Getting the most from your restaurant’s back of house

Kitchen equipment checklist: Getting the most from your back of house
By Ken Beasley
April 3, 2013
 Every foodservice operator wants to get the best value out of their equipment in the kitchen, but you may not always know exactly what you need to do to make that happen. This column is about equipping you to get the most from your equipment.

First let’s assess your attitude toward maintenance. Choose the answer that best fits you (be honest!).

  1. When it breaks, I’ll fix it.
  2. I don’t want to mess with it because I don’t want to relight the pilot.
  3. It’s new – the warranty will cover anything that happens.
  4. I take diligent care of my equipment to get the best possible service and life from my investment.

Well, we all know we should say “d”, but the truth is more often one of the other answers. That wouldn’t matter if we were talking about a $40 domestic toaster, but we’re not. We know that well-maintained equipment does a better job, uses less energy (yours and the utility’s), and lasts longer. But we don’t always act on that knowledge. Furthermore, studies often show that well-maintained restaurant equipment costs you less over its lifetime.

You’ll often see a “Mom and Pop” restaurant using obviously well-worn equipment that’s still operating magnificently. How does that happen? It happens because they never had the luxury of neglecting the maintenance job. Someone learned how to take care of each of the items that provide their livelihood, paid attention regularly, and put effort into keeping everything in top condition.

Taking responsibility

In every operation, someone needs to play the role that Mom or Pop did, taking on maintenance as a personal responsibility. So the first step is to make the commitment to identify the person or people who are going to learn to love the equipment in your kitchen. You can offer this as a very worthwhile job enhancement for the right person, since it builds his or her transferable knowledge. Make that person your maintenance and equipment Lead, starting now.

Have your equipment Lead:

  • Review the owner’s manual. There are many daily/weekly/monthly checks and adjustments that can be made by your staff.
  • Copy relevant sections of these manuals and keep them close to the equipment for review or insert them into the recipe or plating manuals used for each station.
  • Create a start-up and shut down routine for each piece of equipment. If you can reduce the number of hours each piece of equipment runs, you can save in energy cost, repair costs and extend its useful life (up to 25 per cent).
  • Create a slow period “routine.” In other words, work with one fryer verses two, turn off half your broiler, shut down your chef top panfry station and use your open top burners, or turn off half your heat lamps.
  • Let staff know the cost of each piece of equipment they are using. If your cooks understand the value of what they are using they are more likely to treat it properly.
  • Clean, clean, clean. Grease migrates. It can cause fires as well as destroy components. The few minutes spent cleaning after each rush or at the end of the shift will reduce service calls and lengthen equipment life.

For everyone’s safety, your equipment Lead also needs to know the following:

  • There are three utility lines coming into your kitchen. It is imperative to know where the shut-offs are for water, electricity, and natural or propane gas.
  • Even though your equipment may be using gas to cook there is a good chance it uses electricity as well. For example, a convection oven uses gas to heat but needs electricity to run the motor for the fan. In the case of a combi-oven you can have all three – water, electricity and gas! So if you have an emergency requiring you to shut down your equipment you will need to know the shut-off locations for all three utilities.
  • There are usually three shut-off locations for gas: The main gas line into the restaurant, at the meter; at the source of your gas that feeds all the equipment on line; and a gas shut-off for each piece – usually just behind the equipment, at the base of the gas hose.
  • Electrical switches are usually located on the electrical panel itself. You will need to ensure that all electrical panel breakers are labeled so you can turn off the piece you need without interrupting the rest of the business.
  • Water can be the toughest one to find – there should be a dedicated shut-off for each piece of equipment. At the very least you should have a water shut-off for your line equipment.
  • Take an hour this week to walk through your kitchen and find and label the shutoffs, then share that information with all who need to know. You might also consider creating a map with instructions – electrical panels can be found in some pretty weird places!

Engage your authorized service provider to:

  • Ensure that all repairs are done according to the manufacturers’ specifications with the manufacturers’ original parts. This extends life, reduces downtime and maintains any safety switches that are part of the unit’s design.
  • Design a planned maintenance program to reduce reactive emergency calls, maintain cooking and energy efficiency and extend the life of your valuable equipment.
  • Ensure your authorized service provider is aware of the locations of all shut-offs – this will expedite repairs and reduce your service repair costs.

A final word – warranties

When you install a new piece of equipment, you might easily think that everything that could go wrong with it will be covered by your parts and labour warranty. But like most things in life, there’s some fine print: The warranty terms and conditions. If you don’t meet them, the manufacturer may refuse to cover your problem.

Before you fire up your new piece of equipment, read the manual that came with it, paying attention to:

  • Installation and operation instructions;
  • Required maintenance (some done by you and some by your service provider);
  • Troubleshooting information; and
  • Warranty terms and conditions.

To be ready for the day when you have a warranty claim,

  • Keep a copy of the purchase receipt, with the serial number on it, in the manual.
  • Check the manual to see if the manufacturer insists you call their 1-800 number for support and service authorization before you call the authorized service company.

Remember, by designating a staff member as a maintenance and equipment Lead, working with an authorized service provider and understanding the procedures laid out in the warranty section of your manual, you can help prolong the life of your valuable equipment, ensure the safety of staff and customers alike and save a significant amount of energy and money. That’s a lot of benefits from a little extra effort.

See also:

About the author

Ken Beasley is president of Key Food Equipment Service Ltd. Key Food Equipment has been in business for more than 30 years. We have 44 factory trained technicians working out of seven offices across Western Canada with the largest OEM parts inventory in Canada. For specific tips regarding the maintenance of each piece of kitchen equipment or planned maintenance programs on your entire kitchen visit our website at

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