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Smooth Sailing on Emergency Calls

Emergency service calls are a simple fact of life for operators. That doesn’t mean they’re always simple. From the managers to the line cooks, an operator’s team can take a number of steps to help these calls go as smoothly and affordably as possible.

According to Mike Rossi, a technician with Baltimore-based service agency EMR, one key for efficient repair calls is simply making sure the service tech has enough information. This starts with the first call to the service agency. “Communicate the problem you are experiencing,” he says. “Just saying it’s not working is really not a whole lot of information. Say ‘I have power and it turns on, but doesn't heat,’ or, ‘My prep table is running but it isn’t reaching temperature.’ ”

Good communication during that initial call does more than let techs know what to expect. It also allows them to bring the components that are most likely to be used in a repair, increasing the odds of a first-call fix.

Continue communication basics when the tech arrives. Ideally, the person who placed the service call would be there to meet the technician and walk him through the problem. That’s not always possible, of course. The next best thing is having a kitchen team member on hand who understands the problem. Worst case: The tech arrives and no one knows what the issue is, or even what piece of equipment is broken.

“There are plenty of times when I have shown up and asked the manager about the equipment that isn’t working … and that person has no clue,” says Rossi. “If [the person who placed the call] isn’t going to be on-site, they should communicate to the next manager on duty about the problem and the service call.”

In addition to helping the tech understand the problem, operators can take some steps to make the call go smoothly and quickly. One big one, Rossi says, is simply not using the malfunctioning equipment and unplugging it, providing it’s safe to do so.

On the hot side, a piece that’s being used while malfunctioning will need to cool down before the technician can begin work in most cases. That usually means 30 minutes to a full hour when the tech can’t do anything but still has to bill the operator. By cutting the power, the piece will be ready to work on as soon the tech arrives.

As a rule of thumb, unplug cold equipment because leaving it operating could cause the problem to grow, says Rossi. “If it is a piece of refrigeration equipment that is up in temperature, I would say it is best to unplug it. The unit could be frozen up or the compressor could be overheating and you’re just doing more damage by letting that thing run more and more.”

Operators should also prepare for the disruptions that emergency service calls can cause. In an ideal scenario, the equipment isn’t necessary for the kitchen to keep operating and staff or the technician can move the unit to a prep kitchen or loading dock for service.

If the kitchen requires the troubled equipment to continue serving customers, the operator should consider scheduling an emergency repair during off-hours our when the business is closed. The other option is to simply accept the disruption and come up with workarounds. “If you need that equipment right now … I can work on it, but we are going to have to work together with whoever is on the cookline,” Rossi says.

Operators never want to deal with emergency service calls. But by taking them head-on with as much information and planning as possible, these calls can go smoothly for tech and operator alike.