The roller grill has evolved. Today’s versatile roller grills cook up and merchandise a lot more than just hot dogs.
Roller grills are a great way to prepare and merchandise a growing number of foods in convenience stores. In fact, operators are finding that roller grills are much more versatile than once thought.
Not long ago, hot dogs alone “owned” the roller grill real estate. Now, some convenience retailers cook and merchanidse 10 or more products on larger units. A number of manufacturers make the several dozen types of machines on the market today, but retailers need to choose the right unit for their stores to maximize the effectiveness of the roller grill. Following are some considerations for operators making a purchase decision.
A roller grill program has several appeals to operators, including the fact that the equipment can grill many fast food items. First, the equipment is not that expensive. Less than $1,000 will get a retailer in business with a small to medium-size grill. Along with the grill cost, the second attraction is that no exhaust hood is requiredwhich can result in a real cost-savings benefit when compared to many other food programs. Few, if any, other hot ready-to-serve items can be cooked without a hood. Other items such as hamburgers or fried chicken require a hood, making the overall installation cost prohibitive in many cases.
Visual appeal. The very nature of roller grill equipment lends itself to maximizing the merchandising appeal of the food product. Consumers often find it difficult to resist purchasing fresh-grilled products cooking right before their eyes.
Versatility. In recent years, food manufacturers have developed a wide variety of roller grill products formulated specifically for long holding times. There are now productsto feed customers in all dayparts. Having products that can serve all dayparts remains a very real challenge, but with the introduction of breakfast sausages and egg wraps, the roller grill station is now active all day long. In addition to serving all day, the variety of products is staggering. It is not unusual to see stores now with a dozen different roller grill products. A selection of hot dogs, cheese dogs, hamburgers, and sausages are commonplace.
But today’s roller grills are also taking much more of a worldly appearance. Many retailers are introducing ethnic products like taquitos and egg rolls to satisfy consumer needs for bold flavors and exceptional variety. With all the new items and increased grill space needed, operators continually require larger roller grills equipped with the latest features.
Size. Roller grills come in a variety of sizes from 10 hot dog capacity to about 75, with numerous sizes in between. Most machines are either 10″, 16″ or 25″ deep with varying widths to fit almost any counterspace available. All grills operate on standard 120 volt electrical outlets, so there are no special utilities requirements. If an operator has ample counterspace to spare, he/she can be “in business” quickly. Many manufacturers also offer mobile counters, bun warmers and condiment stations if needed.
When in doubt, accessorize
One accessory that will be needed is a “sneeze guard.” This barrier can be built right into the counter or bought as an addon to the roller grill. Manufacturers make food guards specific to each model that can be easily removed for cleaning. Some of these form-fitted covers come with access doors and a serving shelf top. Most of these covers are composed of plexiglass but some are polycarbonate, which is more durable and scratch-resistant than plexiglass.
Most equipment manufacturers offer the choice of chrome rollers or non-stick surfaced rollers. The non-stick surface, usually Silverstone, was developed to make cleaning easiera task it performs quite well. The disadvantage of non-stick rollers is that they are more delicate than standard chrome rollers. Scraping or using abrasives on non-stick surfaces will cause the surface to erode or wear off. Once the surface wears off, the entire unit will need to be replaced.
When taquitos and similar products were first introduced, some operators noticed they tended to slip on the nonstick rollers. Recently some manufacturers have modified the rollers to have more friction to correct the problem so crust finished items are “gripped” by the roller and turn properly. Crust items have also been challenging for some older machines. Small bread particles have a tendency to find their way into the turning mechanisms and create maintenance problems. Newer machines have better seals to prevent particles from interfering. If an operator has recurring maintenance issues with an older machine, depending upon the grill, retrofit kits can help mend the problem.
Among other features to consider are multiple heating zones, which work well when serving different products and items in different stages of doneness. Most large machines have at least two and sometimes fourheating zones that can all be adjusted to different heat settings. One manufacturer recently introduced electronic controls that should improve food quality, reduce the chances of overcooking and slash product waste. These units have electronic controls that cook foods for a preset length of time at a preset-temperature. When the product reachesserving temperature, the grill automatically switches to a safe holding temperature between 145°F and 190°F. This temperature range ensures the customer will have a hot product, while lengthening holding times and improving quality.
Another feature to consider for a grill is wider roller spacing. Customer demand for larger products has increased in recent years, and wider roller design allows more roller contact and better grilling of larger diameter products like kielbasa and egg rolls. If demand warrants it, an extra wide unit could suffice as a second machine.
Understanding the proper size and features will determine whether a roller grill sizzles or sputters. Considering all the options from several manufacturers before making a purchase decision can go a long way to ensuring a successful program.