How can kitchen designers and buyers really tell they are getting true value for money when specifying fabrication? The industry would benefit from some sort of regulation or official guidelines, writes Paul Arnold of Tricon Foodservice Consultants.
"It is somewhat ironic that while fabrication is usually a major aspect of any foodservice or catering design project, the industry suffers from a lack of transparency and standards as far as quality and durability is concerned.
Generally speaking, if you look at the market today there remains a lack of education and knowledge outside of the fabrication houses and a lack of enforcement of the specified standards, which can certainly create challenges for commercial kitchen designers and specification writers.
This is not just limited to back-of-house stainless steel fabrication, but front-of-house food counters as well. There are companies out there that will play on these facts and offer up a sub-standard product with the aim of undercutting price or increasing mark-up value, but unfortunately the only party that suffers in the end is the end-user client.
The solution or blame does not fall squarely on the shoulders of an individual, but rather the industry as a whole: consultants, catering equipment distributors and the fabricators. It is my view that a large proportion of the industry has fallen into the trap of assessing fabrication purely on how it looks and not on how it is built.
To coin a phrase from a car advert, we are guilty of ‘It looks just like a Golf’ syndrome, without a thought for what goes on the inside! In some ways, the situation in the commercial sector is not too dissimilar to the domestic kitchen market where a £2,000 kitchen might look exactly the same as a £10,000 one from a distance. But once you get closer you will notice the differences in worktop quality, installation tolerances, upstand details and jointing details.
Dig even deeper and you will find the drawer and door hinges aren’t as heavy duty, the linings of the drawers are more flimsy, the cabinets have a lack of back panels and the duty of the support frame is thinner or less frequent. Then you get into the construction, where one will be a simple, screwed construction and the other will have tongue-and-groove joints. What one do you think will stand the test of time better?
I know the above example is for a domestic kitchen, but its relevance still remains. If a £10,000 kitchen has been asked for, that is what is required. Do not try and sell a £2,000 kitchen as the same quality as the £10,000 one.
As I have said, there is no one single point of fault here, we are where we are, but we do not have to stay here. Collectively we can make improvements. All it takes is communication. Perhaps the FCSI, CEDA and CESA could take more of a regulatory role, not just with fabrication but the whole of the industry and establish some code of conducts for members to adhere to.
As a consultant I welcome any conversations with fabricators to better hone my specifications to make them more stringent and get a greater understanding of the fabrication process and key component parts.
It has been said to me quite often that “so and so does not weld all the way round the tube frame, only spot welds”, “the way they run their wiring loose does not conform to IEE regs”, “units are not constructed with full box tube frame work, just folded stainless steel strips” and “the stainless you can’t see is only 430 or galvanised, not 304”.
I am also aware that sometimes specifications may seem over the top and the named fabricators may not be the cheapest on the market, but that is the requirement and should be what is priced.
A specification serves no greater purpose other than laying out the project requirements desired by the client. Unfortunately there are some contractors out there that see fit to undermine this and cheapen the specification in the name of being seen as competitive or for a higher GP return. As soon as a project QS gets wind of the lower price it becomes a little hard to ignore and has to be validated.
The negative impact this has on a project is hard to measure, as once it is with the QS it has to be assessed. There is more emphasis on price in today’s market and a retort of “it’s just not as good and won’t last as long or look as good as the other” argument no longer holds much wind. This is where the education comes into play!
Knowing how and why something is cheaper or inferior is key to informing the client. This could include reduction of life expectancy, increased impact sound from worktops, lack of site-measured, ‘made to measure’ units, lower grade of stainless, poor or visible joint welds, inferior drawer runners or door hinges, and reduced support framework and weld joints.
It would be handy to have a simplistic ‘essentials’ tick-list to work through that hits minimum requirements for fabrication qualities, so the uneducated among us can sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to fabrication.
This would help differentiate between the basic, low-end ‘flat pack type spec’ built typically for 1-3 year contract catering periods, the mid-way specs built typically for higher-end B&I establishments that will last 5-10 years, and the battleship-type quality specifications made to last for anything between 10-20 years.
It is not an easy thing to come up with, but with the right level of education and correct management of expectations we can make the market place more transparent. Let’s not moan behind closed doors — get it out in the open and tackle the issues head on.
I am open to any discussions to help improvement, but this needs to happen industry-wide in an open forum to have any real impact."
Paul Arnold is Senior Design Consultant at Tricon Foodservice Consultants, which has created some of the most successful hospitality operations in EMEA during the last 30 years. www.tricon.co.uk