FIZZ: A great beverage dispensing system will quickly pay for itself.
EASY: Super-automatic coffee machines produce a consistent product every time.
Quick, efficient and convenient beverage dispensing is vital in the service area. To achieve high efficiency, it's important to choose the right beverage equipment. You'll need a well-orchestrated layout of the beverage service area to deliver the best product to your customer. Here are a few tips on some new beverage equipment and some systems that have been improved.
Soda Dispensers. There are two main varieties of soda equipment—soda towers and soda guns. The most popular styles of soda towers are about two feet by two feet in length and width. A typical dispenser has six beverage valves and an ice dispensing point. An integral ice bin above or below can usually hold about 100 to 150 pounds of ice.
In many operations, it's no longer acceptable to offer only four to six fountain flavors. The newer jumbo fountain beverage dispensers are twice as big, offer up to 12 soda valves and a 300-pound ice bin. These units were developed primarily with the high volume c-store in mind, but can be used in high-volume foodservice operations as well.
Besides the traditional soda tower, bars often use soda guns on flexible hoses for speed pouring mixers in cocktails. Bar guns can dispense a variety of carbonatedand noncarbonated beverages through the same faucet. These units save time making drinks as well as eliminating the space occupied by a beverage tower.
Bar guns can sometimes be beneficial in a busy restaurant wait station where the wait staff can bring the dispenser to the glass rather than going through the extra motion of holding a glass up to a dispenser. Other configurations of carbonated beverage dispensers can be custommade using standard drink valves in customized housings. Carbonated frozen beverage dispensers are sometimes seen in restaurants, but more often in convenience stores. These machines operate much like a typical soft-serve machine, but are specially equipped to maintain carbonation in the freezing cylinders to provide specialized drinks.
Chilling a carbonated beverage is essential to quality, flavor and maintaining carbonation. Beverage lines can be chilled two ways—using ice from the dispenser through a cold plate or using a separate mechanical cooling system. Each system has advantages and disadvantages. The cold plate can use up to half of the ice in storage to chill the beverage lines, but can be less expensive than a mechanical system. Since the cold plate has fewer mechanical parts, it generally requires a minimum amount of maintenance. A disadvantage, besides using ice, is lack of consistent drink quality due to fluctuations in the dispensing temperature.
Electric chiller systems. In some cases, especially high-volume applications, it's preferable to use an electric chiller system. The mechanical system refrigerates the carbonated water prior to serving and is usually able to maintain the optimum dispensing temperature. Large-capacity refrigerated systemscan dispense a variety of beverages in a short time consistently below 40°F. The mechanical refrigeration system will not use up ice at the bin and can be remotely located, thereby freeing up space at the dispenser. The primary disadvantage is that a mechanical system can be costly if purchased.
The most important thing to consider when purchasing a soda dispenser is not necessarily the equipment itself. The vast majority of the equipment on the market will perform adequately and dependably under the right circumstances. The most important consideration is water quality. Since all of these beverages are over 80% water, it's water that your customer will taste. If your water tastes bad, so will your beverage. A water filter or some other purifying device in the water line before the water reaches your dispenser is a must. In-line water filters are reasonably priced and usually worth the expense.
Dispensing temperature is another important factor. Served with ice, cold beverages when dispensed too warm will melt the ice too rapidly, causing a watered-down drink. Check the beverage temperatures periodically and be sure the cooling equipment is well maintained to provide the optimum serving temperature.
The other key factor in serving postmix beverages is the ratio of syrup concentrate to water, or brix. The ratio must be checked periodically to maintain the proper ratio or drinks will taste too sweet or watered down, not satisfying your customer.
With each of these items considered and the proper equipment selected, soda drinks can be an appealing and extremely profitable item served in your establishment.
Coffee equipment. Most operations, other than banquet halls, tend to stay away from the large urns producing gallons of coffee per batch. A common purchasing mistake operators make is buying too large a coffee maker. A twin three-gallon urn can make enough for more than 600 cups of coffee per hour, and a single brew in one urn can generally serve one seating for a 100-seat operation.
An urn does not allow a small operation to deal effectively with decaf coffee or any other special blends or flavored coffees, which are popular. Small, fresh batches of various coffees are the way to go if staff are available to keep up. Customers will appreciate the freshness.
The small decanter or bottle brewers have been around for decades and will serve well, although some operators believe there is a safety concern because of spilling and also the potential for breakage. An alternative to bottle brewers are shuttles, which are insulated, transport well and dispense product easily through a faucet. These shuttles are great for a line-up of coffee flavors.
Another popular serving method is the airpot. Airpots are completely sealed and insulated dispensers. According to manufacturers, airpots can hold temperature and quality at least several hours. Airpots are attractive and easy for customers to operate in self-serve applications. They are also excellent for serving a variety of specialty or flavored coffees. A group of airpots can be held on a rack, making merchandising easy if you have a buffet or self-serve operation.
Several sizes of airpots and shuttles are available. The general rule is to use the smallest size that makes sense for your volume so you can still provide the freshest coffee possible. Airpots and shuttles are perfect for those who want to serve a variety of drinks.
Just like with soda, if you want to make your operation known for a great cup of coffee, one item—water quality—cannot be overemphasized. A cup of coffee has just two ingredients—coffee and water. The vast majority of what is in each cup is water, so it's imperative to treat your water like a valuable resource. Getting a high-quality water filter that removes minerals and impurities is as important as getting a good coffee or coffee maker.
Being able to offer a good espresso for most restaurant operations today is a must. There are many machines on the market made in a variety of sizes, capabilities and ease of operation. A match to your expected volume is easy to make once you decide on the degree of sophistication needed for your machine.
Because of staff training needed to operate manual machines, the super-automatics are becoming more popular. Establishments see the need for a consistent product and quick service. If you don't buy a fully automatic machine, you will likely need to train someone to operate the equipment.
Super-automatic machines are popular, but often very expensive. They do, however, produce a quality, consistent espresso with minimum waste and little chance for operator error. Some fully automatic machine are so simple to operate that they are specifically for the self-service market and are perfect for snack bars or cafeterias.
Your customers expect beverage variety and quality when dining out. Give them the best selection you can with equipment matched to your volume. The beverage service area must be planned with speed and efficiency in mind. Choose equipment that will best support your needs. The profit margins on many types of beverages are good and product cost low, but you will need plenty of variety and the right equipment to deliver the best product to your guest.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.