You hear it all the time from service agencies: Don’t just hire a guy off the street, or even a plumber or HVAC company, to handle equipment installation and service. This may sound a little self-serving when a service agency makes this argument but there’s plenty of reason to believe the agencies are looking out for operators, not just themselves.

According to John Schwindt, vice president of operations/general manager for Colorado-based Hawkins Commercial Appliance and current president of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA), the answer comes down to expertise and training.

“Cooking equipment is becoming more and more complex. Refrigeration equipment is becoming more and more complex. Things are changing so fast it’s hard for a professional who does it full time to keep up, let alone someone who is just trying to dabble in it,” Schwindt says.

This understanding — and the lack thereof — can have a major impact on how equipment performs after its been serviced.

This can be seen most clearly when it comes to equipment installation. Gas equipment, in particular, can show exactly why. While hooking one of these units up to a gas line may seem simple, there’s a lot more to a successful installation. “There’s no such thing as plug and play for gas equipment,” says Schwindt.

Combustion air and gas pressure both need to be adjusted, Schwindt says. In addition, many new facilities are being built with two-pound gas systems, not half-pound systems most gas cooking equipment needs. If an appliance is installed into the wrong system without the proper regulator, which doesn’t come standard with new equipment, it will ruin the internal parts.

Even electrical appliances aren’t as simple as most people think, Schwindt adds. Consumer appliances typically run on either 115 or 230 volts. Commercial equipment, though, also has 120 volts, 208 volts, 240 volts and 480 volts. Feed too little voltage to a unit and its performance will lag; too much and the piece’s electronic components will fry.

When installers do not check inputs for kitchen equipment (both gas and electric), units can easily malfunction. If the operator then calls in a service agent to repair a new piece of equipment, the end user will find the warranty does not cover fixing poor installations, Schwindt notes. “Most manufacturers agree that over 60 percent of all warranty failures are caused by improper installations. One major manufacturer says 80 percent. This in itself should encourage an installation from a trained professional installer.”

The expertise of equipment service specialists covers not just individual pieces of equipment but how kitchens themselves are designed to function. This typically comes into play when operators change the equipment lineup in their kitchen. A handyman or even a plumber may think, for instance, that adding a second fryer is just a matter of adding another gas outlet. Skilled service agents know, however, that a building’s gas line may not have enough volume to serve that extra unit.

Beyond performance, a poor understanding of commercial kitchens can be a major safety hazard, Schwindt adds. Take adding that fryer as an example. A plumber may install a fryer next to a chargrill when asked. A trained service agent knows that having grease next to an open flame poses a major safety hazard that could lead to anything from a fine to a devastating fire.

Similarly, a handyman may hang a cheese melter on a wall, no questions asked. A service agent, Schwindt says, knows to check for flammable materials on or inside that wall, along with how to mount the unit safely.

“If you put a piece on a wall that doesn’t have any backing, the next thing you know, it falls off. Your gas hose then breaks off and gas starts pouring into the room, on top of the fact that somebody probably just had an 800-degree appliance fall on them.”

How to tell if the company you hired knows its stuff, then? Schwindt stresses asking them about training. Do they attend factory training or sessions offered by CFESA? In fact, CFESA offers both hot and cold side training to all, Schwindt says.

This training may result in a more expensive bill than operators would receive from a handyman. But in the long run, the skill and expertise an established service agency offers will pay for itself in operational efficiency and safety.