While labor is always an issue for restaurant operators, it has become one of the industry’s biggest challenges in the post-pandemic era. In response, many operators now are taking a hard look at time- and labor-saving kitchen equipment. When it comes to these units, there’s more to consider than the price tag and the full-time employee costs they could save.
According to Greg Meleny, a certified Master Technician by the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) and a field technician with Baltimore-based service agency EMR Corp., operators need to understand that equipment promising to save labor tends to be more complex than more standard models and this complexity impacts maintenance and repair.
Take a fryer with a basket lift as an example. A standard fryer has just a few basic components that cause most service issues. But with these more advanced units, “you’re dealing with lift motors, control boards, shafts and seals. The benefits of a timed lift basket are consistent cook quality and minimal wasted food, but these newer, more advanced components require more attention and care,” Meleney says.
That “attention and care” comes in the form of regular cleaning and maintenance, and even planned maintenance agreements with an equipment service company like EMR. These activities, of course, come with a price tag in the form of employee labor hours and payments to a service agency, which operators should consider.
On the regular cleaning front, Meleney stresses that operators should follow the cleaning guidelines in their owners manuals. While operators should follow these guidelines for all pieces of equipment, they become even more important as units get more complicated and expensive.
Consider that fryer with a basket lift again. If an operator does not properly clean the unit daily, as the owner’s manual recommends, says Meleney, it becomes easier for grease to migrate past the seals and into the lift motor, causing a breakdown.
When considering the purchase of a labor- and time-saving piece of equipment, operators should research that unit, added Meleney. It’s useful to find out how much work goes into daily cleaning, what the planned maintenance agreements can look like and even what parts break down most frequently. Operators can find much of this information by talking to their foodservice equipment dealers, reading reviews online and even reaching out to their service agency.
“It seems like a weird thing to do. ‘I'm buying a piece of equipment so I'm going to call a service company and ask their opinion.’ But you can find out more about it from people who service these things. You can learn what that equipment is going to take and what you're going to be involved in when you purchase it,” says Meleney.
In the end, then, labor-saving equipment can benefit an operation by relieving some hiring pressure and even producing more consistent food, but there is more to consider. Operators need to go into these purchases with their eyes open, understanding that the cleaning, maintenance and labor associated with these must be accounted for.