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The 6 Most Common Equipment Repairs in QSRs

Ariel Upton
February 16, 2021

It’s the old story that keeps repeating itself.

At the worst possible moment when service is at its absolute peak, seemingly out of nowhere, the walk-in cooler stops cooling.

Rather than assisting the line, serving customers, or supporting employees, you must immediately allocate resources to fixing the cooler, ensuring your restaurant doesn’t lose product or its projected revenue.

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Meanwhile, your staff is making sure your customers have everything they need without tipping them off to the fact that anything is wrong. All of this creates tension, strain on your employees, and oftentimes, avoidable repair costs.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but unfortunately, major equipment breakdowns are all too common. Here’s some good news: There are ways to prevent this from ever happening again, or ever happening in the first place.

For quick-service restaurants to successfully operate, the focus must be placed on preventative maintenance, one key area that’s crucial to ensuring you stay ahead of the curve for any breakdown or service issue. 

Customers expect their experience to be fast, convenient, and repeatable when visiting quick-service or fast food restaurants.

And it’s never been more important to meet the expectation of being able to arrive, dine, and depart with safety and ease.

What The Incident Reports are Saying

We’ve reviewed our incident reports to round up which breakdowns are occurring most frequently in QSRs, so you can always stay a step ahead.

Featuring real data from our QSR customer set, we’ve not only outlined the six most common breakdowns by restaurant equipment repair category, we’ve also broken down the percentage of all incidents that these particular equipment failures account for. 

Three of the top six breakdowns are related to critical cold side refrigeration equipment: walk-in coolers, reach-in refrigerators, and walk-in freezers. 

This category is challenging for a few reasons, due to the risk of foodborne illness resulting from improper product safety, or product security and lost product due to refrigeration failure.

Take Repairs Off Your Plate

Along with our list, we’ll share common symptoms to explain why the equipment fails as well as preventative maintenance tips to avoid costly and unnecessary equipment repairs. 

With proper preventative maintenance services you’ll be able to focus on what matters most.

The cost of failing to prepare is just too high.

The Top 6 Reported Equipment Repairs in QSRs

Walk-In Fridge

#1. Walk-in cooler is too warm

  • Category - Cold Side
  • Equipment Type - Walk-In Cooler
  • Symptom - Too Warm
  • Occurrence - 18% of all incidents

On the cold side category, our number one reported incident was the walk-in cooler being too warm. This accounted for 18% of all incidents reported by QSRs.

Depending on your model, the average temperature for a walk-in cooler should be anywhere from 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When it exceeds this sweet spot, your product risks being in deep trouble. 

To complete preventative maintenance for your walk-in cooler, we’ve rounded up some helpful tips. 

  • Toggle the breaker off for 1 minute and turn back on
  • Examine the evaporator for ice or first buildup and defrost the unit if needed
  • Clear the drain line with compressed air or a wet vacuum

This ensures you’ll spot any problems before they turn into a full-on breakdown or require a visit from a service provider.

#2. Ice-maker ice won’t harvest

  • Category - Cold Side
  • Equipment Type - Ice-Maker
  • Symptom - Ice won’t harvest
  • Occurrence - 15% of all incidents

Also on the cold side category, having an ice-maker that won’t actually harvest the ice accounted for a lot of headaches.

This is something that can seemingly happen sporadically, whether from an issue with an ice-maker feature, ice hot harvesting, or water supply issues. But there are many ways to put your equipment in the best place possible to avoid such incidents.

We recommend following this check-in process early and often:

  • Ensure the space your ice-machine is in is regulated to a temperature of between 70 to 75 degrees.This will allow the ice machine to cool efficiently.
  • Check the ice thickness probe, bin switch, and other evaporator components for mold and scale buildup.
  • Clean those regularly to prevent health and operational concerns.
  • Change your water filters on a schedule, and while you're at it clean your inlet water valve screens.

And, if you think the space will change temperatures more abruptly than usual, keep an eye on your machine to catch any potential issues from warm ambient air.

Ice Machine

#3. Reach-in refrigerator is too warm

  • Category - Cold Side
  • Equipment Type - Reach-In Refrigerator
  • Symptom - Too Warm
  • Occurrence - 14% of all incidents

A kitchen’s worst nightmare has occurred—the reach-in refrigerator is too warm, putting product and profit at risk. 

The good news is, there are simple steps you can take to prevent this from ever happening.

First, assess the reach-in refrigerator’s location; is it near stovetops or fryers? Ensure these heat-producing machines aren’t close enough to compromise the refrigerator’s air flow with grease and dust.

Next, daily maintenance is the key here. Check your refrigerator’s condenser coils and make sure they are free of dust and debris, and check gaskets and drain lines for blockages.

Make sure the temperature hovers somewhere between 34 and 40 degrees at all times.

#4. Walk-in freezer is too warm

  • Category - Cold Side
  • Equipment Type - Walk-In Freezer
  • Symptom - Too Warm
  • Occurrence - 12% of all incidents

And, another time-sensitive nightmare is occurring at a high frequency. The walk-in freezer is too warm, again compromising not only your product, but potentially the guest experience and your revenue.

A walk-in freezer cooling issue might stem from compressor failure or pressure-maintenance issues, or it might be a problem with frost buildup on the evaporator coils.

To stop issues in their tracks, follow these PM tips: Check your door seals, run a defrost cycle on your evaporator, and if accessible blow out your condenser coils.

If your condenser coils are dirty, their ability to ward off heat is compromised. This simple trick will keep your walk-in freezer humming along.

Reach-In Freezer

#5. HVAC infrastructure is not cooling

  • Category - HVAC
  • Equipment Type - HVAC Infrastructure
  • Symptom - Not Cooling
  • Occurrence - 11% of all incidents

Our fifth-most reported issue is on the HVAC side of things, with the HVAC infrastructure not cooling. This totaled 11% of all incidents reported by QSRs.

It’s no surprise that when HVAC systems start to fail, this creates an uncomfortable situation for both your guests and your staff. No matter how good someone’s meal is, if they’re physically uncomfortable, this can break their experience. And, keeping your HVAC system running smoothly will keep your energy bill low, so preventative maintenance in this area is a win for all.

To make sure your HVAC system is in check at all times clean condenser coils and drain lines, and check and replace all air filters on a frequent schedule of every 30 to 90 days.

Next, inspect fan blades and belts for any signs of damage.

With all these boxes checked off, you’ll spot any parts that need maintenance before a breakdown, all while keeping air quality optimal and the temperature just right.

HVAC

#6. Leak in plumbing infrastructure

  • Category - Plumbing
  • Equipment Type - Plumbing Infrastructure
  • Symptom - Leak
  • Occurrence - 9% of all incidents

The final item on our list accounted for 9% of all incidents. In the plumbing category, a leak in plumbing infrastructure can be a catastrophe.

While smaller leaks might cost anywhere from $150 to $300 to fix, a larger leak in infrastructure can run you into the thousands.

Pair this with the cost of lost business, and you’re going to wish you had implemented a preventative maintenance plan sooner.

  • To start, grease buildup in pipes can cause disastrous issues.
  • Make sure grease traps are clear and pipes are free of buildup, and use drain grates to keep lines clear, ensuring they’re properly fitted as well as the right size.
  • Also, be observant; if you hear a strange draining sound, for example, that’s your first sign to examine plumbing lines for a deeper issue.

Making a Preventative Maintenance Plan

As you’ve read, our most common restaurant equipment repairs reported largely centered around the cold side category, followed by HVAC and plumbing systems. While preventative maintenance can be a time-filled process, the costs it can recoup are immeasurable. 

To ensure you’re making the most of your PM plan, create a schedule, and stick to it. For example, many of these checks can occur every 30, 60, or 90 days, or even once or twice per year.

Chart out your plan to stay on target and never wonder, “When was the last time I checked the air filter?” This will keep you steps ahead of a painful and costly incident.

Preventative Maintenance

According to the National Restaurant Association in 2020, restaurant repairs can cost up to 1.5 percent of sales, while other studies note this can be even higher at two to six percent.

Making a schedule for preventative maintenance as well as maintenance checkups won’t just save you and your staff time, it will save you product and revenue.

Most importantly, it will ensure you can keep your focus on doing what you do best—giving your guests an exceptional dining experience.