The 86 Repairs Guide to Restaurant Electrical Maintenance

Restaurant electrical maintenance keeps energy flowing so business can run smoothly (and safely). Get troubleshooting tips on electricity and lighting now!


Welcome to another 86 Repairs Guide! In this series, we provide valuable troubleshooting, preventative maintenance, and warranty information on the equipment and infrastructure found in your restaurant. We hope this information will help you and your team become more informed about repairs and maintenance (R&M)—and save you time and money along the way.


Most people don’t find themselves in the hospitality industry because of their interest in managing R&M. Shocking, right?

But you don’t have to be amped about R&M to understand the basics of core components vital to restaurant operations—like the electricity that keeps the business running.

In this Guide, we’ll teach you how to conduct yourself when your restaurant’s power is on the fritz.

Table of Contents

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What is restaurant electrical maintenance?

Here’s a refresher if your memory of high school science class is a little foggy: electricity is created from a flow of charged electrons through wire. The resulting energy then travels to power appliances.

Interior restaurant electrical systems usually start at the breaker panel. Depending on the electrical design of a restaurant, panels can be used for different areas or different functions: for example, one panel could be solely for an HVAC system, whereas another might be connected to the wall outlets in the kitchen.

Once electricity leaves a breaker panel, it’s distributed in a circuit. Almost always, the circuit leads to an outlet, which distributes power to the plugged-in appliance.

Restaurant electrical maintenance ensures that energy continues flowing properly so every element of the business runs smoothly and safely. No power means no HVAC, no lighting, and no refrigeration—making it nearly impossible to run a restaurant to code.

Numbers to know about restaurant electrical maintenance

The electric expenses for a restaurant depend on local rates, the size of the building, and overall usage. A 250-seat fine dining restaurant open for lunch and dinner service will have a much higher electric bill than a sandwich shop that’s only open for lunch in the same town.

Emergency electrical work is another story:

  • In 2022, our customers spent an average of $496.56 on service calls from electricians.
  • The first-time fix rate for this emergency service was a strong 93%; only 7% of emergency electric incidents required a second visit from an electrician.

To discover more average invoice costs and first-time fix rates for the equipment and infrastructure found in restaurants, get The State of Repairs! It’s the only resource available for restaurant operators to benchmark their R&M expenses.

In our other Guides, we’ve included preventative maintenance for restaurants to help owners and operators be proactive to limit the downtime and expenses associated with emergency services.

However, preventative maintenance doesn’t really exist for this infrastructure! Unfortunately, when restaurant electrical maintenance is needed, it’s always in reaction to something happening at that moment.

But if the power’s not quite right at your restaurant, use these troubleshooting tips before you start seeking help from an electrician.

Troubleshooting restaurant electricity

If an appliance at your restaurant isn’t getting power, first figure out if the issue is with the electricity or the appliance itself. To check this, use the phone charger test:

  • Unplug the unit from the outlet.
  • Plug your phone charger into the same outlet.
  • Connect your phone to the charger.
    • If your phone charges, there’s an issue with the appliance.
    • If your phone will not charge, there’s an issue with the circuit.

If the issue is related to electricity, you’ll want to look for the closest GFCI outlet. Even if the unit wasn’t plugged into a GFCI outlet, there could be one located upstream on the same circuit.

  • Test and reset the GFCI outlet.
  • Go to the breaker panel and toggle the circuit off for at least 30 seconds.
  • Use the phone charger test to see if the circuit has power again.
    • If the phone won’t charge, it’s time to call an electrician.
electrical panel

 

Troubleshooting breaker panels

How can you troubleshoot electrical circuits if your breaker panel won’t cooperate? Take these steps to see if you can get it back on your side:

If you toggle a breaker off and then back on, but it changes or turns off immediately:

  • Go into the part of the building associated with the tripped breaker.
  • Find every appliance without power. Unplug them from their outlets.
  • Go back to the breaker and toggle it back on. If it stays on, there are two potential issues:
    1. An appliance on the line has short-circuited.
    2. There are too many pieces of equipment on the line, using too much power and causing the breaker to trip.

To determine if the issue stems from an individual appliance or the number of units on the circuit,

  • Plug in appliances one by one until the breaker trips.
  • When the breaker trips, test the unit that was plugged in most recently on its own.
  • If the breaker trips with just that appliance plugged in, it’s an issue with that unit.
    • Call a vendor to service the appliance.
  • If the breaker doesn’t trip until more appliances are plugged in, it’s likely an issue with the circuit overloading.
    • See if you can relocate equipment to other locations to reduce the load on the affected circuit.
    • If that’s not possible, call an electrician to repair the circuit.

If you toggle a breaker and it immediately turns back off, even with all lights off and all appliances unplugged, the breaker itself may be worn and needs to be replaced. This can happen if it’s already been toggled one too many times—it likely became too sensitive to the current. Call an electrician to replace it.

When you’re working with breaker panels, be on the lookout for excessively warm temperatures or a burning scent. While it’s normal for breakers to be warm to the touch, anything beyond that should be considered an emergency.

If you observe a burning smell, feel hot breakers, or see smoke coming from the breaker panel,

  • If safe to do so, kill the power to the panel. Do this by pushing the top main breaker off.
  • Contact your electric company. They can shut off power to the entire building if they feel it’s an imminent danger.
  • Call 911 immediately if you suspect there’s an electrical fire.

Troubleshooting electrical outlets

Any outlets that are hot to the touch, smell scorched, or have smoke coming through them should be replaced immediately. Contact an electrician to get this done safely. 

Be on the lookout for scorch marks around the plugs in your outlets, as well as any plugs that might have melted. This is a huge indicator of being at risk for an electrical fire. If you spot these issues,

  • Find the breaker to the associated plug and turn it off. It may not be safe to just avoid using the outlet.
  • Call an electrician to replace the outlet.

Troubleshooting restaurant lighting

Troubleshooting the lighting throughout your restaurant is a bit more intensive than general electrical checks but worth the extra steps before contacting an electrician for service.

Before you begin, remember: if you’re testing a light fixture, always use a brand new bulb before you move deeper into troubleshooting!

Fluorescent lights

Fluorescent lights are commonly found overhead in high-visibility areas, like kitchens. If these lights go out and still won’t turn back on after the bulbs have been replaced, you might have an issue with the ballast in the fixture. To avoid the problem moving forward, call a technician and consider converting the fixture to LED. 

If more than one of your fluorescent light fixtures isn’t working within the same space, it’s likely a breaker issue. See the section on Troubleshooting breaker panels to see if the associated breaker is tripping or malfunctioning.

LED bulbs

When you have LED bulbs in your restaurant, be advised that these frequently misbehave when they’re linked to dimmer switches. Dimmers work by sending less power to the bulb to temper the level of brightness it exudes, but some of these electrical frequencies don’t interact properly.

So, if you’re using a dimmer switch and seeing the light flicker rapidly, you either need to replace the switch or the bulb. Both of them need to be compatible with dimmable LEDs in order to work correctly! 

outdoor lighting

Exterior lights

Keep shining a light on your business by ensuring your exterior lights are timed properly. Most restaurant exterior lights are connected to a timer that will be located somewhere inside the building. 

You might run into some issues with your exterior lighting when the clocks move back or forward. Most timers don’t automatically adjust, so they’ll be operating too late or too early if they aren’t reprogrammed manually.

If your exterior lights still aren’t working after reprogramming the timer,

  • Find the bypass switch on the timer and turn it from “timer” to “on.”
  • If the lights still don’t turn on, it’s an issue with the circuit or bulbs themselves.
  • Still no exterior lights? Call an electrician or signage company for further investigation.

Warranties for restaurant electrical

Unfortunately, your restaurant’s electrical infrastructure is only going to be covered under warranty if it’s within a newly constructed building. Always pay attention to your general contractor’s warranty to see what’s covered and for how long—it’s in your best interest to use this protection whenever possible to avoid out-of-pocket expenses.

Parts for restaurant lighting

Outlets, breakers, and any other part of an electrical circuit in your restaurant must be replaced by a licensed electrician. Your team could cause serious damage to the building—and themselves—if they try to do this without professional help. It’s a small price to pay to keep everyone safe.

However, parts replacement for restaurant lighting can easily be handled in-house. It’s simple to find lightbulbs online or in-store, remove a burnt-out bulb, and screw the new part back in. Just look at the ends of your bulbs to verify the specifications before you buy any replacements.

Fluorescent bulbs might be a bit more tricky, but just turn the bulb about 90° until you feel it stop. At that point, you should be able to pull the bulb straight down out of the fixture. Take the same approach to replace the bulb: lift it straight into the fixture, then turn it 90° until you feel it lock into place.

A final note on restaurant electrical maintenance

Don’t be dim—restaurant maintenance is required for your business to stay up and running. When you notice a burnt-out bulb, scorched scents, or blistering hot breakers, it’s in the best interest of your business, your customers, and your staff to address it immediately.

By troubleshooting common electrical issues and replacing bulbs in-house, you may be able to avoid spending money on an unnecessary electrician visit. Now isn’t that a bright idea? 💡

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