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.
As 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:
“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!