Despite the ongoing disruptions to business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, quick-service brands have largely been able to ride out the storm with continued reliance on the drive thru and off-premises dining options. Yet while this segment of the industry has mostly remained stable throughout the health crisis, quick-service restaurants still face one major pandemic challenge: attracting customers.
Prior to the pandemic, fast-food restaurants already faced stiff competition for business in a crowded market, but these brands now also have to compete with the ease of staying—and eating—at home in a time where leaving the house is more complicated than ever before.
“Customers have to work harder to visit a restaurant due to safe social distancing practices associated with COVID-19,” says Roger Daniels, vice president of research, development, innovation, and quality at Stratas Foods. “In this spirit, it is perhaps even a taller order to ensure all menu offerings are top quality right now. Restaurants need to reward customers for visiting either the counter for take away or for an in-restaurant dining experience.”
While serving delicious food that entices customers to return is more crucial than ever, restaurants are also grappling with social distancing requirements. As a result, many brands have simplified menus to allow team members to focus on producing a few signature offerings with more consistency with a smaller crew.
“Factor in the requirements of keeping the workforce safe, the reduced number of patrons in a restaurant at a time, and a continued drive for hot, fresh entrees for the drive-thru crowd, and the stakes are at an all-time high,” Daniels says. “Focusing on creating a positive dining experience driven by quality ingredients appropriately paired with tried-and-true menu winners goes a long way to drive repeat business.”
Fortunately for many quick-service brands, when guests do leave home, they are looking for comforting, craveable foods that provide them with a moment of satisfaction in what might be an otherwise stressful day, and many fast-food chain’s deep-fried signature offerings are exactly what consumers want. Daniels says that as brands return to the basics, execution is critical, and many restaurant leaders overlook what is probably the most important factor in the success of their deep-fried offerings: fryer oil.
“A deep-fried product’s characteristic look, smell, flavor, and consistency are influenced by the type of oil that is used to make the frying composition,” Daniels says. “Because different oils have unique flavor profiles due to their chemical compositions, one of the main items Stratas addresses is working with restaurants to find the right composition to fit customer’s needs for each frying occasion.”
For example, Daniels says, different types of oils can affect the way food looks. Creamy or solid shortenings yielding drier-looking deep-fried foods. Additionally, each oil has its own flavor, which should be paired with foods just like one might pair food with wine.
“A little-known fact is that the characteristic flavor of your favorite French fries is primarily driven not by the potato, but by the oil it is fried in,” Daniels says. ““Historically, we see that vegetable oils such as soybean, cottonseed, and corn all work best with potatoes. Oil blends also provide unique performance and flavor characteristics, an example is soybean and cotton oil work well with chicken. Peanut oil also works nicely for fish and the occasional fried turkey.”
Meanwhile, Daniels explains, the type of oil can also determine its operational benefits, such as the length of its frying life.
“Just like its own fingerprint, every oil has its differences,” Daniels says. “The higher oleic value and the higher the saturated fat level, the more stable the oil is in a high-heat application. If a frying oil is comprised of a high oleic oil, it is more stable as a frying medium, which translates into a longer frying life to deliver characteristic fried food flavor for a longer period of time.”
Similarly, the quality of the oil is just as important to both the quality of the food produced and the frying life of the oil.
“Commodity oils—typically comprised of soybean or canola—contain a relatively high amount of polyunsaturate known as linolenic acid,” Daniels says. “This component of the frying oil is vulnerable to degradation reactions driven when the oil is in the presence of oxygen, heat or light energy. A restaurant operator is able to protect the oil and achieve an acceptable fry life of that oil by adhering to disciplined and robust oil management practices. In addition, they should consider using a premium oil, containing less linolenic acid and high oleic acid, which extends the fry life, ultimately saving money on oil and staff time. An added bonus to using high oleic oils is less gummy build up, called polymerization in the kettle. Easier cleanup also saves time and money.”
Premium oils—such as Stratas’s Frymax brand— also help foods retain their flavor while delivering consistency across multiple shifts or even across multiple stores. By staying fresh longer, restaurants don’t have to change out the oil as frequently as they might with other commodity oils. Fewer oil changes, again, save money on both oil and labor.
Another benefit of premium oil is the consistency of the food once it comes out of the fryer. Daniels notes that while many assume deep fried food has to feel and taste greasy, these premium oils, which are processed to high standards, can help food remain crisp without sacrificing flavor.
Meanwhile, ultra purified oils—such as Stratas’s premium oils— also have an extended frying life, since kitchen staff can change the oil based on changes to flavor and color, rather than changing oil according to a set schedule, which can lead to unnecessary frequency of changes.
Restaurants that want to focus on creating flavorful, craveable dishes can also use flavored oils—such as Stratas’ Whirl brand, which comes in Original Butter Flavored, Sodium Free, and Garlic. —to help finish products on a grill or to top breaded products for an extra punch of flavor.
“Improvements to restaurant fare is all about positively impacting the flavor of the food,” Daniels says. “High oleic frying oils accomplish this by remaining fresher over a longer fry life and allowing the flavor of the food to come through. Butter flavored oils provide finished foods additional taste utilizing butter flavors, salt and even garlic
Though quick-service restaurants face numerous challenges this year, serving delicious, comforting foods does not have to be one of them. By employing premium oils, restaurants can ensure they consistently serve high-quality deep-fried foods that are flavorful enough to bring guests back for more.
To learn more about how to choose the right oil for your restaurant, visit the Stratas Foods website.
By Peggy Carouthers