Service Agent Q&A with Matthew Evans, vice president, AIS Commercial Parts & Service Inc., Pittsburgh

FE&S: What is a typical cleaning schedule for serving/buffet equipment?

ME: Typically, this equipment should not require extensive cleaning if it is maintained properly during daily operation. Cleaning the hot or cold wells after each use will keep them clean and running effectively. Quarterly or semi-annual preventative maintenance is never a bad idea and also provides an opportunity to make sure that the equipment is running at its peak efficiency.

FE&S: How are these tasks best performed?

ME: Daily cleaning is simple and requires no more than using a noncaustic cleaner and wiping the interior and exterior of the unit down after each use or shift change. Ensuring that all food debris is removed and that there is no baked-on food left in the well is important. If there is heavy debris, a light scrubber from the dishroom should be used to thoroughly clean the unit. When the establishment is done for the day, all water in the equipment should be drained and wiped out. During any cleaning, it is also important to make sure the unit is cooled down, powered off and unplugged, if possible.

FE&S: How can operators maximize the service life of this equipment?

ME: The number one item that can assist in maximizing the service life of buffet and serving equipment is to ensure that it is being operated properly. Units that require water to heat the product cannot be run when dry. Periodically checking the water level during usage will keep the pans in good shape and free of burn-through holes, which would require replacement. Refrigerated unit condenser coils need to be cleaned and maintained regularly to ensure that the cooling systems are running at peak efficiency. Compressors should be kept cool, which also will extend the life of the equipment.

FE&S: When should an operator call a service agent?

ME: Any time a safety issue is noticed, such as leaking, sparking, sharp surfaces, smoking, etc., a service agent should be called. If a unit stops heating or cooling, a qualified service technician should be utilized to evaluate and repair the problem.

FE&S: What is the average service life of this equipment?

ME: End users should be able to get a minimum of three to five years out of smaller, single units. That being said, the larger custom units have a much longer life expectancy. As a service agent, we consistently work on custom pieces that are 15-plus years old. Proper maintenance of the equipment always is a huge factor in the life cycle of these pieces.

FE&S: What are signs equipment needs replacing?

ME: There are many different types of buffet or serving equipment to take into account when evaluating this. Lower cost, single units are often not worth repairing once they are out of the warranty period or have served several years, because the cost of the repair would exceed the purchase price of a new unit. In these circumstances, any major repair would warrant thinking about replacement. On larger units with multiple wells or custom-designed serving counters, an operator would want to look for reduced heating or cooling capacity, any cracked or split wells or a deteriorated overall appearance. Larger units with four or more wells are often worth repairing, even if extensive work is needed. Age also plays a factor in determining replacement.