Making Space for Servicing Equipment

From utilities to doorways, the physical space an operation occupies can impact service costs.

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Operators put a lot of thought into where to locate their businesses. Square footage, foot and vehicle traffic, competition, size of the potential market, rent, and so much more go into these decisions.

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One sometimes underappreciated aspect of an operation's location and physical space is how it impacts the foodservice equipment that will go there. In fact, operators that fail to plan carefully may end up with some very expensive and entirely avoidable problems.

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Many of these problems involve utilities, said Paul Toukatly, service manager for upstate New York's Duffy's Equipment Services and vice president of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA). It's common, he said, for an operator to purchase a new piece of equipment that doesn't match the space's utilities. An operator, for example, may buy an oven that runs on liquefied petroleum gas, or LP gas, while the building has natural gas. On the electric side, voltage mismatches between building and equipment are also common. More careful purchasing can go a long way toward eliminating these mistakes.

Some utility problems, Toukatly said, arise when a restaurant expands. "In smaller places, quite often where business has grown, they'll add a range, then they add a fryer and then a kettle. Then suddenly, the gas piping that was originally run in the building won't support all the equipment. That's a volume problem and it means running new gas lines, typically."

It's best to take steps to avoid this problem in the first place. Since, as Toukatly said, "pipe is cheap, but the labor to install it is not," operators ought to install pipe that is larger than needed during their initial construction. "It's not that much more expensive, but it will take care of the needs you have down the road," he said.

Another common space-related problem is simply getting a large piece of equipment into a facility. When they purchase a unit, foodservice operators should understand what it will take to get it into their kitchen. The floor the operation is on, the availability (or lack) of a freight elevator, the presence of ramp — all of these factors can drastically impact delivery and installation costs. Operators should factor them into their budgets.

Doors can be a particular sticking point for getting a unit into a kitchen, said Toukatly. If a piece of equipment is too tall or wide to make it through a door, the fixes can be particularly expensive. "You'll get to an operation," he said, "and have to completely disassemble a piece of equipment to get it in the kitchen, if it goes in at all. I've even seen situations where carpenters have had to come in and take the door frames apart and remove part of the wall."

When equipment is actually in a kitchen, other problems can arise from the space's layout, Toukatly said. Some pieces of kitchen equipment, especially larger, complex units, need significant clearance on one side for an access panel — often about 18 inches. Even experienced design consultants can short that figure, Toukatly said, thinking that the specified clearance is for cooling purposes and that 6 inches will more than suffice.

This can be a very expensive mistake. Service agents unable to get to the access panel will need to unhook the unit's utilities, pull it into the aisle and then set up temporary utility hookups to test the unit. This can easily add hours to a job. If all this has to take place outside standard work hours, those extra hours may be charged at time-and-a-half, said Toukatly.

There are a lot of factors operators must consider when choosing a space. The finer details of how equipment will match up with a space probably aren't high on the list. But by paying attention to the interplay of a kitchen and its equipment, operators could save themselves time, money and a lot of hassle.

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