Ovens and Fryers: Best Food Equipment Practices at Family Entertainment Centers

A little foresight goes a long way in buying and maintaining ovens and fryers to serve up scrumptious food for the lively guests of the family entertainment center environment. According to Joe Guido, catering manager for Calypso’s Cove, Old Forge, N.Y., “It definitely helps to know what you’re going to use the equipment for and to know your capacity needs. If, for example, you’ll serve funnel cakes in your business, you won’t want a counter top fryer. Make sure you buy equipment that fits the job.”
Guido noted that at Calypso’s Cove, the research often leads to buying used equipment. He watches restaurant auctions and eBay, where he’s gotten good deals.
Whatever equipment that is chosen, Guido is confident that maintenance is key. “Take care of everything as you go along and you shouldn’t have any big problems.”
He stays on top of cleaning the fryer with the product Boil Out Fryer Cleaner, added once a week, to boiling hot water after draining the oil out, scrubbing the sides with a pad to remove the residue. He also changes the oil out as needed.
Good oven and fryer “hygiene” is often learned in hindsight. Starting with a new fryer, without regular maintenance, carbon builds up. “After a certain point, the only option is replacement, so maintenance is very important,” said Fun Tiki, Missouri City, Texas, General Manager Chris Smith.
The cooking equipment was already installed when Smith began working at Fun Tiki. However, he recalled from previous years in fast food, to keep the fryer filtered, based on the amount of business. “With high volume, frequent filtering throughout the day extends the life of the fryer, and changing the oil as needed maintains the quality of the food.”
If shopping for new equipment, convenience is Smith’s top priority, as in new fryer systems with automatic oil changing capability to both eliminate risk of being burned and need of additional equipment to complete the process.
Equipment purchased 11 years ago has held up quite well for Fun Quest FEC, Collierville, Tenn. The Blodgett Pizza Oven is a work horse and has very few problems, said General Manager Vickie Martin. “Once a month we remove the chain that feeds the pizza dough through and clean it, using oven cleaner and a scrub brush because things drip and fall on it from pans that have holes in them. We put it out back on the sidewalk on a tarp, hose it off, and scrub. Then we go into where belts are, keep it blown out and dust free, wipe out what collects there, and use veggie spray to keep vents clean, then wipe it down with polish.”
The same degree of cleaning is applied to the Quik N’ Crispy fryer. Both pan and basket are removed and cleaned and the top fryer compartment that houses the fan is wiped down. “Monthly cleaning keeps it pretty maintenance-free throughout the month,” Martin said.
She recommended anyone ready to purchase new equipment search for reputable commercial distributors, for example, those that supply large pizza chain restaurants, and poll them regarding the commercial grade equipment they use. She noted the Blodgett oven accommodates precooked foods as well as pizza.  
Martin’s resourcefulness paid off when she began working at Fun Quest. “When I got here there were no manuals left. I knew there was a way for the chain to come off, had to figure that out and then it was no trouble at all.”  
The used market has been the way to go for Steve Gilbert, owner of Putters Edge, Eugene, Ore., yet he recommends others going the same route be careful and thorough in their research.
His practice is to consult a distributor that advises him on types of equipment, warranties, ratings and recommendations to others. “Search out distributors that sell variety and ask for the fact sheets to read thoroughly.” He added to be aware that the disposable fryers typically have a shorter life and can’t be worked on as more expensive versions. Nonetheless, his choice is to find one simple machine, hope to get a long life out of it with careful maintenance, and to not depend on expensive repair services.
And for others doing the same, he suggested, “Find out the history on equipment that other restaurants use and use their expertise to buy the right one.”
On ovens, Gilbert explained the choice between the deck oven, which requires someone to watch the food so that it does not burn, and the conveyor model, that transports food out when it is done. “The deck is simpler, less expensive, and less can go wrong.”  
From purchase on, said Gilbert, “Preventive maintenance is the single best thing to do. Also have a well-trained maintenance person to work on them as needed.”  
“Be sure to filter grease, or spend twice as much money on supplies,” said Robin Harrington, manager of Junction Lanes FEC, Newnan, Ga. Another preventative measure is to research companies with a good track record when purchasing new equipment, high quality name brands such as Star and Broaster, with strong warranties, and if choosing grease fryers, to maintain them properly.
Harrington chose to install two of the greaseless, ventless fryers gaining popularity from Quik N’ Crispy, for greaseless frying. “A lot of folks do not like the grease and these work well for appetizers and some entrees. The  automatic filter sucks grease out and keeps the bottom clean of debris daily, makes food taste good but also makes any grease used last twice as long.”
At establishments such as Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center in Batavia, Ill., where cleaning services are used, they can be very satisfying. Funway General Manager Janet Dieter recalled, “The first day the fryer cleaning service came in, micro filtered the oil and cleaned inside of the fryer,  it looked brand new like the first day it was bought. It saved the fryers, they’re more efficient, and we get more life out of the oil.”
The Bakers Pride Oven is as simple to maintain as sweeping it out when the cleaning is complete, Dieter added.  
The scrupulous ongoing maintenance that equipment owners credit as best practice, demonstrates a trend in the industry that manufacturer, Nieco Automatic Broilers Co-owner, Tom Baker notices alongside a market trend. The Nieco automatic conveyor boiler fills a niche for the gourmet hamburger on the rise in popularity and for the backyard flame-broiled flavor in a burger people want.
As for commercial kitchen equipment upkeep, Baker remarked, “We’re seeing what we’ve not seen in 35 years, people more proactive about a preventive maintenance program, keeping parts on hand, keeping equipment clean and functioning properly, which is big on longevity. The more maintenance, the less problems, which wasn’t always the case.”
“The economy plays a role too, because owners don’t want to buy new equipment and it’s easier to keep these clean than throw away and buy new, which they historically do in good times.” –
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