Record high inflation, rising food, labor, and utility costs along with ongoing staffing shortages are leading many restaurant operators to wonder if a recession is looming. Could what lies ahead be worse than what they faced during the pandemic?
There’s no question about it. Food prices are soaring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food index shot up by more than 10 percent in May, making it the largest increase in 40 years.
If there’s a silver lining for restaurant operators, it’s that while menu prices at restaurants and fast-food locations increased 7.4 percent compared to last year, grocery prices rose nearly 12 percent annually, far outpacing the increase at restaurants. It’s a small advantage, but one restaurant operators welcome as they actively explore ways to minimize the impact inflation is having on their business and diners’ wallets.
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. And restaurants from fine dining, fast casual, and quick service establishments are serving up innovation and cost-cutting measures ranging from slimming down menus and adjusting portion sizes to debuting new value deals and modifying product composition, a practice also known as “menu engineering.”
Harness Your Kitchen’s Workhorse: The Deep Fryer
Apart from the aforementioned cost-cutting measures, what else can restaurant operators do to reduce costs and expenses and grow profits? One surprising answer lies with a piece of equipment nearly all restaurant operators already own: their commercial fryer.
The commercial fryer is one of the most expensive pieces of commercial kitchen equipment, so it’s no surprise the profit margin associated with fried food products is likewise high. How high? According to a new report on the commercial fryer market in the U.S., fried foods bring in an average profit margin of 75 percent. Globally, the deep fryer market is expected to surpass $612 million by 2026.
In tough economic times, having the right fryer is important too, especially when you consider that some low-oil volume fryers can deliver up to $5,000 in annual oil savings when compared to other fryers.
If properly maintained and operated, your deep fryer can deliver direct savings associated with using less oil, lower energy costs, and greater throughput, as well as indirect savings associated with ongoing staff training, automatic oil filtration, and routine cleaning, all of which play a vital role in food quality.
During off hours, your deep fryer can also drive revenue and increase profits when operating for a virtual restaurant, catering business, or leased to a reputable third-party.
So, what can you do to maximize the profit associated with your commercial fryer? We spoke with some leading experts in the restaurant industry, as well as food service operators and asked them to identify their ‘Top 3’ tips. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Maximize Your Fryer’s Throughput
Your commercial deep fryer may be your most versatile piece of restaurant equipment. Depending on your menu, you may currently use it to fry baskets of crispy French fries and crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the inside chicken. Considering the profit margin associated with fried foods, you may want to explore your options and do more with your fryer.
Shelley Swartztrauber is the owner of Rob’s Restaurant & Catering in Brookville, Ohio. In business since 1976, Shelley’s customers are loyal and faithfully frequent the restaurant seven days a week, ordering up any number of homemade daily specials or lining up for the restaurant’s always popular buffet.
During the pandemic, like other restaurants, Swartztrauber had to close for a few months. When she was able to reopen, though not for in-person dining, she made a purchase decision that helped keep the restaurant afloat and expand her catering business.
“We bought a 4-head pressure fryer, manufactured by Henny Penny, which we used to fry up buckets of chicken for our customers who would order online or over the phone and pick up their orders curbside.” It’s a purchase decision Swartztrauber said was one of her best, and one she’s never regretted.
“It truly sustained us during the pandemic and kept our customers happy. And, when we were able to open our doors and restart our catering business, it’s truly been our kitchen’s superstar, frying between 900 and 1,000 pounds of chicken a week.”
Or, An Online-only Restaurant
Introducing a virtual brand, operating out of your existing restaurant’s kitchen, is another way to expand and capitalize on your fryer’s throughput.
HOA Brands, which is the franchisor of Hooters, as well as the fast-casual brand Hoots Wings, knows all about the profit potential associated with opening virtual restaurants. It has three, including Hootie’s Chicken Tenders, Hootie’s Burger Bar, and Hootie’s Bait and Tackle.
“Everybody has the ability to do a virtual concept,” said Marc Butler, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning, HOA Brands. “Just think through what you have on your menu and how you can make yourself stand out without creating a lot of complexity for your store. That’s the first step.”
Last, but not Least…Leasing
If the prospect of opening a virtual restaurant or catering business just isn’t for you, allowing your restaurant’s kitchen to be leased out by a reputable home-based food business or food truck operator during off hours is another way to generate a supplemental revenue stream for your restaurant
2. Prioritize Your Fryer’s Profit-producing Potential
While fried chicken isn’t going away anytime soon, you could increase your restaurant’s operating profit by adding more affordable vegetable entrees, appetizers, and side dishes to your menu. And, they don’t have to be boring, just ask Chef Gregg Brickman, our own Corporate Executive Chef.
“More and more restaurants are serving up vegetable dishes like buffalo cauliflower, bang-bang cauliflower, spicy edamame, fried pickles, fried loaded tots, crispy eggplant fries, honey sriracha brussel sprouts, sweet potato fritters and more to their diners who are eating them up, quite literally.”
What’s more, Brickman says some of the best chefs in the world at the most renowned restaurants are featuring more vegetable-based and plant-based dishes as their “showstoppers.” One of those is celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
In a recent interview with Yahoo! Finance, Puck conceded that while inflation has forced him to raise some menu prices, especially for his famous steaks, he’s now offering diners more affordable vegetable-centric entrees that taste great. “Yes, if you want a really good piece of meat, it’s very expensive, but we can give you a good meal without having that meat,” said Puck.
3. Optimize Your Fryer’s Performance
Finally, if you want your fryer to take care of you and your business, you’ve got to take care of it. And that starts with proper maintenance.
Think about it. If your deep fryer is your commercial kitchen’s workhorse, a breakdown could translate into thousands of dollars in lost revenue. In addition to quarterly and annual preventative maintenance, routine cleaning is a must and it starts with keeping your fryer’s vats as clean as possible and that’s easier with the right products, equipment and training. Henny Penny has easy-to-understand operations manuals and videos for each of its fryers.
“For example, with the Evolution Elite Fryer, when you need to clean the fryer’s vats, the display on the unit is going to step you through the process with simple prompts. Before adding cleaner, the display will ask is ‘Solution Added?’ Yes or No will display. It will ask ‘Start Clean?’ and Yes or No will display again and so on until you’ve completed the cleanout process.
So, if you can’t remember all the steps or maybe someone showed you, and now it’s your turn to do it, but you can’t quite recall the specific order, you don’t have to worry because the control prompts will remind you of the order and step you through the process until the scrub vat process is complete. It’s just that easy,” said Pete Krause, Director of Training and Digital Assets at Henny Penny.
In between cleanings, to help keep your frying oil cleaner longer, consider adding an oil-life extender product like Henny Penny’s Prime Filter Powder, which is designed to make your filtered oil that much cleaner, translating in to fewer change outs, longer oil life, and more money in your wallet.
Finally, as a restaurant operator, while you can’t control the economy, inflation, or whether a recession is on the horizon, you can maximize your fryer’s throughput, prioritize your fryer’s profit-producing potential, and optimize your fryer’s performance. And that’s something that could amount to a lot in the long run.
Ready to explore what a commercial fryer can do for your kitchen? Connect with the Henny Penny Team and let’s get started!
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