Argh, that's probably in the top 5 list of phrases every restaurant operator dreads hearing the most.
So what to do about it? That's the question; how do you provide consistent dishes at the proper temperature? In a recent lab test with food technologists at a large chain, the folks there explained that, as consumers, we relate product taste to product temperature. One of the technologists even said it could be as much as 50% of the product quality rating. In other words, when we go out to eat, we want our cold foods cold and our hot foods hot. Simple, right? But what is that, and how do we get there consistently? Today let's focus on hot foods and how to keep them that way. We'll start at the table and work our way back to the kitchen.
When the 'order is up' in a full-service restaurant, the time it takes to go from the chef's counter to the table is critical, as it has to be a direct route with limited stops in between. That means that the tray has to be prepared and ready to go with the other meal parts. When the wait staff is ready to take the tray out, the last thing placed on the tray is the main plate. Sometimes this function is performed by an expediter. In quick-service restaurants, the drinks have to be ready to go before the order is bagged up and handed through the drive-thru window or placed on the tray for sit down dining.
The chef's counter (aka the landing area)
In full-service restaurants, this area is a critical point in the process. If you don't have a strip heater here, get one! Hatco has many types of elements and wattages to fit every need. What does it do exactly? By using infrared heat, the strip heater provides a warm landing area for plated food. Even if you can move the plates out quickly to the tables, heat transfer from the plated food to the environment can cause cooling. Strip heaters are designed to keep hot food hot but not continue the cooking process.
In situations where orders tend to be large and plating of food takes time, you may also want to consider a base heat, such as Hatco's heated shelf options. Why? Well, here's an experiment you can try at home. Take a hot plate of food and set it on a stainless steel counter, letting it sit for a few minutes. Remove the plate and feel the surface, and you will find that the area where the plate was is warmer than the rest of the counter. That means the heat from the food transferred through the plate to the counter, and the food has cooled. It is a similar situation in quick-service restaurants at the drive-thru where bagged orders sit in the queue as the next customer pulls up. A heated landing area or a heated shelf here that is warm enough to limit the heat transfer will go a long way in keeping food at the right temperatures.
Hot food holding prior to assembly
Hot food is often made up ahead of time and kept in an array of equipment — from heated wells, drawer warmers, holding cabinets, fry stations, etc. This makes assembly of the customer order faster and easier for the crew. Selecting the right piece of equipment for the right food product is essential to maintain proper holding temperatures, and as luck would have it, Hatco can help in all of that. Since there are so many products and so many equipment options, contacting your Hatco representative for expert help is your best bet!
Cooking and production
This is the first step in the process and is the most critical for several reasons. Ensuring that food products are properly prepared is crucial because if the temperature is low as it's being cooked, you cannot bring the food up to its right temperature during the rest of the process. Keep in mind that all of the products previously mentioned are 'food keeper warmers' and not 'food warmer uppers,' so to speak.
Different food products must be prepared in accordance with health code standards, and those can vary by product and health code. Holding temperatures can also vary depending on those same factors. Consult your local authorities if you have any questions. Hatco has a handy chart for you to reference as well.
No more cold food complaints!
Contact us today, and cold food complaints will be one less thing keeping you up at night! And check out our infographic on the warming and holding solutions, from chef to customer and everywhere in between, that you can use to keep food temperatures safe and hot.
Written by Lou Anich, Hatco Director of Key Accounts.