Examining Planned Maintenance Programs and Used Equipment Purchases

As they tried to ride out the recession, many foodservice operators cut back on planned maintenance of equipment and some even looked to buy used foodservice equipment. Here are a few tips on how foodservice operators can re-start a planned mainteance program and what they should look for when buying used equipment.

When business softens and cash flow tightens, it is only natural for foodservice operators to cut back on expenses or find ways to try to keep expenditures at the bare minimum. During this past recessionary period, these steps took the form of foodservice operators cutting back on planned maintenance and showing a greater interest in purchasing used equipment. Operators often take these steps with the hopes that it will keep their service costs to a minimum. Ironically, if foodservice operators are not careful, these steps can actually result in higher service costs.

Of course, it is important to understand how planned maintenance differs from regular service costs. Simply put, servicing a piece of foodservice equipment means the technician only fixes what is broken or what is necessary to get the item back up and running, says veteran service agent Bruce Hodge, president of Waukesha, Wis.-based General Parts, LLC. In contrast, planned maintenance has a loftier set of goals that looks at the piece of equipment holistically.

Basically, when performing planned maintenance, the service agent executes a specific scope of work at regular intervals that helps bring the piece of equipment back to the factory performance specifications. The most common real-life analogy is the regular oil changes, tune ups and brake work done on an automobile. Most any car owner who has skimped on these steps can tell you in agonizing detail the financial ramifications of doing so.

"If you drive a car that is five years old and ask the dealer to make it run like it did the day you drove it off the showroom floor you will spend a lot of money on maintenance work getting back up to factory specs," Hodge says. "The same applies to foodservice equipment."

In addition, many people mistakenly believe that planned maintenance will prevent service calls. "Planned maintenance is scheduled maintenance that you have to do," Hodge says. "It's like getting a physical for your equipment. At least you are checking the vitals at a particular point in time."

With that in mind, Hodge offers a series of suggestions to help foodservice operators get a better handle on their planned maintenance costs.

Identify and Focus on Your Core Pieces of Equipment: It's not necessary to have a planned maintenance schedule on every piece of equipment. Rather, Hodge suggests identifying those items that are essential to an operation's core menu execution and focus on them. For example, a pizza restaurant needs the oven, some refrigeration and a dough roller. "Without these items they are out of business," Hodge said. Other items that may not be as mission critical or high tech could be able to function properly without planned maintenance.

Calculate Maintenance and Repair Expenditures: Examine the service history or life cycle cost of each piece of equipment to better understand which ones are performing better and identify those that might be failing. The operator's service agent probably can help with some of this data. "They can see how much they spent on the kitchen or a specific piece of equipment over their lifetime," Hodge says. "Most operators don't know what they pay to keep their equipment running."

Share the Knowledge: Hodge also encourages foodservice operators to share the replacement cost of a particular piece of equipment with their service agents, who can track repair and maintenance costs. When these expenditures come close to equaling the cost of replacing the equipment, the service agent can alert the operator. "Then you will have an idea of when it makes more sense to repair or replace an item," Hodge says.

Tips for Buying Used Equipment

"A fair number of restaurants have shut their doors in recent years and that has put a lot of good used equipment on the market," Hodge points out and adds that his company refurbishes used equipment for some customers. While the used equipment may be plentiful, and much of it in good shape, not all of it is right for every operation.

With that in mind, here are a few tips operators can use when they look at purchasing used foodservice equipment.

  • Don't buy anything that has been flood damaged. "Think of it like buying a car: would you want to buy a car that was sitting in a lake?" Hodge asks somewhat rhetorically. Flooding can affect the unit's components and its insulation could be damaged. "Plus, you have no idea how thoroughly how that equipment was reviewed or refurbished – if at all," he adds.
  • Look at the age and the date code on the serial number. This will provide the operator with a more accurate idea of how old the equipment is. And if the operator is not sure how to read the serial number, they should consult their service agent. "Most of the CFESA-certified service agents should be able to help them determine the date in some form," Hodge says.
  • Appearance matters. Operators should look closely at the equipment taking note of what they see. While there is no way to avoid some of the general wear on a piece of equipment, there are a few telltale signs that an item has not been well maintained. "If there is carbon and grease built up on the fryer then it probably was not well maintained in the first place," Hodge says.
  • Simpler is better. "You are much safer buying something with basic controls than ones with solid state controls," Hodge says. "And buying a used combi oven is a little more involved than buying a used three-well steam table."
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