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Smooth Service in the Age of COVID-19

Even with some states tightening restrictions in the face of a second pandemic peak, lockdowns across the country are largely lighter compared to earlier in the year.

With foodservice operations once again up and running, their equipment will require service. But how service agents approach servicing equipment continues to evolve to ensure a safe and sanitary working environment for both the operators and the techs servicing the equipment.

Naturally, most agencies report taking a more thorough approach to the cleaning of equipment and work areas. Field techs now wear masks and make regular use of hand sanitizer when making service calls. The burden doesn’t fall on service agents alone, though. Operators can encourage social distancing and reduce disease risk for themselves and the service agents they work with.

One way to reduce exposure on a service call is to eliminate the need for service calls in the first place, says Scott Hester, president of Mesquite, Texas-based Refrigerated Specialists, Inc., and Cooking Equipment Specialists. It is often possible to fix with a few simple steps the problems operators encounter.  These steps could be simple cleaning or following proper usage guidelines for a piece of equipment, such as not overfilling cold pans in a pizza table.

Operators who encounter a problem that isn’t a clear breakdown can call their regular service agent and look for guidance on how to solve the problem. While this may take some time and patience on the operator’s part, it’s more socially distant, not to mention more affordable.

“We're always available and willing to help them with anything that can help avoid the minimum arrival and minimum time-on-site fees,” Hester says. If it can be avoided, I don't want to waste their money or my money. Whatever we can do to be smart together, we should do ... Maybe they can try a little bit on their own to solve the issue.”

If a service call is necessary, social distancing remains possible. Large institutions with in-house facilities departments, such as hospitals and nursing homes, can sometimes pull smaller pieces of equipment out of a kitchen and move them to an area away from employees and patients for servicing.

In other cases, simply being flexible with scheduling can help smooth out service calls and encourage COVID-19-safe practices. For a service call scheduled at the start of the day, arriving even just a little earlier than normal to let a service agent work can help limit the number of people in a kitchen, Hester says.  “In a lot of cases if [a manager] comes in 30 minutes earlier to give us a jump-start on the cooks, we can be way ahead and out of the way before they come in.”

Hester also encourages service agents and operators to be transparent with each other about the status of their operations and employees during the pandemic. In a recent case, one of his technicians arrived at a call only to find out that an employee of the restaurant had recently tested positive for COVID-19. The service call still went smoothly but being caught unaware and off-guard could lead to problems in some cases.

The pandemic has changed much about our daily lives and work practices. Service calls represent just one more area where some tweaks may be necessary. By taking these simple steps, though, operators can help keep themselves, their employees and their business partners safe.