Commercial Microwave Ovens Buying Guide

Learn more about commercial microwaves including the differences between push button and dial microwaves, purchasing considerations and more.

In the past few years microwave cooking has had a bad rap. Introduced to the market in 1955, the first domestic microwave ovens were positioned as he cooking equipment of the future. Nowadays, an estimated 90% of American homes alone have a microwave oven. Not only that, but today's commercial microwaves have more power and efficiency than their residential counterparts, making them perfect for defrosting foods, easily heating and preparing dishes in catered and quick service settings and more. Love it or hate it, the microwave oven is undoubtedly one of the easiest and most efficient ways to cook and reheat food in a short period of time.

More than just for heating up last night's leftovers, microwaves are a great way to easily expand menu options. Consider convenience stores, small cafes, quick-serve kiosks and more, where location prohibits the installation of a ventilation hood. Enter the humble microwave, which only needs a plug (set at the correct wattage) to operate. As a small restaurant operation you can easily heat sandwiches, breakfast pastries (like muffins), and other prepackaged foods.

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You'll soon realize that buying a microwave for your commercial kitchen is far different than picking one up for your home. While at home you might be most concerned with aesthetics (like black versus stainless steel), in the restaurant you want to familiarize yourself with the power and capabilities of your equipment. Commercial microwaves typically have higher power ratings, which makes it faster and safer for heating foods on a regular basis.

Light, Medium and Heavy Duty Microwaves

Typically you'll find microwaves classified into three use types: Light Duty, Medium Duty and Heavy Duty. Determining which class of microwave to purchase for your restaurant really depends on your unique business. Try asking yourself some simple questions like:

  1. Are the majority of my menu items microwaved?
    Consider the length of time you'll be using your microwave each day. If you're a small quick service station or coffee bar and your microwave is the only means of preparation for the majority of your menu, then your equipment could be running for long periods of time.
  2. What types of menu items will I be microwaving?
    Microwaves are used for everything from heating muffins to steaming lobster. Consider the types of food you'll be using in your microwave, which will help determine the appropriate sizing and timing requirements you'll need on the line.
  3. What kind of volume and time frame demands do I have?
    If you're a quick service operation, you might be heating smaller portions frequently throughout the day. Or, if you operate a cafeteria you'll most likely be heating larger portions on-demand (think defrosted foods to order) to help reduce waste. Depending on how much you're cooking and how quickly you want customers in and out the door will affect the size of microwave you're looking to purchase.

Power Outtage/plug
When deciding on the wattage of your microwave, also be sure to take into consideration your equipment's voltage requirements. If your outlet is only designed for a standard 140v, but your new microwave requires a 200v, you'll be unable to use it in that spot without changing the line. Ensure your kitchen is ready to go before you settle on a unit.

After you've examined your unique needs, you'll have a better idea on the size of microwave you'll need in your kitchen:



Microwave Type
Light Duty
Microwave Wattage
900 – 1100 watts
# of Items Cooked Per Day
Less than 50
Good For
Break rooms, hotel breakfast bars

Sharp Electronics – R-22GTF – 1200 Watt Commercial Microwave Oven

Sharp Electronics – R-22GTF – 1200 Watt Commercial Microwave Oven

Microwave Type
Medium Duty
Microwave Wattage
1100 – 1500 watts
# of Items Cooked Per Day
Up to 150
Good For
Back of house, coffee shops, high volume stores, wait stations

Amana – RC17S2 – 1700 Watt Commercial Microwave Oven

Amana – RC17S2 – 1700 Watt Commercial Microwave Oven

Microwave Type
Heavy Duty
Microwave Wattage
1500-2000+ watts
# of Items Cooked Per Day
Good For
Quick service restaurants, cafeterias, commercial kitchens

Remember, saving a little on the initial cost of your equipment could cost you on the line—few things are more frustrating than having a microwave holding up your food service.

Once you have a good idea about the type of microwave preparation you intend to do in your kitchen, don't forget to consider the interior size of the unit—the food needs to fit inside the equipment, right? Not only should you consider the size of the food itself, but also the size of pan you intend to use. Don't get caught with a microwave that isn't ideal for your primary food preparation.

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Once you have settled on the appropriate size and power of your microwave, there are other options to consider. Would more automatic functions be better for your team? Or would a manual dial-style microwave work? Have you considered where to store your microwave? Consider some of these features below.

Spin Dial Versus Push Button Microwaves
Microwave ovens come with two main controls for operation: a single dial or a push button. More cost-effective than their digital counterparts, dial microwaves feature marked timing increments around the knob, making it very simple to use. These microwaves do not have programmable options, so you'll have to trust that your employees remember the proper cook times for each food they are preparing.

Push button microwaves make cooking almost foolproof, with programmable options that allow you to set precise cooking times and power levels for your specific cuisine. Seems simple, but pushing a button versus rotating a dial to a specific time will shave minutes off each preparation, and trust us, those minutes add up quickly!

Microwave Accessories
Most commercial microwaves do not come standard with a turntable, but Nordic Ware sells one for use in full and mid-size microwaves. Some other microwave accessories you may want to include are:

Where Do You Plan to Store Your Microwave?
Seems like a simple question, right? But it might not be something you thought about until your new microwave arrives and you've just unpacked it.

Microwave ovens can get big, particularly the heavy-duty varieties. In addition to deciding the appropriate wattage for your needs, consider the microwave's physical size as well. Where do you intend to store your microwave? In order to be most efficient you'll want it to be in a convenient location with easy access during service. Think about the height and width limitations of your shelving or countertop before you make your purchase. Some microwaves are even stackable, which could be a great space saver in a tight kitchen.

And don't forget to consider your ventilation options! Do not push your microwave up against the wall or wedge it under a shelf—aim to leave at least 2 inches of space on all sides. A microwave is no good to you if it's not in a place where it can be used. You may want to consider the addition of a microwave wall shelf in your kitchen.

Keeping your microwave clean to avoid an unsightly mess; baked-on splatters and grease can work its way into the interior side of the panels. Regular exposure to heat also increases the risk of these food particles burning, consequently damaging your equipment. The best way to make your microwave last is to regularly wipe down the interior of the microwave with a damp cloth after each service, otherwise particles will build up and make the mess harder to tackle. If the residue requires a bit more elbow grease to remove, try microwaving a bowl of water so that the steam loosens these particles and makes cleaning easier.

Also be sure to periodically check for built up dust and dirt around the ventilation holes or grills. Keeping this space free and clear of obstructions will minimize the risk of your microwave overheating. If you hear any unusual sounds coming from inside the oven, such as grinding, scraping or other atypical noises be sure to give your service technician a call.

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