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Get non-technical restaurant equipment repair tips and advice so you can do repairs yourself and save money.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration

In this article I would like to talk about the refrigerators and freezer units commonly found in a commercial kitchen and restaurant. The average unit will give long service with minimal maintenance; however there are a few things you should know that could possibly prevent breakdowns. You should also read Greg’s article on this subject he posted some time back.

The way it works: Any common unit used to cool (refrigerator or freezer) that operates with a refrigerant (freon) works in essentially the same way. I will give you a rough outline so you will get the basic idea.

Every commercial refrigerator or freezer is made up of 3 main parts you can identify:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration
1. The compressor: the compressor is really nothing but an electric motor that is sealed (welded) in a metal case. The case will be located on the outside of the unit (not in the compartment to be cooled). Compressors are made by several companies and in various styles but most compressors are made by Copeland. You cannot mistake the compressor for anything else because nothing else on your cooling unit will look like the compressor. Think of the compressor as the HEART of your cooling unit. There is no maintenance that can be done on a welded compressor. It is full of oil but typically the oil is designed to last the life of the compressor.

When a welded compressor goes out all you can do is replace it. A compressor is expensive but it is often cheaper to replace the compressor than to replace the entire unit. I have also replaced compressors because the particular equipment was built into “the line” and it has to repaired rather than replaced.
Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration
2. The condenser coil: The condenser coil is square, usually black in color, and will have a fan placed behind it that forces air through it. Most of these coils are around 12 inches by 12 inches. The condenser coil will be located very near the compressor (usually directly in front of it). The fan that forces air through the coil is almost always located between the coil and the compressor. This fan not only removes heat from this coil but has the added benefit of cooling the compressor. You must keep the area where this coil and fan are located FREE FROM ANYTHING that blocks air flow (i.e. don’t stack boxes on top of or in front of the area where the compressor and coil are located). The condenser coil will require cleaning on a regular basis (every 3 months). The coil will pick up whatever is floating in the air in your kitchen and deposit it on the coil.

If you allow the coil to clog up, it will cause your cooling unit not to perform at it’s optimum. In fact if this coil is left completely clogged for any extended period of time it will shorten the life of your compressor or completely burn it up. Think of this coil as one of the LUNGS of your cooling unit. Without air, the HEART (the compressor) will stop.Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration

3. The evaporator coil: the evaporator coil is also called the “cold coil”. This coil is located inside the compartment to be refrigerated.  In most cases you will not be able to see this coil without removing a cover. This coil’s purpose is to distribute cold air into the unit. Like the condenser coil, there is a fan near the evaporator coil used to force air through it. The evaporator coil can be many different sizes and is usually a lot thicker than the condenser coil. It is often a silver color (aluminum) and can have several fans blowing air through it. Think of this coil as the other LUNG of your refrigeration unit.

The evaporator coil gets extremely cold when the unit is running. Air on the inside of the refrigeration unit is re-circulated through this coil over and over again and getting colder with each pass. This air is what makes your unit cold. It takes the heat from any object you place in the cooling unit and transfers it to the evaporator coil. The heat is then absorbed by the refrigerant (freon) passing through this coil and delivered to the rest of the system (compressor and condenser coil) to remove it from the unit.

These three main components work in unison to cool your refrigerator or freezer. Your freezer will also be equipped with a defrost heater that melts the frost off the evaporator coil several times a day to keep it from freezing up.

What you as a owner/manager can do:

You can extend the life and efficiency of your refrigerators and freezers by keeping the condenser (outside) coil clean. You can also insure the door gaskets are in good shape and are sealing all the way around. Also train your employees not to leave the door open any longer than necessary.
The refrigerators and freezers are some of the most maintenance free equipment in your kitchen. If you buy a quality unit and see that the minor maintenance described above is done then these units should give you many years of trouble free service.

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Can You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts?

Any restaurateur who has dealt with equipment parts has heard of OEMCan You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts? (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and generic parts.  If you haven’t, here’s a quick rundown:

OEM parts are produced by the manufacturer of the piece of equipment or a subcontractor commissioned to make parts for the original manufacturer.  OEM parts are distributed by the manufacturer of your restaurant equipment.  If your equipment is under warranty, the manufacturer will replace broken parts using an OEM part and a certified service technician.

Generic parts are not made or distributed by the manufacturer of the restaurant equipment.  These parts are made using the same specifications as the original part and are equal or better in quality to the equivalent OEM part.

And this is where the whole thing gets a little complicated.  Restaurant equipment manufacturers have spent a lot of time and energy telling the entire food service industry that generic parts are inferior in quality and perhaps even dangerous to use.  There is an obvious economic incentive for them to say this: if you buy an OEM part from them, they make a lot of money.  Ironically, many “generic” parts are made in the same factory, and by the same company, that makes the OEM part (Robertshaw parts being the most common example of this).  The only difference between the two is the box the part comes in.  If it’s in a Southbend box, it’ll cost you as much as 50% more than the identical part in another parts distributor’s box.

I will say this again because the myth out there is a powerful one: generic parts are equal to or better in quality than the OEM part.  Really, there are only a few reasons why you would ever want to buy an OEM part over a generic part:

Warranty.  Your equipment is still under warranty and using anything besides an OEM part installed by a certified service technician will void the warranty.

Availability. Sometimes, due to the geographic location of your business in relation to parts distributors, you can get an OEM part faster than a generic.  And sometimes speed really matters, like when your fryer thermostat goes down the Friday before the Super Bowl.  In those situations you might be willing to pay more for the same part just so you can get it right away.

Can You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts?Generic availability. Some parts, especially rare parts, are not manufactured generically and can only be purchased from the original equipment manufacturer.  That’s when you just have to grin and bear it.

Otherwise, there’s really no reason to not buy generic (and remember that in many cases “generic” means the same exact part from the same place in a different box).  Of course, always buy from a reputable restaurant equipment parts distributor no matter what kind of part you’re looking for.

There are many very common parts that go out all the time in the most common types of restaurant equipment.  These parts are easy to buy generically and easy to install.  Learn more about easy do-it-yourself restaurant equipment repair.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment“Which _____________ do you recommend?” This is a question I have been asked countless times by owners/managers that operate the restaurants I have worked in.

The real question they are asking is: “What equipment will run the longest and have the fewest breakdowns and cost the least to fix?”

The answer to such a profound question is “it depends.” I have been involved in repairing restaurant equipment for years. I have worked on a lot of different equipment made by many different manufactures. I cannot name a single brand of equipment that I would recommend in all situations. Nor have I discovered a manufacturer that designed equipment with an eye towards maintenance.

I have found some companies where the replacement parts are less expensive when compared to similar products. I have also found the reverse: particular brands of equipment where the replacement parts were higher than others who make equipment of the same type. The biggest difference I find in various manufactures is the AVAILIBILITY of replacement parts in a timely manner.

Some things to consider when buying restaurant equipment:

Is the equipment a “KEY” or “critical” to your operation? In other words, if this equipment went out on a busy Saturday night, how bad would it affect your ability to serve your customer? You need to know how critical the equipment is before you make any decision on what brand of equipment to purchase! If the equipment is a “KEY” piece of equipment, you need to do some research before you buy! Remember, you will likely own this equipment for YEARS. If you make the wrong decision, you will be stuck with the results for as long as you own the equipment.

1. Company (or Brand)
I would not buy a “key” piece of equipment in anything except a well known national brand. The reason goes way beyond what kind of warranty is offered. A well known national brand will be in business 10 years down the road when you need a good service department to call.

2. Warranty
The warranty on equipment can vary widely. What’s more, the way warranty service is performed can also be different from one company to the next. Some equipment has different warranties with regard to various parts of the equipment. For instance, an ice machine might have a one year warranty on everything except the compressor that comes with a 5 year warranty. Inform yourself on the warranty and what it covers. Your new equipment will come with a warranty card. Read it and send the little card in and register the equipment.

I make a copy of the card before I send it in and staple the copy to the operator manual for future reference. It has vital information you might not have in 10 years such as the model and serial numbers along with the date it was installed.

3. Parts AvailabilityAdventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment
You should inquire on how hard the equipment is to get parts for. This is where it is critical to have purchased a well known national brand. You should not rely on the salesman to provide you this information. I would call a place that sells parts and just ask. The question should be something like this: “I am buying a _____________, do you stock parts for this equipment? If I were to order a critical part, how long would it take to receive it?”

In other words, does the company keep critical parts ON THE SHELF for this equipment? No company keeps ALL the parts for any given equipment in stock; a good company, however, will keep CRITICAL parts available to ship right away on common equipment. This can make a REAL difference on a “KEY” piece of equipment when you have to have it back up and running FAST.

4. Model
You should try and buy a model that has been made for several years. Most manufacturers will make popular models of equipment for several years before changing anything significant. You might be looking for the latest “bells and whistles” on your new equipment and have to purchase a model that just came out; but unless it is something you HAVE to have, I would not recommend it. It takes parts companies time to determine the critical parts needed and spend the money to put them on the shelves. If you stick with a tried and true model, you will likely have less headaches in the future if it should break down.

Another good reason not to go with the “newest model” is your kitchen will not be stuck with working out the “kinks” on something that has not been tested in the “real world.” Chances are it will be warranty work, but you will still suffer some down time waiting for a technician to show up and fix it.

Under no circumstances do you want a “prototype” model. You will have to investigate the model number you are buying to insure you are getting what you want. You can’t count on a salesperson telling you “this is the prototype!” The manufacturer’s website is a good place to find out; or just call the tech service line and ask one of the technicians that work for the manufacturer what he or she thinks of a given model. These folks are usually honest about problems with a particular model.

Use all the information available to make a decision you can feel good about not only now but when the equipment breaks down in a few years. You notice I said WHEN it breaks down; not IF it breaks down. All equipment will break down! The best thing you can do is educate yourself so you will be prepared when it happens.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

This article will deal with common maintenance issues regarding commercial gas kitchen equipment. I will address issues with electric equipment in a future article.

It has been my experience that most commercial restaurant equipment is operated with natural gas. In general I believe gas equipment to be better than electric with regard to maintenance issues. Most of the systems used to deliver the gas to the burner are simple and easy to fix.

As I have said in previous posts, I don’t know how comfortable you are with working on this equipment but even if you are not comfortable at all, there are things you as a owner/manager can do to keep your service calls down and save you money on a service call if you have to have one.

In general, all gas equipment works the same way. The first thing you need to know is if your particular equipment is equipped with a “standing pilot” or “electronic ignition” (also called “spark ignition”).

The best way to determine this is by reading the service manual. If you don’t have a service manual you can determine the type of pilot system you have by visually inspecting the equipment. You will have to remove the cover that hides the burner. Once you have the cover removed look at the burner. Do you see a little fire (about the size of a lighter flame)? If you do this is what is called a “standing pilot.”

If you don’t see an actual pilot (actual flame) you probably have electronic ignition. If you have electronic ignition you will see a heavy wire that leads from the control module to the burner. A control module will look like a small box with a plastic cover and will have several wires going to it. The heavy one will look a lot like a spark plug wire (usually gray in color) that plugs into the module and leads to the igniter (this is the part that causes a spark very close to the burner when you turn the gas on).

OK, now you should know if your particular equipment has a standing pilot or electronic ignition (you might find both systems in the same kitchen).

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a thermocouple; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

If it is a “standing pilot” you will notice a small piece of metal that is about the size of a small pencil tip (about 2 inches long) that is in the flame. This is a thermocouple or a thermopile. It will have a tiny brass colored tube connected to it (most thermocouples) or a small wire coming out of it (most thermopiles). It might be flat on top (most thermopiles) or have a rounded point (most thermocouples).

This little piece of metal is the most likely item to go out and prevent your equipment from working. The good news is the cost of the actual part is not high.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a thermopile; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

The labor cost, however, can be expensive. What a thermocouple or thermopile does is send a signal to the gas valve (or safety valve) to let the valve know that a fire is present before it allows gas thru the valve to ignite the burner. The reason these go out is because they run 24/7. Even when the equipment is off, there is still gas going to the pilot light to keep the equipment ready to operate. Most thermocouples or thermopiles are only screwed in to the valve (there are some that are actually built into the safety valve and can not be replaced without replacing the valve).

If I were you I would make a list of all the equipment I have that has a “standing pilot” system and locate the part number for the thermocouple or thermopile and keep a new one on hand. Please be aware that the manufacturer might use several different thermopiles or thermocouples on different equipment (even if made by the same company).

Get the model number and serial number off the equipment and call a parts supply to buy a replacement. This is without a doubt the most likely part to go out and cause your gas equipment to quit working. Even if you call someone in to repair the equipment; it is better to let them use the one you provide (the repair companies often “mark up” the parts they charge you for).

In any case they don’t cost much and it could mean the difference between having your equipment working or not. Some are easy to change, some are difficult (Vulcan fryers come to mind when I think of difficult thermopiles) but the equipment will not work without them.

In a future article I will talk a little about safety valves (the second most likely thing to go out), and whether it would be cost effective to stock some of these that is on your most critical equipment.

Electronic ignition (or spark ignition):

These systems use a small electric spark to ignite the burner. When you turn on the equipment and listen close you will hear a small “click” or “snap” that might happen several times before the burner ignites.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a control module; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

That’s the igniter sending a small spark across two points. The most likely item to go out on this system is the control module (described above). These parts can be expensive but it could be worth keeping an extra one on hand for critical pieces of gas equipment.

These are good units and I don’t have many go out but it is another part that you HAVE to replace if it does go out (in other words, you can not fix a control module). Some of these come with a replacement wire (looks like a spark plug wire), some will not. If I replace the module I replace the wire. The wire plugs in and is easy to replace.

Before I end this entry, I need to warn you that working with gas can be dangerous!

You must always turn the gas off before working on this equipment!

There are things you as a owner / manager can do but you will have to invest the time to educate yourself on the safe way to do it. I will take this opportunity again to urge you to get the service manual for your equipment and buy Don Walker’s book Keeping Your Gas Restaurant Equipment Cooking. It has a lot more detail than I can give you in a short blog entry.

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I’ll sum this up by saying: you can save yourself a lot of money and down time by being able to do minor repairs on your own equipment.

Even if you pay someone to come out and fix the equipment you can save money if you have the right part “in stock”. In the case of the thermopile / thermocouple it is not a matter of IF it will go out, but WHEN it will go out (you can bet it will be on a Saturday of a very busy weekend if your restaurant is like the kitchen I work in).

Spend a few bucks and get the parts; it will save you a LOT of time and aspirin in the long run!

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Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Casters make life in your restaurant’s kitchen a whole lot easier.  They allow you to roll heavy equipment around for cleaning.  They make your mop buckets mobile and power hand carts and loaded shelving in your walk-in and storage areas.  They even let you roll the trash out quickly.  The lowly caster serves many purposes, but what many restaurateurs don’t realize is how easy they are to replace, and, most importantly, how much money you can save by buying casters for new equipment separately.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Most heavy equipment will take a heavy duty plate caster, but some may take a threaded stem caster instead

Let’s start with new restaurant equipment and shelving.  Any time you buy a new piece of heavy restaurant equipment like a gas range, a fryer, or a reach in refrigerator or freezer, the manufacturer will want you to buy an accompanying caster set.  Casters on this heavy equipment is a great idea because it makes cleaning your kitchen much easier.  An even better idea is to buy an after-market caster set separately, with the same weight capacities and heavy duty construction, at a fraction of what the equipment manufacturer wants to charge you.  Most heavy restaurant equipment will take a plate caster or a threaded stem caster.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

An expanding stem caster fits into the round or square hole of a shelving post and expands so that it fits tight inside the hole.

The wire shelving you use in walk-ins and for storage are much easier to handle if you mount them on casters.  That way, shelving can be moved for cleaning, and the extra height will help you meet the minimum 6” space between the bottom shelf and the floor required by the health inspector.  Shelving usually takes an expanding stem caster.  And while we are on the subject of shelving, if you are buying some for your walk-in, make sure you get the epoxy coated kind!  The moist environment in a walk-in causes non-coated shelving to rust very quickly, which not only looks bad, it means you’ll be buying more shelving within a few years.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Most carts, dollies, and mop buckets take a caster like this one, but some take a small plate caster

Hand carts, dollies, and mop buckets also have casters.  Unlike restaurant equipment, these items usually come already mounted with their casters, so buying them separately is not an option.  However, those casters often break or wear out long before the item is no longer useful.  Replacements are often hard to find unless you know where to look.  These casters are often very easy to replace, getting a replacement caster can extend the life of your carts, dollies, and mop buckets.

So the next time you need some new equipment casters or need to replace some old ones, remember that you have options, and if you look around, you can save some significant dough by buying smart.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A ToolboxIn my last post I talked about a few select parts that you could keep on hand to repair your gas restaurant equipment. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about a few tools that could make a big difference in keeping your restaurant equipment up and running. The costs of these tools are minimal but it could have a BIG effect on some holiday weekend when something goes down at the worst possible time.

My job is to keep the equipment in the kitchen working! The chef I work for is a wonderful guy, but when he reaches to use the equipment, he expects it to work! I have a responsibility to do everything reasonably possible to make sure that happens. I have many thousands of dollars worth of tools and a large supply of parts to make sure I keep the chef satisfied. As a restaurant owner/manager you probably don’t have the tools I have or the parts I keep on the shelf to make every repair yourself.

I want to share with you a FEW tools you CAN have that will help you with the repairs you CAN make and you are most likely to need. This will represent a small investment of money for your restaurant, but most of all it will represent an investment of time for you to educate yourself about your equipment and how it works. If you are happy with your current system of calling someone in for every repair and paying the price in dollars, that’s OK. I am attempting with these articles to give you and your restaurant a few alternatives on the simple repairs. I don’t have to tell you that repair companies cost a lot and will not always be able to get your equipment up and working in a timely manner.

I recommend you put together an “equipment toolbox” that is customized for your kitchen equipment.

Tools: Tools are the easy part. You can buy them almost anywhere and the varieties are endless. Buy tools that are not the cheapest but are not the most expensive. Sears brand (Craftsman) are pretty good tools and you can take them back if you break them (you won’t break them, you will lose them—LOL). I would pick up a metal tool box with a lock that is big enough to hold parts and tools but also small enough to put in a convenient place that not everyone has access to. Although I have thousands of dollars worth of tools, I use only a small number of those tools everyday.

Here is a list of some of tools you will need to do simple repairs:

Hand Tools:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Pocket knife: You can buy a “multi-tool” that has a knife blade like the Leatherman.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Crescent wrenches: You will need a 4 inch (small) and a 6 inch (medium). Don’t buy the cheap brand; get Crescent brand or at least Craftsman.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Channel Lock pliers: There is a small one made by Channel Lock that is 7 inches long.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Wire strippers/cutters: Klein tools makes a good one that you can buy at Sears.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

¼ inch socket set with deep and shallow sockets: You can buy a complete set of these at Sears that comes in it’s own molded case for under $50. You will almost never need anything bigger than a ¼ inch drive.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Allen wrench set: Get a set that has a holder or you will lose the small wrenches!

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Screwdriver set: You will use a #2 Philips head the most, and you will also need a good quality “jeweler’s” screwdriver.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Small flashlight: I recommend a good brand like a “Mag-light” that holds AA batteries.

Note: Some of these tools will come in “standard” (or “inch”) and metric. Most restaurant equipment is in “standard.” I do run across metric from time to time and I have my tools in both but I have no idea if you will need metric. The socket set I recommend from Sears will have both standard and metric. The Allen wrenches are often sold in sets with standard and metric. You will have to decide if your equipment is metric (ask the salesman, he can find out).

Electric tools:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Multimeter: This is a small meter that will read the amount of voltage you have on electric wires. You can use tool a lot, but if you are not going to read the small manual that comes with it and educate yourself on how to use it, don’t waste your money. This meter doesn’t cost much and has many uses but you will have to educate yourself on how it is used.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Get A Toolbox

Voltage Check (also called VoltAlert): This is a device you really must have. It looks like a pen and will tell you by just touching a wire if there is electricity going through the wire. These came out a few years ago and are great time savers. You can just touch it to the cord and find out if there is power to the equipment. I carry one of these with me while at work and can often diagnose a problem with just this tool. The one Fluke (a electric tool company) makes is called VOLTALERT. You can know almost nothing about maintenance and still use this tool. Easy to use and less than $20!

These are the BASIC tools I would recommend. There are a lot of other tools you might want depending on how far you want to go in repairing your equipment (and how much you like tools—LOL). Don Walker has a more extensive list he recommends in his book Keeping Your Gas Restaurant Equipment Cooking. You should buy and read what he has to say on the subject. You might be surprised to find out that working on equipment is something you actually enjoy doing. I work with one chef that I believe would make a GREAT equipment technician!

As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will answer them as soon as possible.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2

If I had one wish to be granted to make my job easier, it would be that the people I work with could somehow know what I know about restaurant equipment.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2As much as 50% of equipment breakdowns (possibly more) are due to equipment being misused by staff. Commercial restaurant equipment is “HEAVY DUTY,” so it’s designed for long use.

However, it will succumb to misuse in a lot of ways. I can’t tell you the hours I have spent making repairs that are worse than it had to be or wouldn’t have to be done at all if kitchen staff using the equipment were informed on the proper way to use and clean the equipment.

Before I start giving you actual examples, let me offer some suggestions on how to educate kitchen staff.

1. Find a way to inform your employees how much the equipment costs and how much you will have to spend on repairs. In the past I worked for a restaurant franchise with 30 restaurants in a huge area. I put together a newsletter article with a short piece about a particular piece of equipment. I would start off every article with an illustration as to the cost of the piece of equipment. I would say for example:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance Part 2“The commercial grade toaster you use every day costs $1,050 dollars to buy new! You would have to sell 420 hamburgers to replace it!! Now THAT is a lot of hamburgers!”

I would take a common menu item and divide it into the equipment price to form a real example (in the minds of the employees) related to the amount of WORK  required to replace a piece of equipment. It worked pretty well with the staff that read the newsletter.

Most employees are not negligent, they are just uninformed on the cost of restaurant equipment and the cost of replacement parts. The employee has to make a connection between what you can afford to pay them in relation to what it costs you to keep the equipment running.

Use whatever method you can devise to make them aware this equipment is NOT the stuff you see on the shelf at Wall Mart!

2. Set up a formal way for kitchen staff using the equipment to report when there is a problem. This “mentioning it in passing to someone” will NOT WORK. Have them put it in writing on a simple form so someone can address the problem BEFORE a complete breakdown occurs.

Your relationship with your employees and the way you have your kitchen set up will dictate to you how to do this best. It might be something as simple as a log that hangs on a clipboard listing the date and description of the problem.

You would be surprised how many times I could have fixed a problem for little or no money had I known about it. The result of not knowing will inevitably lead to the problem getting worse and a complete breakdown of the equipment. Make it a REQUIREMENT to report equipment problems. It will save you a lot of time and expense (and aspirin!).

3. In all kitchens, there are “key” pieces of equipment. The definition of “key” would be a piece of equipment you would have a very hard time doing without, or you just can’t do without. Identify that equipment and personally check it at least once a week.

If a handle is loose, tighten it. Are all the pilots burning? Are the burners/elements clean? Is there any unusual noises or sounds that it wasn’t making last week? Are the indicator lights all burning? These personal checks will prove invaluable in keeping dow time to a minimum.

Also read the manual on the equipment and educate yourself on what it should be doing and when.

I could tell many stories that would demonstrate the value of what I am talking about, but for the sake of time I will list only one:

I got a call to look at a gas convection oven that “would not cook.” I thought it was a problem with the gas supply so I took the parts I thought I would need. When I got to the oven it was hot. I checked the burner and gas supply and all was fine.

I did notice the fan was not running when the doors were shut. When I spoke with the operator I was told cakes were browning in an “uneven” way. He also told me it had been making a “sound” for some time.

I inspected the blower wheel that distributes the heat and found it was frozen in place. I took my pocketknife and tried to free it. It was encrusted with burnt food and under the food was a piece of tin foil that had become lodged in the fan some time ago. I questioned the operator and he said the oven had not been “right” for a couple of months.

I had to replace the fan motor at a cost of $400 dollars, a replacement blower wheel for another $75 dollars and several hours of labor.

Oh and by the way, the delay on the parts caused the oven to be down for over a week (it would have been longer but I paid almost a hundred dollars for express shipping). This oven was a KEY piece of equipment.

The sad part is, if the operator had notified me 2 months prior to the fan failure when the “noise” (tin foil on a fan will make a noise) started, I could have spent 15 minutes with a pocketknife and we wouldn’t have had a fan motor failure and over a week of down time!

Make it part of the culture of your kitchen to educate your employees!

Kevin Loving

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When It Comes To Equipment Repair, Be Prepared

In Kevin Loving’s last post he talked about how keeping a basic tool kit handy in your restaurant will make your life as an operator or manager alot easier. It’s almost certain you will use at least one of these tools everyday on the job. I spent over 5 years on the phones selling replacement parts to restaurants and at least half the times I asked a manger to measure something they either didn’t have a tape measure or didn’t know where it was. So if you haven’t started building your tool kit, now is as great a time as ever. That being said, you should also keep in mind having the tools is only half the battle when it comes to restaurant equipment maintenance.

When It Comes To Equipment Repair, Be Prepared

Keep your burners lit!

Another conversation I had again and again with restaurant managers was the frantic Friday night call. I’m sure you know that call, many of you have probably made a few of them. That’s the phone call to your parts supplier at about 4:30 PM on a Friday night right before they are about to close. You’re in a panic, your fryer is down and weekends in your bar are the busiest times for you. Long story short, without a fryer you can’t serve all those wings and mozzarella sticks so you end up paying $80 in shipping to have a thermopile delivered on Saturday. Sure would have been a lot easier to have a spare thermopile in your office huh? By now you should see what I’m getting at. Maybe while you’re filling that tool box it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep some critical replacement parts on hand as well. Here’s some to consider:

  1. Thermostats – keep a spare on hand for all your cooking equipment from fryers to ovens. An infinite control for your countertop warmers would be handy as well, along with some replacement dials.
  2. Burner Valves – these should be a no brainer as they are inexpensive. You’ll find them in range tops, broilers and some griddles. You might as well have some extra knobs for these too so you don’t need to use pliers all weekend to turn on your range.
  3. Elements - you can find these all around your kitchen. Need a hint? Check your soup warmers, steam tables, cheesemelters and the heat strips on your line. If you have a dishwasher that uses a booster heater it’s critical to have a couple of extras on hand.
  4. High Limits – these are critical for your fryer, some warmers and your dishwasher’s booster heater. Have a coffee maker? There’s a little one in there too.
  5. Switches – there’s at least one on much of your equipment. Think convection ovens, steamers, coffee makers and warmers.
  6. Pilots – these comprise of  some pilot tubing and a pilot head. Some of these come together in a complete assembly. There are many different pilot assemblies so get the ones specific to your model. You can also keep some generic 18″ pilot assemblies on hand to use in a pinch.
  7. Ignitors – many times along with your pilot comes an ignitor. This is dependent on the type of equipment as the parts range from a push button spark ignitor to a flame sensor and ignition module.
  8. Gas Valves – there’s a variety of these as well. Depending on the equipment you can have a combination valve, a solenoid valve or any variety of safety valve.

You might need many of these or just a few. It depends on the size of your restaurant and how much equipment you have.  Don’t feel like you need to get every possible part there is either. To start, determine which of your equipment you really can’t live without and get the critical parts for those.

A perfect example is a national chain I dealt with for years.  They served biscuits with almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner they sold.  If their proofer went down nobody was having biscuits and that was a signature part of their meals. I’d say that the proofer was a critical part of their daily business wouldn’t you? I managed to convince quite a few of the area managers to keep an extra thermostat, power switch and a humidity switch on hand just in case. Believe me when I tell you they were very happy that they did.

So go ahead and compliment that set of tools with some common equipment replacement parts.  It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about and you might just save yourself on some expedited shipping charges or an expensive weekend service call.  Next time I’ll go over some parts that are important to have around for fixing things other than kitchen equipment.

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Identifying Commercial Refrigeration Thermostats

There are two types of temperature controls used in commercial refrigeration:

1. Thermostatic: either an Air Sensing type or Evaporator Coil Sensing type
2. Low pressure controlIdentifying Commercial Refrigeration Thermostats

Let’s start with thermostatic type controls.  An air-sensing thermostat does just that: it senses air temperature.  The control sensor tube is usually mounted in the evaporator housing.  The evaporator is located inside the unit, usually at the top where the fan motor is mounted.  The thermostat has a straight capillary or sensor.  The capillary tube is mounted on the outside of the evaporator coil usually pushed into a tube that is mounted in the front of the evaporator.

Identifying Commercial Refrigeration ThermostatsAn evaporator-sensing thermostat has a coiled capillary tube attached to it, which you can see pictured as a tight spiral to the left.  The evaporative sensing capillary or coiled tube end push into a hole that is in the evaporator.  It senses the temperature of the evaporator coil rather than air temperature.

These two controls are not interchangeable. If you put an air sensing control in place of an evaporative sensing control, the evaporator unit will shut off permanently, causing the temperature to rise.  If you put an evaporative sensing control in place of an air sensing control the unit will continue to run, causing the evaporator to freeze up.  If this happens there will be very little airflow, causing the temperature to rise.

The other type of control is a low-pressure control.  These are usually located in the compressor compartment.

A low-pressure control is connected into the refrigeration lines and controls the temperature by using the pressure of refrigerant flowing through the line.  This type of control requires a service technician to replace.

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Fixing Commercial Gas Equipment: No Gas To The Burner

If you’re not getting gas to the burner on gas equipment, you can check several things in a process of elimination to determine what the problem is.  First things first: check the gas regulator.  Gas regulators are directional, which means gas will not flow if they are installed backwards.  Check the arrow on the regulator and make sure it’s installed properly!

More often than not, the problem is the safety valve.  Check out this Tech Talk post to learn how to identify and replace safety valves.  Before you replace the safety valve, however, try

Fixing Commercial Gas Equipment: No Gas To The Burner

tapping on the valve and see if that gets gas to flow.  Sometimes the plunger that blocks gas flow in the safety valve sticks and tapping on it will get it to move.  This is an indication that your safety valve is going bad however, and will probably need to be replaced to soon.

Another possibility is that your thermostat is bad.  There are two types of gas thermostats: BJWA and FDO type thermostats.  BJWA thermostats are the most common type and older ones can be identified by the nickel sized hole on the front where the knob attaches.  However, newer BJWA thermostats may not have that hole.  FDO thermostats are usually found on pizza ovens and can be identified by the disc with numbers on it that sits behing the knob stem.

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