Where a piece of foodservice equipment sits in a kitchen can play a big role in the maintenance it will need throughout its service life.

Kitchen equipment can fail on its own for plenty of reasons: fan belts break, hoses spring leaks, filters clog and coils get dirty.

Some breakdowns, though, have more to do with a piece of equipment’s location than the equipment itself. Where a unit resides in a kitchen, particularly in relation to other pieces of foodservice equipment, can lead to performance problems, frequent service calls and even shorter equipment life.

According to Jeremy Allen, vice president of operations for Indiana-based service agency Vanco, cold side pieces often become the victims of such layout-based service issues. Clearance for vents represents one of the most obvious issues. If a unit doesn’t have the specified space around its vents, it will have trouble maintaining temperature and the equipment becomes much more likely to break down prematurely.

Refrigerators on cooking lines face similar challenges. Pieces located in a particularly hot area of a kitchen, such as an undercounter unit below a flattop grill, have to work harder to maintain safe-food holding temperatures. Naturally, harder work over a long period of time can lead to service issues.

“Refrigeration equipment needs to breathe, needs to reject heat through a condensing unit. Any time you put that next to heat producing cooking equipment, that’s obviously going to create issues about performance,” Allen says.

In such a setup, operators should make sure their dealers and reps know exactly how the facility will use the unit. Communicating this can help ensure that operators get the absolute best piece of equipment for the job.

Hot air isn’t the only challenge facing refrigeration units on hot lines. Grease presents another problem. Refrigerators operating next to cooking equipment face constant exposure to grease-laden air. If the unit sucks the grease into its condenser, the piece of equipment will have a more difficult time shedding heat.

In such a situation, Allen recommends foodservice operators either use a powerful cleaner to keep their condensor clear or place a filter media over the refrigerator's vents to trap grease. If they go with the filter, though, they must “religiously” change it at least once a month. “If you are going to use it but you’re not going to come back for another three months, it’s probably going to do the unit more harm than good because it’s going to plug up. Now you’re in a worse situation than if you didn’t have it originally,” says Allen.

Grease poses a problem for more than refrigeration, though. Any unit that relies on electronic controls becomes susceptible to a grease-based breakdown. Particulates entering through a vent can cause the electronics to short. This can be an issue with everything from combis to microwaves to rapid-cook ovens, says Allen.

Equipment layout doesn’t just cause environmental problems. Accessibility of equipment represents another big layout-related issue. In short, pieces that are harder to get to are more expensive to maintain.

“The more you pack in a kitchen, the more difficult you make it for a tech to get in and work on a piece of equipment, the more expensive a service repair is going to be because of the time involved to remove a unit,” says Allen.

This situation often arises in older buildings or in downtown areas, where space is at a premium. In other cases, perfectly normal methods of economizing on space, such as placing a small oven on a shelf, can make getting to the unit difficult.

Sometimes this issue can be addressed in the design phase. In other cases, there’s not much an operation can do to improve accessibility, says Allen. Instead, operators should simply be aware of the situation and budget accordingly.

At some point, most operations run into layout-related service issues. They can often be as simple as sticking to a strict schedule for cleaning condensers, or as complex as components going dead years ahead of schedule. Whatever the layout, though, operators should work with their supply chain partners, from dealers to reps to service agents, to minimize the risk and expense of design-related challenges.