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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.

Restaurant Equipment MaintenanceAs 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:

Hamburger“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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  1. Kevin,
    I was a service tech for several years before coming over to the dark side. It never ceased to amaze me how some in the restaurant industry could be at recognizing trouble with their equipment. At the first sign of trouble is the time to call. Advice is always free over the phone, whether it’s to the manufacturer or a service agent. Too many times kitchen staffs will continue to use a unit with a minor problem until you get the “it will not work call.” By that time, it’s not just that it no longer works, but what else was damaged in the process. I liked your take on educating the restaurant staff on the cost of a piece of equipment, the only drawback to that is the high rate of turnover most restaurants experience. Most training from management occurs with the wait staff on up selling etc. Rarely does it occur with the kitchen staff.

  2. Hello Marty,
    The employee turn over you mention is a real problem in this industry! Back when I did service work out of a restaurant supply house, I would sometimes be confused as to what restaurant I was in because I would get to know a employee in one restaurant and end up seeing the same employee in a different restaurant –LOL. Kinda gives you that “twilight zone” kind of feeling.

    I still believe proper training of the equipment operators is a great value to the owner / manager. If all establishments would train, all would benefit. After all a lot of the employees stay in the restaurant business when they leave and the training will stay with the employee. Your point about the kitchen staff missing out on training is also very valid. I do believe these employees receive training on food handling and specific ways to perform there job, but it almost never includes anything about the proper way to take care of the equipment. I hope this blog will make some small dent in that problem.

    What happened to you Marty, get one to many fryer calls–LOL I was once offered a management job in one of the restaurants I worked in; it took me about 10 seconds to turn it down. I knew the employees in that restaurant and also knew I would pull every hair I had left in my head out trying to “manage” them! The machines I work on can be frustrating, but I have never had one call me in the middle of the night with the dreaded “family problem”–LOL.

    Kevin Loving

  3. Kevin,
    The dark side I refer to is working next to Greg McGuire & Don Moyer here at Tundra. Keep the blogs coming. We enjoy them.

  4. Kevin,
    I agree, Tundra is not the “Dark Side”. However evil lurks among us. I must inform you, Don & Joel are good friends, and they are conspiring to corrupt Greg.

  5. Marty!!
    How in the world can you refer to Tundra as the “DARK SIDE”! You live in the most “enlightened” place on the planet (with the possible exception of Hollywood. Surrounded by smart and beautiful people who are LIGHT YEARS ahead of the rest of us hicks living in the hinder lands.

    Well, there are a FEW of the unenlightened types that slipped in while no one was looking like Joel; but hey, he is easy to avoid if you stay out of the break room.

    Other than that all you have to do is avoid Denver–LOL.

    Glad to know you Marty!

    Kevin Loving

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