For many foodservice operators, the holiday season is one of the most profitable times of the year.
Family get-togethers, catered events and people just grabbing a bite to eat between errands all combine to drive sales and profits. During such a busy time, a broken piece of equipment can be a bigger-than-normal problem, both in terms of a kitchen's smooth operation and in terms of a restaurant's bottom line.
So what can operators do to prevent such problems and make the most of the holiday rush?
First, they should establish a good working relationship with a service agency well before the holidays. That's according to Kirby Mallon, owner and president of Elmer Schultz Services, a Philadelphia-based service agency that covers southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and all of Delaware.
These operator/service agent relationships often take the form of preventative maintenance agreements, said Mallon, who's also a member of the board of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA). Not only do such relationships help prevent breakdowns they also make the operator a priority in the eyes of the service agency.
"If I get a phone call a week before Thanksgiving from someone that doesn't use Elmer Schultz for service, I'm going to tell them we're not taking on new clients because we're taking care of our existing customers," he said.
One caveat he added, was that operators who don't pay their bills on time likely won't be high on the service agent's list, even if they have a prior relationship. "We strive for same-day service and resolution on the first service call," said Mallon. "If you call today and we come in for a service call, 85 percent of the time it's fixed that day. To do that, you can't spread yourself too thin. [At this time of year] we'll take on customers we have a relationship with, customers who pay their bills on time and who have a preventative maintenance contract in place."
If an operator makes the cut and needs emergency service, the call to set up an appointment can have a big impact on its final cost, Mallon said. When talking to a service agency, operators should:
- Have the model and serial number on hand, if possible. This information allows a technician to bring that unit's parts to the service call, increasing the odds of a first-visit fix.
- Inform the service agency how the unit has been functioning. Knowing a unit's behavior makes it easier to diagnose the problem.
- Ask the agency how to prep the malfunctioning unit ahead of the service call. It's much cheaper to have kitchen staff empty an ice machine's storage bin, for example, than to pay a service agent $100 an hour to do the same job.
Of course, having equipment serviced is not the only thing operators can do to help it function well during the holidays. Operators should clean their units year-round, including before the holiday rush. Simple things like clean pilot lights can not only prevent breakdowns, they can also help equipment operate as effectively and efficiently as possible during one of the busiest times of year.
This bit of advice, though, comes with a big warning. Operators will often hire a cleaning crew to clean their kitchen in preparation for the holiday rush. These crews must know to never hose down kitchen equipment — a mistake Mallon has seen far too often. "The next morning operators will turn on the equipment and the control boards are wet, the pilot assemblies are wet, and the spark modules are wet. It causes tremendous havoc. A restaurateur should have a good relationship with their cleaning crew, make sure they're not using hoses, that they're cleaning properly and keeping water away from equipment that has controls."
These few tips can help prevent service problems during the holiday season, and make any problems that do arise as painless as possible.