"Worst of all is that when we were sitting inside, although the air conditioner was initially working, it suddenly stopped. [The staff] said there had been problems with the air conditioner all day − what restaurant in Israel allows itself to open in the middle of August when the air conditioner isn’t working?! Shame on them.”
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That was the comment from Ortal of Kfar Sava on the rest.co.il website, responding to one of the worst hitches that a restaurant can suffer: an air-conditioning breakdown. It’s dreadful for the customers, horrible for the wait staff and hell for the cooks.
As summer gets under way, so too does the race of restaurants to beef up their air-conditioning. This is the season when a dining establishment is not only a place to eat, but also a refuge, where customers can cool off and beat the heat.
According to Guy Itzhaki, a project manager involved in the establishment of the restaurants Cafe Italia, Shulhan, Taizu, Moses Station and Tapas Ahad Ha’am in Tel Aviv, “Of course there are problems with air-conditioning in the summer. This is a country by the sea, most of whose restaurants are in a high-humidity area, and even with the best air-conditioning, it can happen that one day the system just isn’t going to cut it. Not that it will be boiling hot, but it won’t be freezing. There are restaurateurs who have ignored the air-conditioning issue the entire year. Their complaints begin in June, July and August. They stem from the customers’ complaints and they are mainly: It’s not cold enough in the restaurant and it’s hot in the kitchen; or, the electricity consumption is high.”
How much attention is paid to air-conditioning at the stage when restaurants are being set up?
“In a restaurant, there are three parameters for air-conditioning. In addition to the regular system in the dining space, the kitchen has an evaporation system that extracts steam from the cooking areas, especially the hot line [where you cook and grill], and discharges it through a cooling system to the outside. The action of the air being sucked in creates a vacuum, so they also install a system to compensate for that, which brings new, cool air into the kitchen.”
What if you open a restaurant that lacks this system?
“That’s where the nonprofessionals take a fall. They’re not bringing fresh, cold air into the restaurant. And they think only the kitchen suffers from this − and indeed, the kitchen is hot and humid, and this affects the ingredients and the cooks, who sweat through the entire shift. But it’s also very hot outside the kitchen in the dining space, because the evaporation system also extracts the cold, treated air from there. Air-conditioning systems work to compensate for this. They consume a lot of energy, but they don’t do the job. Then it gets hot and they don’t understand why.
“The problem is that they didn’t look at the air-conditioning system as a unified whole, all of whose parts affect one another. There used to be just conventional air-conditioning. Over the years, smart systems have been developed that are more expensive at the installation stage, but that are efficient and energy-saving. [Farsighted] restaurateurs, who are thinking three or four years down the line, understand that the investment will pay for itself by means of the routine consumption. Electricity bills are crazy: A restaurant of 250 or 300 square meters can rack up an electricity bill of NIS 25,000 to NIS 30,000 in two months. A medium-sized Asian restaurant can pay NIS 18,000 to NIS 20,000 a month.” (The heat from the woks requires a stronger evaporation system.)
According to Mizug Plus’ Yoram Gury, who has installed air-conditioning systems in many restaurants: “A restaurant is one of the most complicated places for air-conditioning, because the heat load varies with the number of diners, changes in the lighting and the amount of cooking being done.”
Is it possible for a restaurant to manage without air-conditioning?
“In Israel, it’s very hard. Theoretically − if it’s a falafel stand, for example − it’s possible to work without air-conditioning, but not in restaurants where people intend to eat. The Health Ministry requires a certain temperature in the kitchen. In certain specific areas, where meat is prepared and fish is cleaned and prepared, the temperature has to be [under] 21 to 22 degrees Celsius. The systems in [the dining areas] are set for 23 degrees. When it’s 35 degrees outside, it is possible to make it even cooler, even if it’s not really necessary. Israelis, especially the men, like to feel cold.”
How much do restaurant owners invest in air-conditioning?
“We’ve been installing air conditioners in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years now. In recent years, there has been higher awareness, in the wake of the regulations and a lot of investment. If it’s a large establishment, they will take an air-conditioning planner. At a medium-sized branch of BBB [hamburger chain], the system could cost NIS 500,000, because when there’s a lot of frying, there’s a need for suction, and that creates a need to introduce a quantity of air. If it’s a place where they cook only pasta, then of course they need to worry about suction less than at a restaurant where the system sucks out smoke from coals. There are quite a number of places where the cost of the air-conditioning, including an air evaporation system, exceeds half a million shekels.”
No ideal temperature
If the weather this time of year makes restaurant managers feverish, the customers don’t necessarily do anything to lower the heat. In the same space, at the same time and with the same dish in front of them, two diners of the same weight, and who are wearing identical clothing, could well complain − one that he’s too hot and the other that he’s too cold.
Says Rimon Ben Yakir, one of the proprietors of the Giraffe restaurants and Neveh Tzedek − Makom Shel Bassar: “There’s no such thing as an ideal temperature in a restaurant. In the right-hand corner, Mrs. Rabinovich will ask to have the air-conditioning turned up, and over on the left, Mrs. Levy will ask for it to be turned down.”
Guy Peretz, the chef at the Gazpacho restaurant in Ashkelon, Confit in Haifa and Endive and G Cafe in Ashdod, says that air-conditioning in a restaurant is “just as important as the food.”
And according to Nati Shafrir of the Balzac restaurant in Ashdod, “The perfect temperature for a meal, like in a wine refrigerator, is 18 degrees [64 degrees Fahrenheit].”
Ashley Hetz, the son of Eddie of Eddie’s Hide-Away in Eilat − which was established 34 years ago − is now the restaurant’s chef. He recalls how when he was 16, in 1999, central air-conditioning was installed in the restaurant. “In the summer people wouldn’t order dessert, it was so hot. Over the years, we added air conditioners in the dining space; at the moment we have seven of them, in addition to the central air conditioner. We went through some difficult years. People would perspire while they ate, or the electricity would fail, and then the air conditioner wouldn’t come back on. Now it’s pleasant. But in a tourist restaurant, it’s impossible to set a temperature that will be comfortable for everyone. Russians don’t want us to turn on the air-conditioning at all. Americans ask us to turn up the air conditioner. Scandinavians don’t complain, so it’s impossible to know whether they’re comfortable or not. The French don’t come to the restaurant because it isn’t kosher.”
Is it still hot in the kitchen?
“It’s always hot in the kitchen. You could move it into an igloo, and it would be hot there.”
Dohol Safedi, of Diana restaurant in Nazareth, notes: “There are people who don’t complain. Everything is lovely and nice for them. I’m like that − I live with every situation. And there are those who always have complaints. I have an aunt who, when she rides with me in my car, is always asking me to turn the air conditioner on and then to turn it off: She’s hot, she’s cold. It’s a type of person.”
Do you maintain the air-conditioning system at the restaurant during the winter?
“In April there were a few sharav [hot and dry] days, so we turned on the air-conditioning, and discovered it needed repairs. Once, I came into the restaurant, and the solar water heater had sprung a leak, the air conditioner didn’t work, and the refrigerator short-circuited. This is my nightmare, and it’s a daily one. Now a repairman has come because the meat grinder isn’t working and also the oven has short-circuited. I’m lucky I have a taboon [clay oven] at the restaurant, and we can use that. That’s how it is − a restaurant is like a home.”
Do you remember the days before air-conditioning?
“Right when my father’s first restaurant opened, shortly after I was born in the late 60s, they installed two Amcor window units, which made noise like a truck. In 1994, they installed central AC for the first time. Today, it’s hottest in the kitchen, which is where I myself work. We have an air conditioner there, far from the grill and the oven, and anyone who wants a bit of air goes and stands under it. The cooks are used to it − they don’t complain anymore. Only the waiters complain.”