The end of the year can be an incredibly busy and lucrative period for foodservice operations. Holiday shopping means more people are out and about, making them more likely to stop at a restaurant for a meal or snack. Family get-togethers also equal more meals out.
In preparation, many operators decide to have their equipment checked over to ensure it's up for the extra workload to come. According to John Schwindt, vice president of operations and general manager with Colorado-based Hawkins Commercial Appliance Services, the decision to get equipment tuned up before the holidays is a good one. Waiting until just before the holidays is not.
"Everybody waits until the day before a holiday and then expects service. By then, there's usually a huge scheduling backlog," said Schwindt. Part of the reason, he noted, is that many commercial kitchens can only be serviced early in the morning, before operations have started for the day. That greatly limits the number of available slots for servicing.
Instead, Schwindt recommends that operators set up their winter planned maintenance now. Right after Halloween, he said, should allow operator and service agent to find a time that works for both of them.
Beyond easier scheduling, though, operators should set up service calls in early November as a cost-saving move.
Operators, he said, should do business with a firm certified by the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association or with an authorized service center. Such businesses have inventories of commonly needed replacement parts, which should help speed most repairs. If, however, a new piece of equipment needs to be ordered or a part needs to be shipped, the cost of shipping will be far lower in early November than in early December, when online shopping means a huge number of packages are being shipped. What's more, the wait for a new part is likely to be shorter now than during the holiday season, when many people are out on vacation and many manufacturers shutter their operations for a short period.
Beyond checking out the obvious pieces of equipment — fryers, ovens, refrigerators, etc. — during the winter tune up service agents should pay particular attention to three additional systems, Schwindt said.
The first is the HVAC and hood system in a kitchen. As warmer temperatures give way to cold, he said, "the whole dynamic of your kitchen is changing. You're going from open doors or air conditioning pumping into the building to having the heater on. Things are changing dramatically." This change, he said, necessitates a thorough tune up to a kitchen's ventilation system to ensure it's working properly.
Also impacted by the cooler weather is gas-powered cooking equipment. The same line that supplies gas-powered ovens, fryers, etc. feeds gas-powered furnaces that heat restaurants. The increased demand for natural gas can cause cooking equipment to take longer to heat up and longer to recover between rounds of cooking. Sometimes, said Schwindt, a service agent can address the problem by opening the gas lines to individual pieces of equipment a bit wider. Other times, however, there is nothing a service agent can do: the amount of gas entering an establishment is limited by the size of the pipe. In such a situation operators simply must adjust their cooking processes.
The third system most heavily impacted by the winter months is more of a regional issue, said Schwindt. In places like Colorado and other mountainous areas and regions that get heavy snowfall, much of the year's water comes from that year's snowmelt. As winter approaches and snow stops melting, water is coming from deeper wells and reservoirs. This water has different minerals than snowmelt water. Because of this, "water filters get clogged up, so it's very important to keep your water filter system up to date, especially at the end of the year. "
Following these tips should help ensure commercial kitchens run smoothly during the holidays, said Schwindt, while ignoring planned maintenance now can result in an operational and financial disaster.
"Get it all done before Thanksgiving. Don't wait till after when things are booming," he said. "Fifteen years ago everybody had two pieces of equipment to do the same job. Now with square-foot restrictions everybody's down to one. If that piece goes down, you could have a serious problem."