Investing in maintenance and service not only reduces costs in the long run, it allows operators to get the most out of their kitchen equipment.

In this era of tight budgets, practically all foodservice operators look for ways to reduce spending. Many cross their fingers and slash foodservice equipment maintenance and service plans. Too often, though, this backfires and operators end up paying for this choice in dollars, labor, and even food quality and safety.

The first and most obvious problem with cutting service budgets is that, often, it just doesn't save money. According to Joe Birchhill, OEM business development manager with Ecolab Equipment Care and a board member of CFESA (the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association), customers regularly end up spending less on service overall if they invest in service up-front. By nipping problems in the bud during regular service calls, operators avoid larger repairs as well as late night and weekend calls that come with high labor costs.

For many customers on a planned maintenance contract, Birchhill said, "Their bill for a service program plus any break/fixes is considerably lower than the bill they paid just to have us come in and fix the stuff that failed."

Then there are the ripple effects of an unexpected equipment breakdown. If a key piece of equipment stops functioning, operators often have to develop workarounds (such as pot of oil boiling on a flattop grill to make up for a malfunctioning fryer) that add labor and time to food production and can even compromise kitchen and food safety. "Food quality can suffer. Time to table can suffer immensely. When equipment goes down during busy periods, it can affect things drastically and very quickly," Burchill said.

The benefits of service are not limited to avoiding equipment failures, however. Having equipment serviced allows units to operate at peak efficiency, noted Burchill. When properly installed and calibrated, a new piece of equipment is set to consume as little energy as possible while operating up to its promised standards. A bit of charred food covering a burner, scale or lime building up in water-using equipment — such simple things can cause energy consumption to jump drastically. Servicing can prevent that from happening.

This goes double for high-dollar, high-tech equipment, said Burchill. If operators invest tens of thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest oven, for example, they should recognize the value of spending just a fraction of that to keep that oven running as it should. "Food's getting cooked faster and better with more quality control from the equipment itself. These pieces of equipment are getting more and more expensive. It's important to invest in the upkeep on them both so they'll not break and so they'll operate efficiently within their normal parameters. That will save you energy and produce better quality," he said. What's more, regular visits to maintain pieces of equipment allow service agents to help train new staff members on how to properly use and maintain units. Birchill noted, however, that when it comes to caring for this high-tech equipment, it's important for operators to work with properly trained technicians.

Investing in service doesn't just keep equipment running properly, it also can establish a solid relationship with the service agency. When a piece fails unexpectedly, an operator who works regularly with a service agency will almost always take precedence over one who only calls for break/fix issues. What's more, when making an emergency call to an established customer, many agencies will know which components of their kitchen equipment are likely to fail and will be able to bring those parts with them on the first visit, said Burchhill. The result: quicker repairs that cost less money.

Let's face it: When reducing expenses, money that goes to prevent problems from happening is an easy target. It takes practically no effort to forget about service calls that aren't happening, so the impact of such cuts isn't felt until there's a problem. Before making such a cut though, operators should consider the true value of service, including its impact on emergency repairs, energy use, proper kitchen operations, and food quality and safety. These calculations will show that service is an investment that pays for itself very quickly.

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