By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief
There’s a common thread among the equipment solutions Server Products lists as trending on its website, says President Kristin Falkner, referring to three prominently displayed products that are currently drawing heavy interest from its quick-service base. For one, The EZ-Topper warming dispenser, CerealServ, and ConserveWell heated utensil holder are all representative of the Wisconsin-based manufacturer’s core. Starting with its first invention, the industry’s first automatic butter warmer and dispenser, most of its products are rooted in portion control and the preservation of food quality.
“When you’re controlling the portion of anything you serve, you’re making sure you’re maintaining a certain flavor profile and controlling your waste, which helps to control your costs. That’s key for our operators,” says Falkner, the third generation of Wikisburgs to run the family business. Her grandfather, an engineer, started Server in 1949 after a friend referred him to a customer who wanted to put butter on popcorn and sell it in movie theaters. Ever since, counter-top-sized smallwares, like the trending ConserveWell, has been the manufacturer’s niche. It’s served the company well—so to speak—during a persistent lull in restaurant traffic that’s affected several foodservice segments for the past two years. Quick service is one of the bright spots, according to consumer trends research firm NPD. If it had not been for a 1 percent increase in visits in 2017, a bump primarily driven by chain activity, traffic would have declined, reported the research firm earlier this year.
Thus far, Server’s brand has been impervious to the dips because of its niche and the cycle of events often triggered by shifts in appetite and consumer spending. “We’re very fortunate that when the trends change, a lot of those quick-service restaurants look for new menu items to re-engage their customers,” says Falkner. “That’s a good fit for us because it’s relatively inexpensive to invest in smallwares to update your menu. Maybe an operator is only offering a chocolate shake and wants to add a salted caramel. Purchasing an extra pump is a low-cost investment.”
Chains also turn to the manufacturer when they want Server to customize a new piece of equipment in hopes of either introducing a new flavor profile or ruling one out. In terms of flavors, ethnically-inspired cuisines, spices and breakfast items—i.e., chorizo scrambled eggs, burritos and coconut pancakes—have been a favorite among prognosticators betting on the hottest menu trends.
“People visiting restaurants are looking for new exotic flavors, or an international twist on a traditional menu,” says Falkner, who is expecting the trend to grow in the coming years. “From the surge in millennial interests to the increasing diversity in the U.S., there are several indicators that suggest the next generation of consumers are looking for adventure in their eating,” she says. “For the foodservice equipment industry, that means we will have to find ways to offer up those different flavors and then anticipate more change. So, I think responding to peoples’ changing tastes is definitely going to keep us on our toes as an industry.”
Ditto for foodservice operators. “Restaurants seem to be consistently tweaking their menu items to offer new limited-time-only or seasonal menu items,” adds Falkner. “So, we’ve found that we create the most value for major change by working closely to help them roll out those limited-time-only menu items. They also are usually short on space and need products that can work in a smaller footprint.”
Focusing on Waste Reduction
Even higher on the priority list is the ever-present need for foodservice operators to offset rising costs with waste-reduction solutions for food and utilities. Energy Star reports that restaurants use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, and according to energy consulting firm Powerhouse Dynamics, “a typical sit-down restaurant uses an average of about 5,800 gallons of water per day.”
As a result, says Falkner, “operators are becoming more and more interested in seeing how they can reduce waste, utility waste and food waste, and there’s also more of a trend toward protecting the environment as the next generation of foodservice operators and customers emerge.” Hence, the inspiration behind the EZ-Topper warming dispenser and ConserveWell heated utensil holder.
The first helps operators reduce waste by dispensing fudge and other toppings from a pouch. “Typically, fudge comes in a big No. 10 can and when you dispense it out of a can, there’s always about three quarters of an inch the pump can’t suck up. So, many operators end up throwing away that fudge,” says Falkner. “The EZ Topper is connected to the pouch and sucks up 95 percent. Pouches also take up less space in a landfill compared to a No. 10 can, and they’re easier to ship, which helps with shipping costs.”
ConserveWell is Server’s ecofriendly alternative to dipper wells, or the perpetual-flow sinks commonly used in ice cream shops and coffee houses to clean serving utensils with a continuous flow of hot or cold water. In addition to its water-saving potential, what differentiates it from traditional cleaning units is the heating mechanism that holds water temps above 140 F, which inhibits the growth of bacteria. “The water has to be changed out periodically but it still results in a huge savings,” says Falkner.
Like its nacho cheese dispenser, a product of an 80s fad, ConserveWell was inspired by a customer’s need. In 2015, that customer was entering its fourth year of operating under the constraints of California’s record-breaking drought and asked Server for help in cutting back on its water usage by replacing its dipper well with a less-intensive solution.
“Some dipper wells can use up to 500 gallons of water per day and hot-water wells can place a load of more than two therms per day on a building’s gas water heater,” says Frontier Energy. Formally known as Fisher-Nickel, it operates the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) in San Ramon and routinely studies the impact of commercial equipment appliances on the environment.
Eighteen months after purchasing nearly 1,500 ConserveWell utensil holders, Server’s customer reported an estimated reduction of 400 million gallons of water annually, equating to a savings of roughly $4.5 million in water and sewer costs. “We’ve done numerous studies and found that individual operators are saving between $3,000 to $3,800 annually just by replacing their continuous flow unit with ConserveWell,” says Falkner. ■