HOME ON THE RANGE. Choosing the right range to meet the needs of your operation is as important as the food you prepare.
Ranges are the backbone of today's kitchen production equipment. While these workhorses have changed little in past generations, they are an invaluable item in every kitchen.
The term "range" originally described an appliance that could cook a "range" of dishes at the same time. Today, just about any appliance with flat cooking surfaces may be referred to as a range.
Selecting the right range requires design consultants and operators to work together to consider production needs, menus and work flow so that the range selected is a key component in an integrated cooking battery where everything works together for a particular operation's needs.
There are at least a dozen range manufacturers producing quality equipment in the United States. Most of a range's basic operating features are common to most of the manufacturers, with a few exceptions. At the same time, these features can be important enough to make a given manufacturer the supplier of choice for specific needs. For example, some ranges are slightly narrower, to fit into tight spaces; others have special range top configurations, or are available in 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 that may typically be referred to as "restaurant ranges." The restaurant ranges are designed for lower-volume operations; they are typically smaller in both length and width and are built less ruggedly. Even though a heavy-duty range costs nearly twice that of a restaurant range, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost.
Restaurant ranges do have their place, though; they are often a good choice for a snack bar or low-usage area. Also, they sometimes have features that would be welcomed in heavy-duty versions. An example is the so-called "all-in-one range" that offers a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five-or sixfoot unit. Such a model can be perfect for a small operation.
Another alternative to the traditional range and cooking battery is the so-called "island range," sometimes referred to as a "Waldorf" or European-style range. These have been popular in Europe for more than a century.
Such designs with back-to-back banked ranges have only recently made a big impact on the American dining scene, but are 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 the other differences in range configurations have to do with their cooktop designs. As manufacturers have become more sensitive to user needs, they have begun to offer options that were not readily available in past years, such as cooktops that also have a refrigerated cold pan unit.
Range designs also vary in terms of how they take advantage of the space available above and below the main working height. Let's first look below the range. The 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. However, the most popular base is probably an oven, which at about a $500 upcharge over a storage base is the least expensive oven you will ever buy.
Also available are convection oven bases (these 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 but is only about 14" high inside. Convection oven bases often add to the depth of the range, so be sure to consider this when making a purchase decision.
The heating 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 chefs prefer gas equipment because of the instant heat; also, in most areas of the country, gas is less expensive to use than electricity, although this is not a universal rule. Also, if you use bottled gas be sure to note this: propane-fired equipment requires that special burners be installed.
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. Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.