While microwaves are well-known as the foodservice industry’s prime solution to quick heating and reheating of food, are catering equipment dealers fully informed as to their full capacity and capabilities? We asked specialist suppliers to reveal their expert advice for distributors looking to specify the accelerated cooking staple.
RH Hall’s head of sales Duncan Vipas underlined: “A microwave is a true kitchen essential and has a place in every kitchen. It is traditionally seen as an enhancement to use alongside other items of prime cooking equipment, but its versatility is often underestimated and it can be of particular use where space or budgets are limited.”
He believes that most dealers would view the main benefit of microwaves as the reheating of cooked food product, boosting food temperatures and defrosting usage. “However, today’s kitchen demands rely on microwave ovens for much wider tasks. Understanding a microwave and getting the right techniques for each type of food, succulent meat, poultry and fish together with perfectly cooked vegetables that retain taste, texture and nutritive value are all possible,” he said.
“Many of the techniques used in microwave cooking are the same as used in conventional cooking, but with a few minor adjustments. There is a great deal of diversity of dishes that can be prepared quickly and easily from fresh ingredients, and to get the most from a microwave the right education and budget should be provided.”
Vipas feels that RH Hall can play an essential part of the dealer education process: “At RH Hall we train our distributors to be able to offer the best advice and training to the end user. We also have an extensive facility at our HQ fitted out with all the very latest equipment so clients and distributors can see and operate a number of microwaves in addition to a very wide range of kitchen equipment.”
He emphasised: “It is very important to choose the correct microwave oven wattage. You need to choose an oven with sufficient power, but just as importantly, do not over specify. If too low, you can be frustrated by delays, and if too high, it will be difficult 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.
“A recent development in the commercial microwave market is the introduction of inverter technology, which differs from traditional microwaves by providing constant, rather than pulsed, power when cooking, reheating or defrosting at reduced power levels. For example, a traditional microwave set at 50% will pulse by switching power on and off throughout the cooking period, which can lead to uneven results in some foods. Inverter technology will provide a precise and constant supply of power at 50%, making it easier to cook or reheat foods slowly and defrost dishes to perfection. Thanks to precise temperature control, you can cook, reheat or defrost a far greater variety of dishes that conventional microwaves were previously not able to prepare to the same high standard. Our team can advise further on the results available from inverter technology.”
Over at Panasonic UK, when questioned on whether microwaves could be a substitute for any other cooking appliance, business development manager Jared Greenhalgh responded: “A microwave shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a replacement for other items of equipment, but it can be considered as a complement to the kitchen.
“Choosing the right type of microwave can support an operation and save money. For example, the Panasonic Gastronorm range of ovens can be used to regenerate full-sized Gastronorm trays instead of using a combi oven, and in a restaurant where single dish regeneration or heating is needed, the NE-1878 provides unrivalled control of variable power to not only offer speed, but the best quality output, with gentle, even heating.”
In terms of dealers’ awareness of the available options, he acknowledged: “Dealers need to have such a breadth of knowledge, across a wide variety of equipment, suited to all kinds of operation, that it would be unfair to expect them to know all the intricacies of every manufacturer’s range. We believe that our role is one of support and when dealers are in need of detailed guidance, we can be there for them, to work with them as an extension to their own teams.
“Power capability is one of the factors we can advise on in order to determine the correct microwave to recommend a customer; the environment of the operation, style of food being served, capabilities of the kitchen staff, time and space limitations of service, turnover of covers and budget are all considerations.”
Greenhalgh concluded: “Hopefully we have all moved on from assuming a microwave oven is merely for reheating and defrosting, but with multiple companies offering numerous models, it is up to manufacturers to support dealers with the full scope of individual machines and the USPs that can benefit operators.
“We currently run online training sessions with dealers to convey an overall understanding on the scope of the machines and we encourage participation in design-led projects so we can specify the correct machine from early on. For instance, in an open kitchen, where aesthetics are important, our full metal door NE-1878 would fit the bill perfectly, but wouldn’t necessarily be at the forefront of a designer’s considerations.”
Elsewhere, Blue Badger Wholesale’s senior account manager Tom Phillips asserted: “There is so much a microwave can do, and having worked on the cook line, there are many methods to speed up the cooking process. Most outlets rely on speed of service. With current lockdowns and hygiene measures, this is going to be very important to maximise revenue. Programmable microwaves can also be a selling point too as operators can programme times for particular foods/dishes easing food service.”
He suggested that because of a microwave’s speed, it could be used as an alternative to methods that would usually take longer, such as cooking in a pan to reheat. “I think microwaves are easily associated with reheating frozen meals, rather than being considered as a different method for cooking foods. Sometimes a quick flash in the microwave before baking in the oven can speed up a process and deliver the same result, but quicker. This could be because it is overlooked in training due to the view of it being just a microwave.”
In terms of how to correctly specify microwave power, Phillips added: “I think sometimes they are over specified. Sometimes the reduced power can be only an extra 20 seconds of cook time. As long as the correct practices are in place and temperatures and quality are checked then it doesn’t matter. The end user needs to understand what the unit can do and what/how it can achieve this.”
While Brian Lavelle, northern Europe sales manager at Menumaster brand supplier Culimat, identified speed, consistency and labour and time saving as essential factors in specifying microwaves. “Depending on the model and application, a microwave could be a plug and play piece of kit, but it can be so much more. For example, the OnCue pop up door from Menumaster can be a visual prompt for staff as well as cooking super-fast in its 2,400W small cavity – and it has the ability to pre-program using a state-of-the-art menu management application and load via a USB stick for the DEC series. This makes changing and updating menus extremely easy for dealers’ customers.”
When asked if dealers are entirely across how to correctly specify microwave power, he said: “Not completely; most dealers just follow what they know and are comfortable in selling without fully understanding the engineering and microwave distribution that can affect the final dish. Those differences would be evident in time, labour, energy, and money savings as a start.
“For example, Menumaster/Amana microwaves offer superior microwave coverage compared to our nearest competitor. If your current microwave is not offering effective coverage this can be costing longer cook times, wasted energy and unnecessary staff waiting times. Using the right type of microwave can save operators tens of thousands per year, guaranteed.”
On dealers’ knowledge of usage scope, Lavelle believes: “Most are familiar with small, lower wattage microwave ovens and what they can do. However, higher wattage microwave products and other items that include microwave assist can be unbelievably valuable assets to any kitchen. They are versatile pieces of equipment that can accurately and consistently cook nearly any product for less cost than many other methods. For example, a waterless steamer is a microwave that doesn’t get enough credit. You can go from the freezer to the table in minutes and operators can batch cook in two high heat 1/1 GN pans at the same time. Also, the added benefits of not requiring ventilation or direct water hook up, descaling or excessive maintenance all add to the unique benefits of using a steamer.”
One relatively new entrant to the microwave supply market, building on its servicing expertise, is Marren. Launching its own range last year, the maintenance firm knows all about the key considerations for microwave specification. Business development manager Kelly Barrell analysed: “Microwaves have always had a place in commercial kitchens and are generally purchased as an accompaniment to a key piece of equipment. Taking up a very little footprint, when space is a commodity, microwaves help to improve the speed of service and can be used by any member of staff within the commercial kitchen environment.
“For a dealer to establish whether a microwave would better serve the customer, they would need to understand the operator’s menu and kitchen operation, so that the right specification can be given.”
She further advised: “The key elements to understand when specifying a microwave are speed or cost? Small or large capacity? Browning or no browning? In my experience, dealers fully understand the scope of microwave usage, however in a number of cases the client is not always fully aware of their own usage, which makes it difficult to specify. In these cases, it is safer to over-spec than under spec, but unfortunately at the cost of the customer.
“Operators understanding the types of food they intend to serve and the speed in which they need to serve it, will aid the dealer in appropriately specify the correct type of microwave and without unnecessarily wasting the customer’s budget.”
For sites where demand is sporadic, or the operator is looking to reduce food waste, Barrell believes that microwaves can offer an alternative to soup kettles: “Instead of holding 10litres of soup for a limited period of time, portions can be quickly warmed and served via a microwave oven. This reduces the amount of food waste and lessens the need for another piece of equipment. Operators can portion ahead, freeze, thaw and reheat,” she said.
Barrell concluded: “Dealers have always been aware that microwaves are an essential add-on to the majority of kitchen fit outs and specify according to the customer’s requirements. In my experience dealers are correctly specifying microwave power and very much led by the customer.”