Ventless technology has become an emerging trend in recent years. Even pre-pandemic, the rise in popularity of kitchen equipment with ventless hoods is tied to the unique flexibility they offer operators. In the midst of a global pandemic in which the foodservice industry has been hit with unprecedented challenges, ventless technology has provided unique solutions to help operations adapt. As the industry starts to set its sights on what a post-pandemic market may look like, the shift towards ventless innovations is projected to continue.
Restaurant hood systems are essential components to any commercial kitchen, the first line of defense in preventing fires and keeping an operation functioning efficiently and safely. Proper hood setup and installation is often a first check for health inspectors, and an improperly utilized hood system could result in demerits and fines. A hood system is required in any commercial kitchen space where heating elements like ovens, ranges, griddles, fryers, etc. are used.
The two most common types of hoods are:
- Type I – required with equipment that produces smoke or grease-laden vapors, such as fryers, ranges, griddles, broilers, tilt skillets, etc. Used for the collection and elimination of grease and smoke.
- Type II – designed to remove excess steam, vapor, heat and odors. Used with equipment where no grease is present, most commonly on dishwashers and steam tables.
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They’re used to vent heat outside to create a comfortable, safe working environment for staff operating commercial cooking or dishwashing machinery. The drawback to these traditional hood types is they’re big, bulky, and require professional installation. Therefore, space constraints can become a major issue.
There are several benefits to opting for a ventless hood over traditional hood systems, the foremost being added flexibility. This is huge in the current, pandemic-riddled state of the industry. Ventless technology has enabled cooking operations in places where they couldn’t operate before. Examples include mall kiosks and high-rise buildings.
Since the inception of the pandemic, the industry has also seen an increase in the popularity of ghost kitchens as a means to enhance delivery and catering efficiencies, and experiment with new concepts. Ventless equipment has had a major impact on such remote kitchen spaces, assisting in quick setup and converting buildings that may not have traditionally had space or proper ductwork required to accommodate standard hood systems.
It can be cost-prohibitive to install a standard hood, and there’s limited mobility to be gleaned. This is why ventless solutions are more ideal for new foodservices or restaurants operating in a leased space. If you move into a space where a hood is already installed, that may limit the type of equipment you may be able to get. You must make sure the equipment will readily fit underneath the hood. If you’re leasing a space and aren’t sure how long you’re going to stay in that location, you can readily move ventless hoods from one spot to the next. If you opt to install a standard hood, that’s likely to stay with the building when you vacate, so you’ll accumulate less value from it.
There has also been a jump in popularity with ventless hoods in establishments not traditionally tailored to serving food. These include nightclubs and bars. Many establishments have opted to start serving more food for two main reasons:
- To help drive more revenue in a time where the bottom line is taking a brutal beating
- Given varying capacity restrictions and lockdown mandates that have had a major impact on business, operations have had to adjust to meet new criteria to stay open. In some areas, operations that didn’t serve food at all were required to temporarily close down, while places that serve food could remain open at limited capacities. This prompted many nightclubs and bars that didn’t traditionally serve food to install pizza ovens and small-profile fryers to start offering bites that were quick and easy to produce in order to remain open.
Key Benefits of Ventless Hoods Include:
- Portable – ventless hoods can be moved from place to place
- No need to fret over space constraints
- Menu efficiencies, making it easy to add menu items to drive revenue (big in bars and nightclubs who may not have had many menu offerings before; with ventless hoods, you can quickly install a pizza oven or fryer to add more variety)
- No extensive ductwork required
- Ventless hoods are considered equipment and may depreciate quickly, a valuable tax benefit
In many instances, the pros outweigh the cons. There are, however, certain drawbacks that warrant discussion. Traditional hood systems operate by expelling heat and odors outside. Since ventless units are not connected to the kitchen’s ventilation system, excess heat is not immediately expelled. Rather, it recirculates within the unit. Therefore, some units may require additional downtime to recover.
There are solutions for this. You can increase your HVAC makeup to bring in more fresh air. The option to do this ultimately depends on the existing HVAC system. A ventless expert can talk through this and help determine if this is a viable solution. Many manufacturers of ventless hoods, such as Wells Manufacturing, have ventless experts standing by for a consultation. A second, more cost-effective solution is to run ductwork from a ventless hood to vent outside.
Ventless hoods are also recommended to accommodate electric cooking equipment only. They are not recommended for use with gas equipment.
As noted, the pros of going ventless in your commercial operation can easily outweigh the cons. Many types of establishments or industry segments making use of emerging ventless innovations include:
- Historic buildings – many historic buildings prohibit traditional ducted hoods and rooftop fans for ventilation
- High-rise buildings, stadiums and arenas where extensive ductwork for traditional hoods may be cost prohibitive
- Areas with space constraints such as malls, food courts, airports, etc.
- Leased spaces because ventless hoods are readily portable
- Bars and nightclubs looking to add menu items
- Ghost kitchens looking to increase food prep and cooking operations for delivery and more
- New restaurants that need added flexibility as they work to figure out their menu; ventless equipment make it easier to expand menu items as needed
It comes as no surprise that the pandemic-hindered 2020 saw a rise in delivery and carryout operations as many establishments were forced to either close or adapt to limited onsite capacities. While the overall restaurant industry saw big losses in consumers to grocery stores, pizza operations fared the best. Some top chains even reported double-digit sales growth and continued hiring in a year that sadly saw too many furloughs.
There are many reasons: pizza is comfort food, there’s a lot of demand, it travels well, you get a lot of bang for your buck, it’s easy and convenient, has high-profit margins, etc. Some pizzerias in New York City even saw such an increase in traffic that they’ve had to establish secondary cooking operations outdoors. Accomplishing this required flexible and mobile equipment solutions, and ventless played a major role. Prominent pizzerias purchased new electric pizza ovens and compatible ventless hoods to setup new cooking operations wherever they were needed, removing the hassle of space and layout restrictions.
Wells Manufacturing is an industry-leading manufacturer of universal ventless hoods that allow you to use almost any commercial electric cooking equipment without the need for traditional Type I ventilation. And, they’re all made in the U.S.A. See Wells’ Ventless Cooktops here.
Ventless hoods are an ideal solution for prominent electric cooking equipment and commercial dishwashers. Click on each of the following to see more:
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.