WORKHORSE: Restaurants that crank out the food would be advised to buy a heavy-duty range.
NOT YOUR DADDY'S RANGE: Manufacturers have made great strides in recent years to update and modernize cooking ranges.
The term range in foodservice has come to mean just about any of an assortment of flat cooking surfaces. The term originated as an appliance that "could cook a range of dishes at the same time." Ranges are the backbone of today's kitchen production equipment. These workhorses have changed little over the past generation, yet remain an invaluable equipment item in most kitchens. Today, design consultants and operators work together to create an integrated cooking battery.
There are at least 10 range manufacturers producing quality equipment in the United States. The majority of the basic operating features are common to most of the manufacturers with only a few exceptions. Often times, though, manufacturers have a few of their own special features that may make them the supplier of choice for your specific needs. Some of these special features include a slightly narrower range for a very tight space, special range top configurations or availability of special finishes.
Most manufacturers have two lines of equipment: a heavy-duty line that can be "batteried" together into a continuous lineup of ranges and a lighter-duty series called restaurant ranges. The restaurant ranges are often smaller in both length and width and built less ruggedly for lower volume operations. Even though the heavy-duty range costs nearly double the price of a restaurant range, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost.
The restaurant range does have its place, though, in a snack bar or low-usage area. Restaurant ranges have some nice features that would be welcome in heavy-duty versions, such as the all-in-one range. These ranges have a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five-or six-foot unit, which is perfect for the small operation with tight quarters.
The Island Range
Aside from the "traditional" range and cooking battery, there is the island range, sometimes called a Waldorf or European-style range. They have been popular in Europe for more than a century. This style of back-to-back banked ranges has only recently made a big impact on the American dining scene, but is expected to become more popular in coming years. The great thing about an island cooking arrangement is that it merchandises well in an open kitchen environment. When operated properly with trained staff, the island range battery can put on a tremendous show by bringing your kitchen talent in contact with the dining room guest.
Most of what makes ranges different is the configuration of the cooktop. The range of options available is one of the areas where manufacturers are becoming sensitive to user needs. They have, in many cases, taken the view of the operator in offering options that perhaps were not available in past years, such as mixing a cooktop with a refrigerated cold pan unit. Manufacturers are trying to provide options that make cooks' jobs easier and give them the flexibility they need.
In addition to the cooktop choice, you must also decide what to put above and below the cooktop to take full advantage of the available space. Let's first look below the range. Your basic choices are an oven base, storage base or no base if you mount the range on a table or on a specially constructed refrigerator. A storage base is sometimes convenient for storing sautè pans when not in use. The most popular base, though, is an oven. The oven always seems to come in handy and, at about a $500 upcharge over a storage base, is the least expensive oven you will ever buy.
Also available are convection oven bases that tend to be costly, about $2,000 more than a standard oven. Typically, the convection oven is just large enough for an 18" x 26" baking pan and only about 14" high inside. Convection ovens often add to the depth of the range, so be sure to consider the size when making the purchase decision.
The power source is an important consideration in choosing ranges. Some manufacturers make both gas and electric models while others specialize in one or the other. Many traditional chefs prefer gas equipment because of the instant heat. In most areas of the country gas is less expensive to use compared to electricity, but availability of utilities and local fuel costs should be determining factors in the energy decision. Be sure to mention to your supplier if you're going to use bottled gas because the equipment requires special burners depending upon the type of gas.
Considerations When Purchasing a Range
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 301-926-8181.