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Hot Side Misuse and Abuse Can Lead to Avoidable Service Calls

Some kitchen equipment service calls just can’t be avoided. A thermometer goes out, a component reaches the end of its lifecycle, moving parts need deep cleaning and lubrication. There’s nothing an operator can do about these.

Then there are the other calls, the ones that are completely avoidable. When a kitchen team member or someone on the cleaning crew misuses or abuses a piece of equipment, an operator could shell out hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, to undo those mistakes.

According to Jeff Martin, service manager for the Tampa, Fla., branch of Clark Service Group, many such problems he encounters happen at the end of the day, during equipment cleaning. In these cases, people try to do the right thing, but they may not do it in the right way. This often stems from a lack of training.

One common problem, Martin says, is the use of the wrong cleaning solution. In some cases, the wrong chemical will just leave a residue that requires cleaning. In others, the wrong solution can actually damage or even destroy a piece of equipment. Martin has seen this happen to combi ovens, effectively destroying a unit worth several thousand dollars or more.

“Someone is wiping it down and instead of putting it through its automatic cleaning cycle, which almost all of them have right now, and they’ll spray whatever cleaner they have in their hand inside the oven and wipe it down,” Martin says. “That can etch the stainless steel and destroy that oven, just because they were in a hurry.”

Another cleaning issue happens when an employee sweeps or mops the area behind the equipment. It’s easy for a power cord to get unplugged or a gas hose knocked off during this type of cleaning. If no one notices when this happens, Martin says, the morning team will find a unit that’s not working, leading to an easily avoidable service call. “Literally, you hit [a hose] with the broom and popped it free. It just needs to be snapped back on again. We get a lot of calls like that,” he says. The solution in this case is obvious. If it’s not working in the morning, check to see if it’s plugged in.

Other mistakes aren’t so innocent and could be eliminated with a little training and common sense. For example, Martin has encountered situations where staff who want to clean a hot griddle try to lower its temperature by pouring cold water on top. This results in a tremendous temperature shock to the metal that can easily crack the surface. Instead, train staffers to simply let griddles cool on their own before cleaning.

Even more egregious is how staff treat oven doors, says Martin. Despite their convenient height about a foot off the ground, oven doors are not steps. Far too many kitchen staffers treat them as such. “It happens all the time,” he says. “People open that oven door and stand on it so they can clean up in the hood. They either break the door off or bend the hinges. It happens a lot. I've seen ranges flip over from people doing it.” While it’s obvious that an oven door shouldn’t be treated like a step, perhaps knowing the cost of repairing a door (easily a few hundred dollars, says Martin) would encourage staffers to use a step stool instead.

Some other issues arise due to the use of equipment, says Martin. Many line cooks working the fryer will bang the basket against the pot to knock grease off the food. Any hard hit could put out the pilot light, while repeated hits risk cracking the pot itself, Martin says. For these reasons, managers should stress the importance of letting the basket hang and drain on its own.