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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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Vital Food Safety Equipment: Data Loggers

As the past year’s worth of food contamination scares have shown, managing food safety must be a top priority for the food service industry. In fact, it can mean the survival or failure of your business, since a foodborne illness case linked to your restaurant or commercial kitchen could put you out of business with sickening speed. The good news is there are many ways to apply technology to the timeless problem of managing temperature, and data loggers from companies like Comark are a major part of the 21st century approach to managing food safety.

Vital Food Safety Equipment: Data Loggers

Use data loggers to keep track of food temperature over time.

A data logger is a small (they usually fit in the palm of your hand) digital device capable of taking regular air temperature and humidity readings in a walk-in refrigerator or freezer.  This allows you to accurately record average food temperatures on a consistent basis and keep a log of temperature patterns over time.

Many data loggers even have an optional probe that can be inserted into cooling product to make sure it is getting out of the temperature danger zone quickly.  Multiple probes can be linked to a single logger through a link box system, allowing you to track temperatures in several types of product simultaneously.

Data loggers have incredible memory capabilities, with many able to record tens of thousands of temperature readings.  Even more useful to managers is accompanying software and a USB cable that enables data to be transferred from the logger to a PC, where it can be stored and analyzed.

Why are data loggers so important?

Besides the obvious ability to constantly monitor temperature in your commercial kitchen, a good data logging system will help you during your next health inspection.

Having cool time data for stored product and average walk-in temperatures at your fingertips means you can quantify for the inspector exactly how your food safety program is keeping product out of the temperature danger zone.

You’ll also be able to identify and head off problems before they become issues with the inspector.  If product isn’t cooling down fast enough or your walk-in isn’t staying cold enough, a data logger can tell very quickly.

Tracking temperature changes can also save you money.  If the data shows your walk-in’s temperature rises at the same time every day, it’s that much easier to identify the cause of the problem.

Maybe an employee leaves the door open to pull product every morning.  Perhaps the door gasket needs to be replaced.  Knowing temperature trends means you can devise ways to improve energy efficiency and save on the bills in the process.

It’s said “knowledge is power,” and having a data logger working for your restaurant or commercial kitchen is definitely a powerful way to manage food temperature.  And as recent events have shown, you can’t afford to ignore this very important issue.

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Krowne Underbar Equipment: Build What You Like

You probably already know Krowne commercial plumbing equipment.  If you have some Krowne faucets and sinks in your restaurant’s kitchen, then you understand that Krowne products are tough, well-made, and designed for a busy commercial cooking and cleaning environment.

Krowne underbar equipment follows the same set of production values.  The nice thing about this underbar equipment is that it comes in modular pieces, which means you can customize according to your bar’s dimensions and specific needs.  Check out some of their underbar equipment:

Krowne Underbar Equipment: Build What You Like

Take care of everything your bartenders need with the larger Krowne underbar pieces like cocktail stations, two and three compartment sinks, and liquor displays.

Krowne Underbar Equipment: Build What You Like

Add on modular pieces like blender stations, drain boards, and bottle storage units.  All Krowne underbar equipment comes in 1800 or 2100 series variations, meaning you can choose between an 18″ or a 21″ depth.

Krowne Underbar Equipment: Build What You Like

Of course, you’ll be able to add on accessories like speed racks, bottle openers, ice bins, and a lot more.  All you have to add are sides and a countertop and your bar is ready to rock!

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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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Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just Ice

Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just IceIf you don’t do so already, you should definitely consider filtering the water you serve your customers.  We have already covered water filtration here on The Back Burner, but if you need to filter a glass filler specifically, the best way to do so is with an ice machine water filter.  That’s because you get everything you need for filtering drinking water from a water filter made for ice machines.  After all, properly filtered ice is simply frozen drinking-quality water.

An ice machine water filter will remove cyst, bacteria, taste, odor, and sediment from your restaurant’s tap water, making it just as good if not better than anything that comes in a bottle.  Ice machine water filters also have a built-in scale inhibitor that removes hard minerals.

Any ice machine water filter will work for your glass filler, but I strongly recommend a Cuno filter.  Cuno’s newest filters are single cartridge affairs (as opposed to multiple cartridge systems like Everpure), meaning they take up less space and are easier to replace.  This is especially true because the replacement cartridge doesn’t require pre-charging and it can be plugged directly into the filter head while minimizing contamination and leaks.

Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just IceAnother option is to install one filter for your entire restaurant’s water supply.  Again, I find Cuno’s dual port manifold system to be the best around, especially since one filter and a scale inhibitor can filter 54,000 gallons of water.  This single filter can service all of your beverage and ice machine plus glass filler needs, and you can even bypass the scale inhibitor for soft drinks, which is required by big distributors like Coke and Pepsi.

You can also get a glass filler kit that comes with a T&S glass filler and a Cuno ice machine water filter.  No matter what, make sure you’re serving quality water to your customers.  Not only will they appreciate it, it’s also one more way you can make your restaurant stand out amongst your competition.

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Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

More than likely, your restaurant has several sinks that serve many purposes in the back of the house, in server stations, and behind the bar.  Having the right kind of sinks in the right places is important not only to accomplish many various tasks, from glass and hand washing to stock pot and flatware cleaning, it’s also a vital part of your food safety program, and something that health inspectors will focus on.

First, let’s get the basics out of the way.  Most of you probably already know this stuff because you have to set up your sinks properly to pass inspection.  But if you’re thinking about starting a brand new restaurant, the following info will be very helpful.

For the rest of you, skip past this and read some additional, VERY IMPORTANT information, unless you’re looking for one of the sinks or faucets listed below.  Click the link if this is the case.

Types of Sinks:

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Hand Sink

  • Hand Sinks: these are pretty standard sinks for washing your hands.  Keep the dishes out.
  • Kitchen Sinks: choose from 1, 2, 3, or 4 compartment kitchen sinks for rinsing and washing dishes.  An HACCP program requires a 3 compartment sink for the proper sanitization of dishes.  Review the procedure here.  If you want to wash and fill stock pots and other big cookware items, get a big sized compartment sink.
  • Bar Sinks: 3 compartment bar sinks are designed for glass washing behind the bar.
  • With all these sinks, make sure you buy NSF approved only! NSF sinks have features that prevent the buildup of grime and bacteria, like welded drainboards and sealed seams that eliminate spaces.

Types of Faucets:

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Deck Mount Faucet

  • Deck Mount Faucets: these faucets mount directly onto the sink.  Make sure you measure the hole centers, or the distance between the center of the two holes where the faucet will mount on your sink, before ordering.
  • Wall Mount Faucets: these faucets mount from the wall and come through the backsplash.  Wall mount faucets are by far the most common type in restaurants.
  • Pot Filler Assemblies: these are a specialized wall mount faucet with a hose or extended, swiveling spout that allows you to easily fill big stock pots.
  • Pre-Rinse Assemblies: these assemblies are designed to help staff quickly rinse dirty cookware and tableware before it goes into your dish machine.

It’s always going to be easier to install the type of faucet that your sinks and kitchen’s plumbing are set up for.  If the sink in question has holes for a deck mount faucet and your pipes come vertically out of the floor, use a deck mount.  If you have plumbing coming horizontally out of the wall, by all means use a wall mount faucet.

If you skipped down, start here.

Leaky faucets can waste thousands of gallons of water every year! That costs your restaurant money, especially if it’s the hot water that’s leaking.  Over time, the washers in a stem assembly become worn, which means they don’t form a perfect seal when the handle is turned off.  This allows water to leak out even though the faucet is turned off.  These washers are less than $5, and they can save you hundreds of dollars in utility costs over the course of a year.

Caring For Restaurant Sinks and Faucets

Commercial sinks and faucets are made from stainless steel.  Stainless steel is a great material because it’s durable and rust resistant, but a couple simple maintenance techniques can extend the life cycle of any sink or faucet.

Never use abrasive pads or detergents.  Steel isn’t stainless or rust resistant.  There is actually a thin film of chromium and/or nickel that covers the steel and gives it it’s shine and prevents rust from forming.  When you use an abrasive pad or detergent to clean stainless steel, this thin film becomes scored and develops holes, which allows rust to move in.

Wipe sinks and faucets down daily.  Moisture is rust’s best friend, and the sinks and faucets in your kitchen are necessarily wet all day.  When you clean out your sinks at the end of the day, however, make sure you wipe them down with a soft rag.  This prevents moisture and rust from working together overnight to tarnish and rust your sinks and faucets.

Use a Garbage Disposer

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Garbage Disposer

In kitchen sinks that collect food waste from washing cookware and tableware, installing a garbage disposer is important.  Not only does it increase your kitchen’s efficiency since you don’t have to clean out and dispose of food waste separately, a garbage disposer also makes your restaurant green.  That’s because you keep food waste out of landfills and conserve water by reducing sink cleaning time.  Sending food waste down the drain also keeps it out of trash cans and dumpsters in your kitchen, where it decomposes quickly, breeding bacteria and nasty smells.

Restaurant sinks are easy to forget about.  It’s one of those things you have to worry about when you first open a restaurant, and don’t really think about afterwards.  But properly maintaining your sinks and faucets, repairing them quickly when they leak, and equipping them properly with things like pot fillers and garbage disposers, not only makes your operation more efficient, it can translate into significant savings later on.

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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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Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

The planetary mixer is a mainstay chunk of equipment in many commercial kitchens.  Whenever your restaurant or bakery needs a large project done, and done well, more than likely you’re turning to the mixer taking up a whole corner of the kitchen.  The tasks you can perform with a well outfitted mixer are numerous, and the speed with which you can accomplish these tasks is impressive.

Of course, as great as the planetary mixer is, it may not be the right mixer for your operation, especially if you’re looking for a mixer that does one specialized task very well.  The two most obvious exceptions to the planetary mixer rule are the spiral mixer and the vertical cutter-mixer.  The spiral mixer has a fixed dough hook and rotating bowl and it’s designed for mixing large amounts of dough all day long.

Some people even claim that spiral mixers mix better dough than a planetary mixer, but that’s a matter of opinion to be sure.  Vertical cutter mixers are more of a food processor; they can do mixing, chopping, blending, etc., and are ideal for operations that need to process large amounts of a specific food product day in and day out.

So what makes the planetary mixer so great?  Well, to start, it’s a very versatile machine that can operate on a large scale.  Different attachments allow you to mix dough, whip up creams, sauces, and icing, chop, shred, or grate vegetables, or even grind up meat products.  Planetary mixers have a single offset shaft that turns in an orbital motion resembling planets going around the sun, which accounts for the name.  When attachments are affixed to this shaft they rotate through the mixer bowl in an elliptical shape, which ensures an effective mixing of the entire contents of the bowl.

Sizing Your Mixer

The capacity of the mixing bowl determines the size of the mixer.  Commercial mixers can be separated into three main categories: countertop, bench, and floor models.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Countertop mixers are usually 5 – 8 quarts in capacity and resemble a residential model mixer.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Bench mixers are quite a bit larger than a countertop model (10 – 24 quarts) but can still sit on a sturdy work table.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Floor mixers are the most common type of commercial mixer.  These large mixers range in capacity anywhere from 30 – 80 quarts and are a freestanding unit.

To determine what size mixer you need, take a couple factors into consideration:

Leave yourself some extra capacity.  Some products will expand when agitated in the mixing process, which can mean a mess if you’ve completely filled the mixing bowl.  Besides, you may need to make larger batches of whatever you’re mixing in the future as your business grows.

If  you’re mixing dough, calculate the absorption ratio (AR).  The drier the dough, the tougher it is to mix, and that is going to affect how large a batch you can mix according to the size of your mixer.  To calculate the AR, divide the water weight by the flour weight, e.g. 20 lbs. of water and 50 lbs. of flour equals a 40% (0.4) AR.  The lower the AR, the more stiff and therefore more difficult to mix the dough is and therefore the smaller the batch will need to be.

Please note that just because you need to mix a smaller batch due to the stiffness of the dough does not mean you should use a smaller mixer.  The point of calculating the AR is to find a batch size that your mixer can manage without overworking the motor.  Consult with your operator’s manual or the mixer manufacturer for recommended batch sizes for different absorption ratios.

In general, if you plan to use your mixer for day in and day out dough mixing, go with a heavier duty floor mixer that can handle the heavy load dough puts on a mixer motor.

Mixer Attachments

Planetary mixers have several attachments for performing different tasks.  Here are the most commonly used ones:

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Dough Hook – these spiral shaped attachments are for mixing and kneading yeast-based dough.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Flat Beater – this paddle shaped attachment is perfect for mixing batters and icings or for mashing vegetables like potatoes.  Basically, anything that needs to be creamed should get the flat beater treatment.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Wire Whip – the wire whip looks just like a handheld version but packs a lot more punch.  Use it for the same things you would use your hand whip – meringue, creams, and frostings, just on a much larger scale.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Pastry Knife – use this thin dough hook to mix shortening and flour for light dough for things like pie crusts.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Vegetable Slicers & Grater/Shredders – these attachments can process a high volume of just about any kind of vegetable very quickly.  Use them to slash your prep times on tedious slicing tasks.

Commercial Mixers: How To Buy A Good One And Make It Last Forever

Meat Chopper/Grinders – these attachments allow you to chop up or grind meat products quickly and efficiently.

Mixer Maintenance

If you maintain a good planetary mixer that is properly sized for the tasks you give it, that mixer should serve you faithfully well into the future.  Some tips to make sure your mixer has a long and happy life:

Clean it regularly.  The mixing bowl, attachments, and shaft should be cleaned after every use.  The rest of the mixer should be cleaned on a regular basis.  No matter what part of the mixer you’re cleaning, always use soapy water and a soft rag or brush.  Never use abrasive pads or steel wool to clean any part of a mixer.

Lubricate moving parts regularly.  Refer to your owner’s manual for an official schedule and the location of all the parts that need regular lubrication.  Always use food-grade lubricant, especially on parts that could come into contact with food product, like the mixer shaft.

Don’t overload the mixer, ever!  If you do, you’re going to break something sooner or later.  Take care to size the mixer properly for the tasks you have at it and overloading shouldn’t be an issue.  Always remember that what seems like a bargain when you buy a smaller mixer can end up being a headache later when it burns out on you from overwork.

A planetary mixer can do a lot of work for you.  Buy the right one at the start and take care of it throughout, and you’ll have a permanent fixture in your kitchen’s daily operations.

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