Depending on the situation, a service agency could be the difference between success and failure for a professional kitchen. It only makes sense, then, for operators to do what they can to get the most out of their service team.

The most important thing an operator can do in this area is build a relationship with a reliable service agency, says Jeremy Allen, president of Indianapolis-based service agency Vanco, which operates in central Indiana,. “If they’re an established client, that means everything. It means we hopefully have some level of trust,” he says.

This trust translates to better service in many ways. Take emergency calls, for example. All service agencies manage their manpower and have limited resources for emergency calls, especially after normal business hours.

If both an established client and a first-time customer need emergency help, says Allen, basically every service agency will take care of its established client first. “That’s how you run your business. You’re going to take care of the people who take care of you. That goes two ways.”

In the case of Vanco, in fact, the company will not schedule after hours emergency calls with operators unless they already work with them. The company, Allen says, has limited staff for those situations and saves its capacity to help its regular customers.

Beyond getting preferential scheduling, having a solid service provider relationship can make service calls go more smoothly for the operator. A big part of this comes by having familiarity with the operator’s equipment. If the field technician or in-house service team hears a familiar complaint, or if they know a particular piece of equipment tends to have certain problems, they can come to the call prepared. They could even have needed replacement parts on the truck, making a first-call fix more likely. This limits downtime and can enhance productivity for the foodservice operator.

An established business relationship typically makes the logistics of the actual call seamless, Allen adds. “We know their preferred communication, if they like emails, a web portal or just talking over the phone. ... We know what their estimate thresholds look like. So, if it’s anything under, say, $1,000, we know they want to get it fixed, but above that they want an estimate. [This information] makes things move along so much more smoothly.”

What’s more, if a single company knows the service history of a piece of equipment, that agency can help with repair or replace decisions, Allen says. The agency, for example, can estimate how long that type of unit should last and let the operator know exactly how much has already been spent to repair it. From there, the service agent can give guidance on the expected future of the malfunctioning unit.

Beyond service calls, though, operators can take advantage of an agency’s expertise when there’s a solid partnership in place.

If a service agency knows an operation, its associates can give solid guidance on planned maintenance, Allen says. “Maybe they’re only using a unit one day a week. We can look at that and say you don’t need quarterly planned maintenance on this. Once a year is good.”

Similarly, a service agent partner can help an operator avoid headaches if they’re looking to replace a piece of equipment. The agency can give tips on what to watch out for when swapping one piece of equipment for a different type of unit, and offer guidance on logistics, ranging from utility hookups to simply getting the piece into the kitchen, Allen says.

From emergency calls to scheduling to expert advice, then, building a relationship with a good service agency can help an operator avoid kitchen catastrophes and make smart plans for the future. “In service, there are not a lot of contracts out there,” Allen says. “Having a good relationship gives us the details we need about how the customer likes to operate. It lets us know their expectations.”