Technology is up and prices are down but what should pub chefs look for when selecting a microwave? Danny Blyth reports
Time was - and not that long ago - that pub chefs seeking a new microwave needed a long, hard look at the budget. No longer. For now we have something of a buyer's market in which prices have fallen considerably - particularly for the heavier duty and more powerful machines. Often we're paying less for a 1900-watt today than for a medium-duty machine more than 10 years ago.
Christopher Drury at professional catering equipment supplier Valera, says that technological improvements are paying off for the pub chef.
"There's been a lot of investment put into heavy-duty ovens, which really do deliver speed of service - and so they're
extremely good value compared to 10 to 15 years ago," he says. "We've seen great demand for the heavy-duty machine as
caterers look for greater speed of service. And at the same time we've seen growth in the 1100-watt sector, which is used for smaller items like snacks."
Christopher believes that most pub chefs using 1900-watt ovens as standard is no bad thing when it comes to end quality of the food served.
"The caterer is much more knowledgeable these days, after all microwaves have now been around for 40 years," he says.
"Plus we're seeing ovens that are quicker and easier to use.
"We've been working with Sanyo for some time on making things more user friendly, right down to producing a manual
that isn't half-an-inch thick but instead is easy and quick to follow."
His key tip for the buyer is to carefully assess capacity. Some machines have slightly larger capacities but unless you are regularly using items such as big casserole dishes, you are paying for empty space.
Meanwhile, with so many bargains available it's surprising to learn that some pubs are still using domestic models in
their kitchens - something to be avoided says Russel Isaac of Bradshaw Microwave, distributor of the Amana and Menumaster brands. "Not only is this usually a false economy, it could also now get them into trouble with insurers, thanks to a new standard which, for the first time, provides a specific certification for approved commercial microwaves.
"Generally, buying domestic microwaves is a false economy anyway. They're invariably not up to the task and pub owners
end up spending more on replacing worn-out domestic ovens than they would have on one proper commercial oven - and a light-duty commercial model may cost far less than they think."
But more important, stresses Russel, is the new PART 90 standard which provides a specific certification, EEC335-2-90, for commercial microwaves.
Pub owners should ensure their microwaves comply for two reasons, he says: "Firstly, the use of domestic ovens in a
non-approved environment may invalidate their insurance, and secondly, it may be interpreted as a 'hazard' to personnel,
which can now bring personal liability in the event of an accident."
Whatever commercial machine pubs buy, looking after it should be a priority, according to Ray Hall, managing director at RH Hall, supplier of the Sharp and Maestrowave ranges.
He suggests a simple, three-point plan for best practice:
1. Keep the oven cavity and inner door clean of food spillage. This will avoid cavity burn ups, prolong the life of the machine's heart, the magnetron, and help consistency and speed of reheat/cook times.
2. Clean the oven's filter weekly. This will ensure that the correct flow of clean, filtered air is able to pass over the
microwave's critical components and therefore prolong the machine's life. The filter is usually located on the underside of the machine and is designed for simple removal/cleaning.
3. Service the machine every six/12 months. A very simple and low-cost service, this will ensure safety and life expectancy and, importantly, help avoid breakdowns at times when they are least expected or needed.