Preventive Maintenance is Secret Ingredient to Your Success

by: Tracie J. Trent, Johnson-Melloh, Inc.
Date: 12/18/2006

You’ve been planning your holiday menus for months, but have you planned for kitchen equipment or mechanical system failures? What if your broiler or dish machine breakdown right in the middle of a holiday dinner rush? Or what if your heating system fails on a cold, snowy evening? Preventive maintenance on your kitchen equipment and mechanical systems may be the most important recipe for a profitable holiday season and beyond.

Establishing a preventive maintenance program (PM) will ensure that your equipment is operating properly and efficiently when you need it most. Proper maintenance of equipment like cooking appliances, refrigeration and heating & air conditioning systems will also help restaurant owners save on their energy bills. Simply replacing filters and cleaning condenser coils on your air conditioning system regularly could save you up to 5% annually on electric utility bills.

The first step to launching a successful PM program is to contact a mechanical service company in your area. A mechanical service company has professionally trained technicians available to perform service on the mechanical systems in your restaurant like air conditioning, heating and plumbing. Many also offer PM and repair on commercial kitchen equipment. Check with several companies before making a selection to ensure you’re getting a qualified team of technicians with the most competitive rates.

The mechanical service company will take the following steps to establish your maintenance program:

• Assess existing equipment and correct deficiencies: A complete audit will be performed of your existing facility and equipment. Minor repairs may be performed to bring equipment to standard operating condition.

• Document information on existing equipment: A list of existing equipment including make, model number and serial number will be prepared for purposes of ordering parts and supplies when needed.

• Determine frequency of PM: A technician will meet with you and discuss your business needs and goals for your maintenance program. From this information, an annual timeline will be established for service staff to perform needed maintenance. Remember maintenance will usually need to be performed outside of normal business hours. Emergency repairs which arise and are outside the scope of the maintenance contract will typically be billed separately and at published service company rates.

•Train staff: A key to a successful maintenance program is simply training your staff about equipment operation and simple “in-between” maintenance. For instance, cleaning clogged burners will allow for better operation and extend the overall life of the unit. Also, prompt response to minor problems helps to avoid major repairs and downtime later.

Well-established, successful commercial kitchens employ maintenance programs to prevent problems that lead to reduction in productivity and early equipment failure, as well as reduce the amount of their utility bills. Do you need all your appliances on all the time? Equipment idle time costs you money, so develop a startup/shutdown procedure to make sure you’re only using the equipment you need. For example, cutting only one hour of broiler idle time every day could save you up to $450 annually. Even minor problems like leaky faucets or dish machines can result in waste of thousands of gallons of water annually. If that leak just happens to be hot water—you’ll spend several hundreds of dollars heating the water on top of the cost of your water bill!

Frequent service checks of your heating and air conditioning systems may indicate problems that could become larger repair issues down the road. Annual cooling and heating inspections, as well as mid-season running inspections, are critical to preventing catastrophic system failures. Proper maintenance may also extend the life of your air conditioning and heating system up to five years. Plus you’ll save on your annual energy bills, too!

Restaurant operators can get their biggest energy savings from regular maintenance of air conditioning, space heating and ventilation systems. For most restaurants, heating and air conditioning is second only to food preparation in terms of annual energy consumption. Dirty air filters and condenser coils impede air flow which causes your system to work harder and drags down the efficiency of the equipment.

A service company technician should check the complete operation of the heating and air conditioning system including the economizer, temperature controls, cabinet panels, condenser coils and airflow among other things. Filters should be changed, at a minimum, every three months. Monthly filter changes may be recommended by the technician if your building is located next to a high traffic area or construction site where the air is dirtier.

Preventative maintenance may be the key ingredient in the overall success of your restaurant or institutional kitchen. Planning ahead can prevent downtime and lost revenues. With the busy holiday season right around the corner, now is a perfect time to prepare for 2007 by contacting a local mechanical service contractor to set-up your PM program.

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