Preventative Maintenance 101: A Guide for Restaurants

Want to sell more food, keep customers happy, and ultimately create profits? Preventative maintenance services can help. Here’s what operators need to know.


Preventative maintenance (PM) often falls to the bottom of the to-do list for restaurant operators. For some, it’s simply out of sight, out of mind until equipment failures become a more serious issue. For other restaurants, it may be scheduled, but it gets pushed to the back burner when other pressing priorities pop up—as they often do in the industry. Then there’s also the perceived cost and time commitments that can stop operators from creating and following through on their maintenance schedules. 

Sound familiar?

But the truth is that preventative maintenance can save restaurants a lot of repair and maintenance (R&M) headaches. It can help businesses operate more efficiently by ensuring equipment and infrastructure are taken care of to help sell food, keep customers happy, and ultimately create profits.

Need confidence to invest in preventative maintenance? Here’s what you need to know. 

What exactly is preventative maintenance?

Also known as planned maintenance, preventative maintenance is the regular care of equipment and infrastructure to reduce downtime and prevent total failure. It’s the opposite of reactive maintenance, where equipment is only repaired when it breaks down.

Preventative maintenance is only performed by specialized vendors per manufacturer suggestions and/or an authority having jurisdiction. But routine maintenance—those daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that keep equipment functioning—is done by onsite teams. 

All maintenance should occur within a set schedule, which will differ based on the type of equipment. 

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So, what does preventative maintenance look like for restaurants?

Preventative maintenance for restaurants is the ongoing care of crucial equipment and infrastructure, like restaurant refrigerators and grease traps

PM ensures that appliances and systems don’t break down prematurely and avoids unnecessary downtime, which leads to loss of sales. We recommend preventative maintenance plans for the following restaurant equipment and infrastructure:

  • HVAC equipment
  • Refrigeration equipment (including freezers)
  • Ice machines
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Main inlet/outlet and internal kitchen drain line jetting
  • Grease traps
  • Hood systems 
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Beverage dispensers
  • Coffee equipment, like espresso machines and blenders

However, keep in mind that we don’t recommend PM for everything. For example, hot-side PM plans can be prohibitively expensive. Your team—and your bottom line—are better off performing routine tasks to keep equipment like ovens and fryers running at their prime.

Preventative maintenance can include anything from cleaning dirty condenser coils in reach-in refrigerators to scheduling line jetting for a restaurant’s plumbing. 

Why is preventative maintenance important for restaurants?

Still not convinced? Let’s dive deeper into why your restaurant needs a preventative maintenance schedule:

1. Reduce equipment downtime

Your equipment is the backbone of your restaurant, allowing you to keep operations running smoothly. If your equipment stops working, your guests and staff won’t exactly be pleased. 

Guests may experience longer wait times, a limited menu, sub-par dishes, and—in extreme cases—no food at all. Staff, in turn, won’t be able to use the equipment that’s such an integral part of their work. 

Imagine the barista that’s unable to make coffee because the machines are down, the waiter who can’t accept payment because of a malfunctioning POS, or the GM who can’t get the air conditioning to turn on at the height of summer. Such equipment failures place undue stress on the front and back of the house—and this tense environment can also rub off on guests.

But let’s not forget the impact all this has on revenue, too: The longer your equipment and infrastructure are failing, the less opportunity you have to generate sales.

2. Avoid lost sales

Part of the beauty of PM is the ability to discover equipment and infrastructure deficiencies before they cause chaos in the kitchen. If a problem is spotted during the vendor’s service, the issue can be resolved before the equipment or infrastructure breaks down completely.

Plus, when restaurant operators are able to get proactive about repairs, they can schedule service outside of operating hours—meaning no disturbances in the business for more sales to come through the door.

3. Reduce operating costs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, preventative maintenance can save you anywhere from 12-18% on expenses compared to reactive maintenance. 

This statistic shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, regular maintenance helps you keep tabs on equipment so you can pinpoint problems early before they become a major and expensive disaster to fix (burst pipes, anyone?).  

These last-minute, urgent repairs usually come at a hefty price tag—especially when emergency or overtime rates are at play.

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How to set a preventative maintenance schedule

Proper maintenance starts with a detailed schedule that includes the maintenance tasks for all equipment and infrastructure and when these will be completed.

This cadence is either based on a specific time frame (like daily, weekly, or monthly) or usage. Most operators base it on a particular time, so we’ll use that as a reference point as we guide you through how to start making preventative maintenance plans. 

Step 1: Create an equipment and infrastructure inventory

Find every piece of equipment and inventory in your restaurant and document: 

  • The make, model, and serial number of each appliance or system
  • The function of the equipment
  • Likely points of failure
  • What maintenance needs to be done
  • How often the equipment is being used

Building this inventory can be challenging and time-consuming—it’s probably why most operators we’ve come across don’t have one! But it’s worth the investment so you know exactly what needs to be maintained and when. Plus, when something inevitably goes wrong, you’ll easily have unit information on hand for better troubleshooting and vendor service.

If you don’t have the internal resources to dedicate to the task, consider a repair and maintenance solution to take this task off your plate. Certain platforms can help you build inventories for every location you operate.

Step 2: Set the cadence

Next, you’ll need to determine the frequency at which you need PM performed. As we’ve mentioned before, this varies greatly by the type of appliance or system, as well as the task that needs to be completed.

Here are a few PM schedule recommendations for common pieces of restaurant equipment and infrastructure. Please note these are very general guidelines; this is not at all inclusive of every type of maintenance that needs to be done for your business.

Annually

  • Backflow preventer inspections
  • Line cabling for low-volume restaurants with old lines

Bi-annually

  • Ice machine sanitization
  • Line jetting for higher-volume restaurants with newer pipes

Quarterly

  • Large, external grease trap cleaning via a full drain or filtration 
  • Cleaning the metal commercial HVAC filters in the makeup air unit
  • Cleaning dirty condenser coils of reach-in refrigerators

As a reminder, daily, weekly, and monthly tasks are considered routine maintenance and can be performed by your in-house team to avoid unnecessary vendor service. These can easily be added to opening and closing shift checklists:

Bi-weekly

  • Small, internal grease trap cleaning

Daily

  • Checking the walk-in thermostat to ensure it’s set to the right temperature
  • Cleaning range tops to eliminate grease build-up

Tip: Always refer to manufacturer recommendations for preventative maintenance. It’s your best source to keep your equipment and infrastructure operating at their best.

Step 3: Work with vendors

With your schedule created, you now need to find vendors, source quotes, compare the quotes, then find an open time to get maintenance scheduled. 

Be sure to document all scheduled maintenance visits so you can manage the process and hold vendors accountable against the schedule. How you choose to do this is entirely up to you: you can use something like a dedicated maintenance Google Calendar or a specific solution meant to assist with preventative maintenance planning.

The key to successful PM is actually scheduling the maintenance in advance. It’s much easier to have a set time for a vendor to come vs. hoping for the best with availability and potentially paying for overtime charges when you have to react in the moment to equipment going down. With a PM plan, the vendor shouldn’t need a work order to be dispatched every time—they can simply schedule the next service when they’re already onsite.

Plus, if you get PM set up with a vendor two weeks to a month before a service is due, you’ll likely enjoy the perk of getting first responses for emergency, reactive work. The vendor will also be more likely to negotiate lower service rates with you, compared to an operator they have no existing relationship with.

Start your preventative maintenance plans today

There’s a lot to lose if preventative maintenance remains an afterthought for your business. PM keeps equipment running so your restaurant can operate efficiently and helps you sidestep the expense of big, last-minute breakdowns that can bust a budget.

If PM feels like a hurdle you just can’t get over on your own, invest in a partner who can help do the heavy lifting for you!

86 Repairs is the repairs and maintenance solution built for the restaurant industry. Along with 24/7, end-to-end repair management, we help thousands of restaurants across North America establish digital equipment inventories and source top-quality vendors for service.

In addition to our core services, we offer preventative maintenance programs to our customers! So if you’re overwhelmed by where to start with PM, we can take it off your plate entirely—from determining which equipment requires dedicated plans, to identifying the vendors who are up to the task, and scheduling and documenting each service. Book a demo to learn more.

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