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Prep for Summer from the (Roof)top Down 

The summer heat and humidity bring added demand on foodservice equipment. While this is most clearly seen in tourist destinations that see a spike in traffic, it’s a fact for basically all operations.

According to Daniel Cornell, Tampa service manager for Coastline Cooling, most equipment that’s impacted is found outside, often on rooftops, where there’s very little protection from the weather, dirt, dust and even pollen. Even the smallest operation can have half a dozen pieces of equipment outside.

“Whether it be air-conditioning equipment … condensers for their ice machines, for their reach-in coolers, walk-in coolers. Any refrigeration that is on the rooftop or even outside of the building, in general, should have some form of basic maintenance program set up,” says Cornell.

This advice doesn’t apply only to rooftop equipment, Cornell stresses. Any equipment that sits outside should get special attention before the summer months. Units like ice makers often sit outside under an awning, for example. Operators should service these units in anticipation of higher temperatures and humidity, along with the season’s higher demand for cold drinks.

Basic maintenance for outdoor equipment includes cleaning off condenser coils; checking fan belts for wear, tear and tension; and blowing out AC lines to keep them clear of any debris.

These steps, Cornell notes, can prevent major failures from dominoing. A condenser coil that is not cleaned can fail, but it can also cause condenser fans to work beyond their capacity. That can result in fan belts snapping and the oil protecting a fan’s ball bearings breaking down.

While the issues are fewer, higher temperatures outside can cause problems inside as well. This can impact kitchen efficiency and productivity, and even make for a less pleasant customer experience.

For example, if a dining room’s thermostat reads 72 degrees F but the space feels stuffy, it could be caused by an improperly balanced make-up air system, resulting in an unpleasant environment.

“If every time they open the drive-thru window they're getting hit with a blast of humid air, that's because their building is not balanced properly. The make-up air system is designed to make up the air that the exhaust fans take out. If that system is not doing its job properly, you're going to end up getting that outdoor humid air from every opening in the building, any time the door opens. That can cause extremely high humidity issues in restaurants,” says Cornell.

Planned maintenance can help prevent such issues. The best time for such service is in the spring, which prepares equipment for the high summer temperatures, and fall, in preparation for the cold of winter, Cornell says.

He stresses, though, that planned maintenance can prevent some failures but won’t stop breakdowns from ever occurring. 

“You can do maintenance in January and a month or two down the road, you can absolutely have other failures. We do the best we can, but we don't have a crystal ball. We can't catch everything, but it is a great opportunity to help prevent those failures.”

And preventing failures, of course, is essential to the short- and long-term health of a restaurant. It means preventing problems that take valuable time from operators, require expensive solutions and can drive away paying customers.