Whether you purchase new or used, you will have a huge investment in equipment and operating systems in your restaurant. Whether the equipment is still on warranty or re-conditioned, it is essential to create a monthly maintenance schedule and procedure in the event something breaks down to extend the service life of this valuable asset. Its far too easy to neglect preventative maintenance and simply fire up the ovens or take your walk-in compressors for granted. Take care of it and it will take care of your business.
Start by creating a list of all essential equipment by department in spreadsheet checklist form either in the kitchen, bar or other area. Next, add a “duty roster” with a “necessary maintenance required” column followed by a “frequency” column and last a “date performed” column. Keep this list in your kitchen and assign the responsibility to your “Chef or Kitchen Manager” and your “Head Bartender” as part of their job responsibilities and key-results. Routinely spot check the spreadsheet and random pieces of equipment to verify that the required preventative maintenance is being accomplished as frequently as necessary and make sure you are informed of any potential problems, hazards or equipment breakdowns before it becomes an issue.
Your local equipment dealer is the best source of information for maintaining each piece and providing service, but NOTE: that it is good practice to have either a specialist or backup equipment maintenance provider that you trust, if your dealer can’t provide the service on a particular piece.
LP gas or propane can be extremely dangerous if you have a leak, so notify your gas supplier immediately if you smell a strange gaseous odor near your cooking equipment or the regulator attached to your supply tank mechanism. Never light a match or open flame if you smell the faintest trace of this rotten egg odor.
WORD TO THE WISE:
If you buy an existing restaurant, chances are the gas cooking equipment is hooked up to the gas supply with flexible copper tubing which can easily kink and split under fatigue when equipment is moved for cleaning. If you find any copper flex tubing in your restaurant, replace it immediately with much safer rubber hoses with quick disconnects.
If you live in a cold climate, your furnace(s) is an easy to overlook often forgotten piece of very expensive equipment, but keeping it tuned up and efficient will only save you money over the long run. Make sure to keep flammable materials away from the air intakes and main body of the furnace, watch for an efficient blue flame from pilots, replace the breathing filters as soon as they start to get dusty and have the furnace serviced annually by a reputable technician.
Commercial dish machines are one of your most important pieces of equipment. They are designed to run at very high temperatures to not only clean, but sanitize dishes, small-wares and silver. A specific chemical formulation must be dialed in at proper concentration along with cleaning and sanitizing agents to meet Board of Health regulations. It is recommended that you routinely test water from your dishwasher rinse cycle with “litmus paper test strips” to verify the correct chemical concentration and keep food filter baskets empty and clean during each shift. If your dish machine goes down and can’t be repaired quickly, you may be shut down and some health boards require you to post this information on the doors of your restaurant.
WORD TO THE WISE:
For the above reasons, you absolutely should build a strong relationship with your “dish technician” and treat him/her well in your restaurant. Often a machine will go down unexpectedly perhaps in the middle of a late shift and you want to be able to call that person in at a moments notice – even in the middle of the night.
The larger food service suppliers have their own dish programs and highly trained technicians with parts on hand. Sysco’s Ecolab or Performance Food Group both have their own team of dish and chemical specialists.,
Refrigeration equipment requires a specialized technician that can address problems with compressors, coolant, temperature, electronics, etc.. Your walk-in and freezer are perhaps the most critical to maintain as they run 24/7 all year and if one goes down, you can lose thousands of dollars of perishable food. All refrigerators, sandwich units and especially stand up freezers will last much longer if placed as far away from cooking equipment as practical and possible, as they work much harder in the heat of the kitchen and make sure to keep doors shut immediately after use.
At least once every two weeks, vacuum dust and debris from refrigeration screens (where they breathe) and spot check for ice build-up which indicates a problem with your de-frost cycles. If your compressor(s) are located outside in a winter climate, build a tin roof over the apparatus to prevent damage from falling snow and ice. Over time, the rubber gasket seals around your refrigerator doors dry rot and separate compromising the seal and allowing cold air to escape. Check all these seals for proper closure and have your equipment serviced at least twice per year to maintain Freon levels and maximum efficiency.
Commercial ice machines also run 24/7 but have an automatic shutoff thermostat when ice in the bin reaches full capacity. Place your ice-maker(s) away from entry doors if your restaurant is in a cold winter climate as freezing air will shut off your machine prematurely before it has completed its ice-making cycle. If your machine does shut down unexpectedly, the first thing to try is a warm towel placed over the thermostat which is located just inside the ice-maker lid or access door. When the thermostat warms up, it will signal the machine to continue the ice cycle.
As with refrigeration, the dust screens should be cleaned regularly so the machine can breathe efficiently.
WORD TO THE WISE: There are also numerous plastic water tubes in your machine, that need to be replaced every six months or so, especially if your restaurant shuts down for any period of time, as stagnant water forms mold and bacteria inside the lines. If this is the case, make sure to clean out the inside of your ice bin with a mild bleach/water solution and then rinse thoroughly letting the water run down the drain in the bottom of the ice bin. Know that your ice-maker is a major part of your Board of Health inspection.
Fryers are durable machines with few moving parts and should last many years with proper care. The most important thing of course is to regularly clean and change the fryer oil. This depends on how much food you’re frying each day, how long the fryer is operating on temperature and of course the quality of the oil you use. To get the most useful life out of your fryer oil, It is essential to skim and filter food particles daily, keep the oil covered when the fryer is not operating, to not top off the oil and never add salt or flavoring to foods still in the fryer baskets over the oil and then to replace all the oil entirely when you notice the color of the oil changing, it starts to smoke or a noticeable odor develops. You will soon get a feel for the proper timing to change oil based on usage.
NOTE: There are pumping devices available that filter out your oil completely as it is pumped from the fryer and then restored back into your fryer. Although I have never used such a machine, they claim that this device significantly extends the useful life of your expensive oil. Remember: Add Fryer oil to your list of TOP 25 Purchase Items to compare pricing from your suppliers.
ANSUL FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEMS/ SPRINKLER SYSEMS/ FIRE EXTINGUISHERS:
Maintaining your fire suppression system and extinguishers is required for safety and the protection of your restaurant, not to mention your annual insurance inspection. The system and apparatus must be tested for pressure annually and periodically recharged by the installer or a licensed fire equipment specialist company.
OVENS, STOVES & CHARBROILERS:
These pieces are also quite durable especially the better brand names (such as Vulcan, Garland and Southbend). The main thing here is to keep the pilots and orifices clean of grease which keeps them lit and make sure that the flames burn “blue” and not “orange” for maximum efficiency. Wipe down all cooking equipment with grease cutter/cleaning solution after every use.
Commercial mixers especially those made by Hobart are virtually bombproof and last forever. This is one reason that they are expensive to purchase even used and retain a high value at resale. It is recommended that you regularly lubricate the moving parts with food-safe lubes and keep the crank mechanism and tracks greased for smooth operation.