Commercial kitchens can easily run in the tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that sort of outlay, operators spend long hours working with design consultants and dealers to specify equipment that best fits their budget and their needs.
The job isn’t done when the specs are written, though. The equipment has got to be put in, and put in well. While proper installation contributes to a well-run kitchen, a poor install can impact food quality and safety and force an operator to make thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs.
To avoid these problems in newly built facilities, operators should choose their general contractor (GC) carefully, said Chris Heina, director of business development for Chicago-based service agency Cobblestone Ovens. While the GC itself typically doesn’t install kitchen equipment, it does build the infrastructure – gas, water, electrical – commercial kitchens rely on.
It’s not uncommon for Heina to see problems caused by an inexperienced GC. His firm recently dealt with one such situation when attempting to install and start up an oven. “The contractor didn’t have the right gas meter size. Instead of installing a gas pressure regulator after the meter was installed, they installed a water pressure regular on the gas line. Now we’ve had to go out there four different times. [The operator] probably could have avoided the cost of having us go out there all those different times had they hired somebody that knew what they were doing,” Heina stated.
Such situations, he added, can be especially expensive to fix. Swapping out a gas meter, for example, can run $2000. In addition, if a new piece of equipment is malfunctioning due to improper installation, the manufacturer may refuse to honor the warranty.
To avoid this sort of problem, Heina recommends asking some basic questions to potential GCs: How many commercial kitchens have you built? Do you have a strong relationship with a good HVAC company? Do your plumbing and electrical subcontractors have experience working with commercial kitchens? What’s your relationship with the local utility companies? These questions, he said, help reveal how well the GC knows commercial kitchens and its ability to handle problems that may pop up along the way.
No matter the level of experience a GC has, there are steps that an operator can take to help make the actual installation go smoothly. Chief among these is bringing a company certified by the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) on board.
This service agency’s work should start with a site inspection. During this visit, the field technician will look for potential problems. These include checking the size and location of the kitchen’s utility hook-ups and determining whether the site’s water filtration system (if any) meets its kitchen’s needs. The tech will also make sure that there’s actually a way to get all the specified equipment into the kitchen – a problem that can arise when dealing with large pieces of equipment. “The last thing you want to do with a piece of equipment is show up and figure out it can’t fit through the door…We’ve learned that the hard way,” he said.
The CFESA certified company should also handle the actual install and start-up. During this process, the technician will calibrate the equipment, which supports food quality, food safety and energy efficiency, and also make sure it’s in good working order, which impacts safety more broadly. “Things like a fryer you want to make sure they’re properly started up and that they high limit is checked. I’ve seen buildings that burned down because of that,” he said.
The investment operators make in building out a new location is considerable. They should protect that investment by hiring partners who ensure that kitchen equipment has the infrastructure to work as intended and that it is installed in good working order.