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Equipment needs attention

It’s said that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. Well, if you’re a restaurant operator, you can add a third to that list: the dishwasher will go down in the middle of Saturday night’s shift. But there’s a lot you can do to avoid restaurant equipment problems. Just make sure if you decide to put on the tool belt, you know the safety risks. Says Blake Heim of Hobart Service, “We see injuries and even deaths among trained technicians, and so for operators...the risks rise exponentially.”

It’s said that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. Well, if you’re a restaurant operator, you can add a third to that list: the dishwasher will go down in the middle of Saturday night’s shift.

But there’s a lot you can do to avoid equipment problems from the start and to deal with them once they hit. Just make sure if you decide to put on the tool belt, you know the safety risks. As Blake Heim, director of marketing for Hobart Service, Troy, Ohio, explains, “We see injuries and even deaths among trained technicians, and so for operators who don’t know the safety procedures involved the risks rise exponentially.”

Now that we’ve scared you a little, here’s how to give your gear a little TLC.

Get the right parts

Safety issues aside, the No. 1 priority with do-it-yourself repairs should be buying the correct parts. The most common reason DIY work fails, experts say, is use of less-expensive generic parts. “OEM [original equipment manufacturer] parts are critical, whether you’re doing the repair or calling someone in,” says Tina Reese, general manager of Commercial Appliance Parts & Service, Tampa, Florida. “Yes, [generic parts] may get the item working again but internally can cause damage.”

Make it about the money

John Zehnder, executive chef and director of food & beverage at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, in Frankenmuth, Michigan—one of the largest indies in the country—requires that managers make daily checks of all equipment and note what needs attention. To underscore the costs associated with equipment failure, he often posts signs in the kitchen that highlight repair expenditures. “We have a profit-sharing program for employees, so we point out that these are dollars no longer available to go into that program,” he says. “It’s one way to turn the responsibility back to them.”

Stay on top of the water 

Equipment that use water have to be given special attention, says Heim. If you do nothing else, he says, at least maintain the water filtration systems that most of these types of equipment come with. If you don’t, you’ll likely void your warranty—not to mention get lime deposits. More TLC: ensure the water softener is working and plumbed properly and delime on at least a quarterly basis.

Before you call the tech

Reese says money can be saved by taking some simple, common sense steps before calling service technicians.

  • Check the circuit breaker. “It’s all too common for one shift to finish up, shut things down and the next shift to panic when stuff doesn’t work. But all they need to do is flip the circuit,” she says.
  • Make sure the unit is plugged in.
  • Have the model and serial number ready. “That way, we can make sure the technician has what he needs the first time out. Additional trips to retrieve parts cost more.”
  • Give the service provider a contact person. “The tech shouldn’t have to spend 15 minutes trying to find the right person to talk with. Those 15 minutes will cost you.” 

Keep refrigerators humming

The top job: keep condenser coils clean. In how-to videos on its Website, True Manufacturing shows a simple three-step process for doing so: remove the grill to access the condenser unit (looks like a radiator grill); brush the condenser coils clean with a dry, stiff nylon brush; vacuum up any loose debris.

Make PM a priority

“Every piece of equipment comes with a PM [preventive maintenance] checklist,” Reese says. “These are very easy things, mostly to do with proper cleaning. In most instances, you don’t even need to pick up a screwdriver. But they just don’t get done. If they did, there’d be a lot less demand for our services. If an operator knows they’re not going to do it,” she adds, “the best alternative is to get a maintenance contract with a service provider to come in and do it.”

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