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Consider Planned Maintenance When Budgeting

With the business environment slowly plodding along, a growing number of foodservice operators continue to repair rather than replace their foodservice equipment. In order for this money-saving step to truly benefit the business, however, foodservice operators should invest in planned maintenance for their equipment.

The benefits of having a planned maintenance agreement fall into two main categories — financial and operational. According to Wayne Stoutner, president and co-owner of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Appliance Installation and Service, the latter is probably where the biggest advantages lie.

By signing a planned maintenance contract with a local service agent, "you get to control your downtime. You'll be down for a few hours that you chose," he said. Service agencies, Stoutner stressed, will be able to work with operators' schedules, finding times for planned maintenance that are most convenient to them. A school foodservice operation can have its maintenance scheduled for the summer and winter breaks, for instance, while other operations can arrange for service during the days and hours that are most convenient to them.

What's more, planned maintenance agreements will almost certainly reduce the number of emergency service calls operations need, meaning they are less likely to have a key piece of cooking equipment fail during the busiest time of the week, for example, or have a refrigeration unit break down, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of spoiled food or multiple labor hours spent unloading a malfunctioning unit.

If a piece of equipment does break down unexpectedly, having a standing relationship with an equipment service agency should result in better, faster service. If the service agency is familiar with the equipment used in an operation, it will be more likely that they have necessary replacement parts on the truck and ready for installation on the first visit, said Stoutner.

To help ensure this level of service, Stoutner recommends operators visit the websites of their equipment manufacturers to find the factory authorized service agents in their area, almost all of which will also be members of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA). Such firms, he said, know the ins-and-outs of the equipment they are authorized to service and are more likely to have replacement parts in stock.

While these companies may charge somewhat more on a per-hour basis than non-CFESA, non-factory authorized firms, Stoutner noted that partnering with them will often actually save an operator money.

"Don't always get hung up on the money. If you take a situation where you have a factory-authorized service agent with the proper parts in the warehouse and on the truck, the per-hour rate may be a little more but it will get fixed more quickly. So the overall bill will be a lot less and you're actually getting better service," he said.

On the financial side, the most obvious benefit is lower overall service costs, said Stoutner. If all works as it should, operators' will have fewer emergency calls throughout the year. As a result, total spending on equipment service will be lower as well as more predictable vs. relying on emergency service calls only.

These agreements have some additional, less obvious, but still very real financial advantages. Properly maintained pieces of equipment, Stoutner said, will use less energy than ones that aren't regularly serviced, resulting in lower utility bills.

Even more significant, such equipment will last longer, lowering capital investment expenses. Consider a refrigerator or icemaker, Stoutner said. "A clean condenser means fans are running less, compressors are running less — all the moving parts are running less. So you get a longer lifespan for the equipment on top of the energy savings."

While budgets are still tight for most foodservice operations, equipment service and repairs will be an expense in 2013. Planned maintenance agreements offer operators the ability to control that expense and pay attention to what really matters: the customer.

"Spend a little money upfront to save more down the road," said Stoutner, "but also to save time and grief and to allow yourself to focus on customer service, which is what you're in the business of doing."