has other solutions to suit.”
MKN appliances including FlexiCombi and SpaceCombi and FlexiChef combi steamers are operated with the MagicPilot system. This is IT based and sends data via an Ethernet interface.
Marketing and PR manager Anja Halbauer commented: “One benefit of the digital connection in professional kitchens is our MagicPilot to go mobile app. With this app MKN customers can take their combi steamer display with them wherever they go.”
The app is available in the Google Play store and should allow chefs to monitor their combi steamers by smartphone or smartwatch, even when they aren’t anywhere near to the appliance. MagicPilot to go informs the user about the appliance status and gives an acoustic or vibration signal when action needs to be taken at the combi steamer, e.g. when the automatic cleaning cycle or the cooking process has finished.
The remaining cooking times or set timers (RackControl2) are also shown. A free of charge usage of the Android App is available upon registration.
Halbauer concluded: “The mobile display provides some welcome breathing space in the busy daily routine in professional kitchens.”
Unox’s Cheftop and Bakertop Mind.Maps combi ovens can be connected to the internet with either Ethernet, WiFi or 3G.
Marketing and media manager Kate Brooman detailed: “Connecting the ovens to the internet can be a huge benefit to operators for three main reasons: data collection and analysis, recipe sending and uniformity, and remote service diagnostics.
“With Unox Data Driven Cooking, the operator can collect data on energy, water and detergent consumption, cooking times, door opening times and washing activity, which is then transformed into measurable and useful information to help eliminate waste and increase daily profit.
“Sending recipes over the internet to ovens within a foodservice chain is an obvious benefit, as well as having the peace of mind of remote service diagnostics that will pick up on any potential problems with the oven and report them to the Unox technical team, where they can be dealt with before they become an issue.”