A commercial microwave is a vital piece of equipment that has to cope with heavy duty usage, notably in the casual dining sector.
With an array of different types available however, dealers may be faced with information overload. So what is the latest technology on the market and why should distributors specify particular models?
Wholesaler, Regale supplies a range of brands to suit various requirements, including Panasonic, Sharp, Merrychef and Daewoo.
“We feel these brands and the models available allow us to supply our dealers with a number of options, whatever the budget, starting with the 1,000W back bar models through to 1,800-1,900W compact and 3,200W full gastronorm microwaves which tend to be the workhorses of the busy kitchen, along with combination and accelerated cooking technology,” explained MD, Pat Bray.
He feels that LED technology is one of the most important advancements in the market today. “LED lighting has been shown to reduce the lamp electrical running costs by over 99%,” he reported.
“Originally this was only available on the Panasonic 1,800W compact models. However, Regale has now improvised this on to its own Daewoo 1,500 and 1,800W models complete with Microsave Cavity Liner, which allows our dealers to have an advantage over the competition without having to be squeezed on costs.”
Regale’s sister company Cavity Protection Systems (though Regale is soon to take it over) produces the NSF-approved Microsave Cavity Liner, which is recognised as an approved product by the Craft Guild of Chefs. The firm has plans in place to increase the product’s potential that should be ready for market in the next few years.
Bray believes that distributors should take into account user requirements and quality rather than cost when specifying microwaves. “Far too many dealers are taking short cuts by selling under powered or inferior branded models which unfortunately have been known to cause issues for the user,” he warned. “Without the correct service backing and knowledge this can lead to the customer being very vulnerable when a breakdown occurs.
“At Regale we offer to help our dealers when they are looking to quote for a microwave by asking what type of business they are selling to, what the microwave is to be used for, ie, major cooking appliance or a back-bar unit to heat the occasional item, as well as trying to find out what type and size of containers they are using to heat the food, and where the microwave is to be situated. This will help them make the correct choice for them and their customer.”
Looking forward, Bray predicted that inverter technology, such as that already seen on Panasonic domestic microwaves, has great potential in the commercial sector. “Inverter technology has already been shown to give a constant energy on medium and low settings (instead of switching on and off like traditional commercial microwaves do) which provides a perfect even cooking process whilst saving energy,” he commented. [[page-break]]
Supplier Jestic wants to see the standing of microwaves improved in the industry, with product director, Michael Eyre, saying: “Traditionally, these small unassuming appliances have been bestowed a poor reputation, seen as the alternative to skilful cooking and primarily used to simply regenerate or reheat food.
“However, with recent technological developments and the introduction of ‘Rapid Cook Technology’ which uses a combination of heating methods in one compact unit, modern microwave appliances have taken huge steps forward and have now become an almost essential part of a commercial catering setup.
"Offering comparable cooking results to traditional ovens but with significantly reduced times, lower energy consumption and enhanced working conditions, appliances using microwave technology can have significant benefits.”
Jestic is the exclusive UK distributor of the Atollspeed brand and offers both the Atollspeed Baking Centre and the Atollspeed AS300T microwave oven. New to the UK market, the Baking Centre features a convection oven with built in humidity. The AS300T, a version of which features in the Baking Centre, combines hot air impingement cooking with microwave technology. It is fitted with customisable programmes, a touch sensitive display and a USB port for updating menus.
In a separate development, Blackburn-based Pentland Wholesale recently introduced Blizzard commercial microwaves to the UK markets.
Two models are available: the light duty 1,000W, 25litre capacity version and the heavy duty 1,800W 34litre capacity model which is supplied with a stackable kit.
Both models have stainless steel interior and exterior, plus a sturdy aluminium handle, interior light, five power levels, three cooking stages, 10 programmable keys and 100 programmable menu settings.
Shahida Bibi, Pentland’s marketing and media communications manager reported: “We wanted to expand on our Blizzard range and we understood that there is a demand for a high quality machine at this price point.”
She believes that inverter technology is not in high demand as of yet however, due to its higher purchasing cost. But as a next technological step, she predicted: “We feel that advances in the semi-conductor manufacturing process will improve efficiency, reliability and costs.”
Dealers need to take account of the demands placed on the oven when specifying, according to Bibi. “Higher wattage ovens would be better suited to a busier environment. The quality of the cabinet construction and the physical size of the unit should also be considered, as well as the ease of cleaning the oven interior, because in a commercial environment these parts are open to neglect.” [[page-break]]
Supplier R H Hall offers both the Sharp and Maestrowave brands, with the Sharp range comprising heavy and extra heavy duty models from 1,000W to 1,900W power, available in touchpad or manual control versions.
The Maestrowave Combi Chef 7 is designed to operate in a variety and combination of cook modes to bake, roast, grill, steam, defrost, regenerate, microwave, boil or warm food. It has 11 cooking modes and up to 99 menus can be pre-programmed.
Kris Brearley, R H Hall’s sales director, detailed: “Leading brands are developing models with new features and functionality in response to customers looking for product innovation.
“One key is not just the equipment itself, but in menus and food products too – the marrying of equipment and food/menu developments to get the maximum quality, value for money and labour saving solutions.
“To specify the right kind of microwave, dealers should look at the menu being offered and decide what tasks the microwave oven should undertake. 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 an end user wishes to reheat and cook food products then a combination microwave oven is well advised.”
Brearley stressed it is important to specify the correct microwave oven wattage. “You need to select an oven with sufficient power, but just as importantly, do not over specify. If too low, frustrations can be caused by delays, and if too high, it will be difficult for the user to judge the timing of small portions.
"Whilst it is common for caterers to choose speed (the higher the output the faster the reheat times), it is also very important to understand that for some food products too much speed will destroy smaller portions of food or the delicate and sugary types of products.”
He also cautioned that dealers shouldn’t be tempted to go down the domestic equipment route. “These units simply aren’t built for the rigours of a professional kitchen. Likewise we would also recommend that cheap imports are also avoided – the testing, safety and product back-up that are offered by the leading brand names are often not available with a cheap import.”
He believes that microwaves will likely be more automated in future, particularly for multi-sited operations. “Menu consistency is key and machines which offer easy menu programming will become more and more appealing.” [[page-break]]
Elsewhere, R-B-Distributors acts as the UK wholesaler of Samsung microwaves, with the brand’s medium and heavy duty models claimed to be 35% larger than conventional sizes. This means they should be able to accommodate 2/3 gastronorm containers.
Samsung’s light duty SnackMate range has a power rating of 1,100W and is designed to be an entry level unit.
A recently-added feature on some Samsung models is a ‘Zap Pad’, which is a boost button that instantly adds 20 seconds to the cooking time.
Heather Beattie, product/brand manager of R-B-Distributors, feels there is an increasing move towards using commercial microwaves for prime cooking, rather than just for reheating and defrosting. “That being the case, expect to see more practical features that will help chefs in busy kitchens,” she said.
“Another big benefit with the microwave is its ease of use – especially at a time when there’s a shortage of skilled staff. So manufacturers will be looking to make their models even easier to operate.”
She believes reliability is critical: “3 years parts and labour is standard within the industry for high-end models from reputable brands. Back-up from manufacturers can vary so you need to check carefully. Samsung goes one step further and offers 3 years on all models including the entry level CM1089/1099. In addition we guarantee a same-day/next day call out with a 92% first time fix rate, and if we can’t fix it we’ll replace it.”
Over at Blue Badger, its microwave supply comprises Whirlpool and Daewoo light to heavy duty models including 60hz marine spec (1,100W and 1,850W programmable), which its MD, Mark Alexander, believes can cover most applications.
Blue Badger is offering new products from Daewoo: the 1,100W manual microwave (KOM9M11S) and the KOM9F85 (1,850W) which includes an LED internal lamp when supplied with the Microsave liner.
The Daewoo 1,100W light duty models include a 3 year on site warranty, while the 1,850W and 1,500W models are said to offer the largest internal floor space of any microwaves within the compact sector.
Alexander remarked: “With the trend to serve food on over-sized plates this can be an issue with some of the microwaves on the market, while the Daewoo models still offer plenty of room for the larger plates available.”
The supplier has recently launched the Whirlpool PRO25IX 1000 watt light duty commercial programmable microwave. Alexander commented: “This has been extremely well received, in fact embarrassingly we ran out of stock!” The unit comes with an onsite Whirlpool 1 year warranty. [[page-break]]
Alexander believes that the most important factors to consider when specifying a microwave include intended use – the durability and power needed, as well as the unit’s positioning.
“A microwave needs to be ventilated and takes in air, therefore positioning one directly next to a fryer or against a combination oven for example will cause the microwave to overheat and could clog the filters with grease,” he cautioned.
“It’s always best to position a microwave on the opposite side of the kitchen from the cook line. This is particularly important from the dealer’s point of view if they are designing the layout of the kitchen.”
He continued: “It is important that the dealer establishes the needs of the client and doesn’t just sell a specific microwave because that’s what the client asks for, it may not always be the best solution.”
At Ipswich Microwave Centre, its biggest sellers are the Panasonic NE 1853 and the Sharp R24at. The supplier’s owner, Phil Jacobs, commented: “These are both heavy duty powerful microwaves which stand up to the constant use of a busy kitchen. They have top and bottom magnetron feeds so the food reheats a lot more evenly. The light duty 1,000W and 1,100W are more suited to the dessert side and smaller cafes and restaurants.”
He reiterated the belief that dealers need to take into account what a microwave will be used to do. “So many times we hear it’s not up to the job, it’s slow, and it keeps breaking down. Prices can be as little as £239 up to more than £2,000, so there is a big difference.
“If just a dessert microwave is required then low end should be ok, but if it’s constant use for a few hours a day you really need heavy duty quality microwaves. We really quiz our customers in what it is going to be used for and most of the time a 1,800W and above model is needed.”
He predicts that in future more microwaves will come equipped with barcode readers so that food products can be scanned before they are placed in the appliance for automatic reheating.