The A/C is running warm or the range is on the fritz. Time to bring in the repair technician and brace for a costly service call. Or is it?
For many operators, taking the time to troubleshoot equipment issues before picking up the phone can help save on maintenance costs. And step one, according to engineers, is to check the plug. No, really: This is not a joke.
“You would be surprised how many times we get a call out, and the problem is the equipment is not even on,” says Randy Legard, maintenance engineer on the in-house service team for Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans. “The button wasn’t pushed or the gas wasn’t turned on or it wasn’t plugged in,” he says. “Those kinds of things can be costly if you call a company, and you have to pay the minimum for them to come out.”
Once the (seemingly) obvious is out of the way, there are steps to try and remedy the problem before calling for help. And there are tricks managers have learned to get around the service call altogether. In fact, cutting unnecessary out-of-house maintenance has been a recent focus for David Kurlander, COO of Gyroville, a fast casual with locations in southeast Florida. He estimates that additional manager training at each location saves him an average of two service calls per month at $125 each, or $750 less off the bottom line each quarter.
Of course, if there’s any doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But we asked Legard—plus operators who also have reduced unnecessary service calls—to share the go-to fixes they try before dialing for repairs.
The A/C is out and temps are climbing.
In Florida, where A/C units work in high gear, Kurlander trains all managers on two fixes. First, if the thermostat hasn’t been turned off and the breaker isn’t tripped, check for water dripping from the ceiling or the location of the unit, likely caused by a clogged drain line. “It’s a simple fix of getting a hose up there (on the roof or wherever the A/C is located) and blowing out the line. It literally takes 20 minutes,” Kurlander says.
Frozen coils are another common problem. “Pull the panel off, and if the coils are frozen, leave the unit off, let it thaw for a few hours. Once it thaws out, you’re good to go,” he explains. “It’s the same thing the repair man is going to do.”
The grill or range won’t fire up.
First, check that the pilot light is lit. “About 75 to 80 percent of the time, that will solve it,” says Kurlander of his experience. Water in a gas line also is a common culprit, says Dave Bucks, director of operations at restaurants 492 and Ms. Rose’s in Charleston, S.C. As a matter of protocol, Bucks requires his staff to call him first so he can troubleshoot before a repair call is made. “Take your range apart, get all of your burners and pull them out, clean them out. Make sure everything is dry,” Bucks says. “Put it back together and try to light your pilot, and see if your gas comes on at that point.”
The reach-in cooler or walk-in refrigerator isn’t cooling.
Often, cleaning or replacing the compressor filter to allow airflow will do the trick, Kurlander says. Legard suggests checking the condenser fan to make sure it’s not obstructed. “What happens is somebody has left a sheet pan with something covered in [plastic] wrap … and the fan will catch and suck it up into your unit,” he says.
The water bill is way out of whack; no sinks are dripping, so it must be the toilet. “If your toilet is running and you don’t catch that for a month, your water bill is usually $800 and now it goes to $1,600,” Kurlander says.
“The fix is usually a $1.50 flapper at Home Depot,” he says. “If you hear water running, you must check this immediately,” says Kurlander of a mistake his operation has learned to deal with after having to pay up multiple times in the past.
The hood must be malfunctioning, because the kitchen is filling up with smoke.
“Nine times out of 10, it’s the belt on the hood that’s broken,” Kurlander has found. His test: Take a piece of wax paper and hold it up against the hood while it’s on. “If the hood sucks it in, it’s working.” If it falls to the ground, it’s time to order a new belt and swap it out.