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5 Most Common Questions About Preventative Maintenance

Stephanie Bernstein
June 21, 2021

Restaurants thrive on preparation and routine to operate like clockwork. It isn’t just line cooks who need mise en place – every aspect of a restaurant needs to be consistent to deliver an unforgettable, and repeatable, customer experience.

There shouldn’t be a difference when it comes to repairs – routine preventative maintenance (PM) is vital to keeping restaurant processes running smoothly. Despite its necessity, a lot of restaurants aren’t including PM in their repair and maintenance strategy.

Owners and operators likely don’t pay enough attention to the equipment that fully powers their kitchens until there’s an issue that dramatically disrupts operations. Then, panic ensues, with your inventory, customers, and revenue at stake.

If you’re a restaurant operator or general manager thinking to yourself, “Wait a second… we’re not using PM either,” we’ve got you.

We’ll answer the most common questions about preventative maintenance, bust some myths, and recommend some solutions so you can incorporate PM into your business.

What Is Preventative Maintenance?

Also known as planned maintenance or routine maintenance, this type of maintenance is scheduled regularly to reduce downtime, minimize equipment failures, and extend equipment lifespans. Preventive maintenance is the best strategy restaurant managers can take to ensure that their equipment will not fail them in their time of need.

Some examples include:

    • Cleaning filters and checking refrigerant levels for HVAC
    • Checking temperatures and cleaning coils for Cold Side
    • Backflow testing and line jetting for Plumbing

That makes sense. Why does it really matter for restaurants?

Imagine you take your car into the shop for routine maintenance. The mechanic says you need new tires, but you don’t want to shell out $500 today. He says you could hold off on getting the new set, so you drive off without new tires. 

A few months later, you have a complete blowout on the interstate. You have to call roadside assistance and a tow truck, on top of paying for the new tires. Now, you’re out at least a thousand dollars and have added panic and stress to the equation. 

This exact scenario can be applied to preventative maintenance for restaurants.

For hot side, a service provider may tell you that the relay for the thermocouple is showing erosion. Do you pay the $500 now or do you wait until it goes out on Saturday night at 8 p.m. with 100 guests and a line out the door?

Don’t get stranded on the highway. Don’t get stranded without a grill on a busy night.

When preventative maintenance is scheduled with the right service provider at the right rate, the upfront cost will be significantly lower than last-minute, urgent repairs at emergency or overtime rates. That’s if you can get assistance outside of vendors’ normal working hours.

Then there’s the impact on lost revenue. Breakdowns cost you, even more, when customers can’t order their favorite high-margin dish, the line is out the door because you’re down a fryer, or the toilet is backed up and flooding the floor.

Not to mention that unnecessary wear-and-tear on equipment increases the likelihood of replacement over repair.

Some preventative maintenance is legally required. Local health codes and compliance requirements on equipment like grease traps, floor drains, vent hoods, fire suppression systems, and water filtration systems are mandatory.

The results speak for themselves: preventive maintenance helps save up to 20% in energy costs year-over-year compared to costly reactive maintenance, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

This sounds so important. Why isn’t it being done?

Well, just like driving off from the mechanic, for some restaurant operators, maintenance is out of sight, out of mind until it’s a serious issue. With hundreds of tasks to be done in a restaurant at any given time, nobody is pulling out units and checking behind, under, or above them. 

HVAC units on the roof? Those puppies aren’t getting a good look until it’s the middle of July and the A/C is broken.

If the temperature is a little off in the walk-in cooler, staff could write it off as a result of keeping the door open a little too long. An effective preventative maintenance program would ensure dirty condenser coils (a likely culprit) are cleaned by an experienced team member before they can affect the temperature of your integral piece of equipment. But when the cooler overheats and shuts off completely, there’s inventory lost, damage done to nearby equipment, and costs of emergency repairs.

The goal is not letting it get to that point of urgency. Whether kitchen equipment is not visible or not top of mind, preventative maintenance ensures that operators, managers, and staff alike don’t need to worry about routinely checking on equipment. There’s enough on their plates.

However, some operators haven’t succeeded with preventative maintenance in the past. Preventative maintenance is separately scheduled and established a cadence specific to the equipment category. Unlike on-demand repairs, preventative maintenance is less urgent and therefore, can be canceled/rescheduled in exchange for service providers managing on-demand repairs elsewhere. It’s also difficult to ensure work was done without proper documentation. This is especially true with the industry’s current labor shortages.

While preventative maintenance for restaurants can’t guarantee you’ll never have on-demand repairs, PM can extend the life of a unit, avoid downtime and lost revenue, and mitigate the stress of last-minute repairs.

Without the data, there’s no clear vision of what is changing for the better. It’s hard to see what downtime and money you’re saving when there is no clear way to look at your service incidents over time.

Not only do we provide top service providers, establish maintenance schedules, and communicate proof of work, we collect data across all customers to better understand how the equipment operates (or doesn’t) to provide invaluable, actionable insights.

OK, I’m open to exploring preventative maintenance. Where do I start?

There are common PM schedules for different types of equipment.

HVAC: Air conditioning units need clean air. This means regularly cleaning compressors and filters. We recommend vacuuming and cleaning all air vent/return grills and replacing filters quarterly.

Cold Side: Allowing refrigerator and freezer units to get proper airflow puts less pressure on the equipment. Overheated units create extra heat in the facility and can cause wear and tear on other nearby equipment. We recommend brushing off coils, checking temperatures, and visually assessing equipment quarterly.

Infrastructure (Hood Cleaning and Grease Traps): Maintenance services like grease trap cleaning are typically done infrequently when staff is not on-site. We recommend regular cleaning of fans, belts, pulleys, and grease traps. Frequency varies by municipality inspections and unit specifications.

We include more preventative maintenance recommendations in our second annual State of Repairs report.

Can 86 help?

We sure can. 

We offer preventative maintenance plans including, but not limited to, maintenance for:
  • HVAC
  • Refrigeration (Cold Side Equipment)
  • Ice Machines
  • Hood Cleaning
  • Plumbing
  • Cooking Equipment (Hot Side Equipment)
  • Grease Traps
  • Appliances (vacuum sealer, slicers, etc.)
  • Fire Suppression

Because we keep comprehensive digital equipment inventories for our customers on all pieces of equipment over $250, we can easily create equipment-specific preventative maintenance plans. We’ll even help you identify which categories are most important and which ones you don't need.

To ensure the highest quality service providers, we source up to 3 quotes per service category and assemble the quotes in an easy-to-read format for you to make your final decision. Since it’s separate from your on-demand maintenance, you aren’t sold large-scale contracts you don’t need.

We make sure that preventative maintenance is actually taking place as scheduled and to the highest quality. Our Customer Success team provides comprehensive proof of work reports with verbal and written statements and photographic documentation of key PM activities, in addition to a blind verification process.

We manage all communication with service providers and location staff to make sure preventative maintenance is scheduled, appointments are met, and any reschedules don’t fall through the cracks.

ACCESS NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN DATA
We know that preventative maintenance can be a hot topic in the restaurant industry due to high expectations and few results when the process is not executed thoroughly and at a high level.

However, restaurant operators who invest in preventive maintenance software reap the rewards of this proven system, reducing their overall operating costs, energy costs, and overall equipment downtime to provide an exceptional customer experience.

Access more actionable information on preventative maintenance and other topics in our 2021 State of Repairs report.