Like all catering equipment types, water boilers may be specified much less often in the coming months, with the operators left standing after the coronavirus pandemic likely sweating their existing assets. But this will make suitable specification all the more important, so where should dealers focus their efforts?
At British water boiler manufacturer Instanta, regional business manager Jason Saville believes: “Specification in the current market climate is of course going to be very challenging due to ongoing social distancing and safeguarding restrictions. However, businesses with a product range that offer solutions to the ‘new way of working’ as we head out of lockdown are going to seize the day.
“There is no denying products that require less hands on contact – such as instant, mains-fed water boilers – are going to be much easier to specify than those that need more of a manual operation.”
With safety and sanitation at the forefront of considerations, Instanta is now offering a touch-free handle for its countertop boilers, as well as developing infra-red integrated products for added hygiene.
In terms of other aspects influencing water boiler choice, Saville commented: “Aesthetics will always have a role in the specification of water boilers, particularly for front of house catering facilities, but I do think right now there are more important factors the industry will be considering.
“The look of a product will likely be less of a consideration than hygiene benefits and, for many, space saving qualities. With social distancing measures in place, many businesses will have to create more space for customers, which may directly impact the size of the area they can dedicate to food and drink preparation. However, undercounter units – such as the Instanta InstaTap Under Counter Boiler – are often a more aesthetically pleasing option and also boast space saving qualities, so there doesn’t necessarily have to be a compromise.”
At competitor, Calomax, sales and marketing director Paul Bowers has strong views on the most suitable appliances: “As British manufacturers of automatic-fill countertop water boilers for over 70 years, I do have to ask why dealers would specify beverage fonts or undercounter water boiling systems at any time – let alone in the current market climate.
“An undercounter system will provide less boiling water, demand expensive filters, and require extensive modification of the countertop and cupboards to provide ventilation. It requires regular filter changes and regular service visits to keep it running.”
In contrast, he said of Calomax’s own range: “Our boilers include an integral scale-inhibitor that allows a chemical-free descale to be carried out by the end user’s maintenance staff. In ‘normal times’ it is difficult to justify the price differential, but add to that the problems involved in installing, servicing and maintaining the undercounter systems, particularly when depending upon external service engineers, and it’s a no-brainer.”
But does Bowers think that aesthetics will play a big role in specification at this time? “Aesthetics is the only reason for specifying an undercounter boiler with font,” he responded. “They do look pretty and can be chosen to colour match and harmonise with any domestic kitchen. But that’s the thing, they were primarily designed for domestic use.
“If money is no object, then by all means choose a very pretty undercounter boiler that matches the décor. But in the real world where value for money is a consideration, an office of say 25-30 people, could be adequately provided with hot drinks by Calomax’s small countertop boilers. They are more practical, more reliable and significantly less expensive.”
Over at Lincat, group marketing manager Helen Applewhite reported: “Since the start of Covid-19, we’ve seen strong sales for both automatic water boilers and manual fill water boilers.
“With no installation required, our manual fill, urn-style boilers have delivered an instant solution for the care sector and emergency services, including the temporary Covid-19 hospitals such as the Nightingale in London. They provide a constant flow of boiling water for tea, coffee and soup for frontline workers and patients.
“Sales of our automatic water boilers have remained buoyant, with pubs, restaurants and cafés converting their outlets to takeaway and delivery services.”
Applewhite believes that in light of Covid-19, end users have been looking for water boilers which are simple in design and constructed from a material which is easy to clean. “All Lincat automatic water boilers and manual fill water boilers are constructed from hygienic stainless steel, which is not only practical, but looks great too,” she commented.
In late June, Lincat launched its EB3FX/WAVE water boiler, which was developed in response to Covid-19 to help organisations maintain hygiene standards. To dispense water, the user needs to wave their hand in front of the unit, eliminating any hand contact with the boiler. The boiler is based on the manufacturer’s EB3FX, with a narrow 250mm footprint, built-in filtration and an output of 31litres per hour.
With outdoor foodservice sites proving popular in these plague times, will water boiler or font installations likewise move outside?
Instanta regional business manager Jason Saville feels this may be the case: “I think safe and functional outdoor catering facilities are going to be in demand over the next few months until we are in the throes of harsher winter weather.
“Creating ‘pop-up’ outdoor kitchens and bars, as well as make-shift takeaway areas, are likely to be high on the agenda for many establishments and there is no reason suitable water boilers cannot be specified for these areas with thoughtful planning in place. For example, the Instanta SureFlow Counter Top Slimline has a narrow width (just 180mm), making it the perfect match for small, temporary catering spaces. It is certainly a big consideration for both manufacturers and dealers alike as the industry reopens with more vigour.”
However, Calomax’s sales and marketing director Paul Bowers is not so convinced: “For all sorts of health and safety reasons, I sincerely hope that installations will remain indoors wherever possible. Boiling water is dangerous, and having seen first-hand the injury caused by an old-fashioned urn tipping off a trolley in a busy exhibition hall, I would much prefer that water boilers operate from fixed bases and that the boiling water is transported in sealed insulated flasks or air-pots to the point of dispense.”
While Lincat’s group marketing manager Helen Applewhite takes a balanced view, responding: “We see installation continuing both indoors and outdoors, dependent on the venue. Many indoor foodservice sites are diversifying to offer takeaway food but using their existing facilities and taking the food and hot drinks out to the customer.
“We see outdoor operators getting busier, as more people get out to enjoy the outdoors. Prior to the pandemic, our automatic water boilers were a popular choice for outdoor pop-up cafés, food trucks and trailers wanting to serve tea, coffees, hot chocolate and soup. This was due to with their narrow 250mm footprint, high 31-litre output and their ability to operate from a 13A plug.”