Let’s face it: Operators’ number one goal is getting quality food out to customers in a timely manner. Overseeing kitchen equipment repair is closer to a necessary evil. But unless they’re fine with spending good money on a soon-to-be-dead unit, operators need to do their homework when it comes time to make a repair/replace decision.

Ken Beasley has made plenty of these decisions in his day. He spent 26 years on the operator side, including time as director of operations for a large casual dining chain. For the past 11 years, he’s served as president of Key Food Equipment Services, a service agency based in British Columbia and serving the western half of Canada. According to Beasley, when making these repair/replace calls, operators need to balance the cost of repair, the cost of the replacement and how much life a malfunctioning unit, if repaired, has left.

The first is easy to figure out: have your service agency come out to look at the piece and give an estimate. Knowing the useful service life and even the cost of replacement is a little harder, though.

To estimate the piece’s useful service life, start by asking the manufacturer and/or your dealer. Both should know roughly how long one of their pieces should last. Some manufacturers, Beasley noted, may be hesitant to give an answer. The service life of any piece of equipment depends on factors like volume and operating hours. Since manufacturers don’t know the specifics of an operation, they may avoid answering in fear of setting expectations that won’t be met. This is where a dealer can be called on. “A dealer is probably going to have a bit more insight because they’re familiar with your operation. They’ve had a look at what you do and they know your hours,” said Beasley.

The repair field techs themselves can also be a big help, he noted. Go ahead and ask the tech what they think of the broken piece. Is it in good shape overall? How much longer until it will need to be replaced? Is it worth repairing?

Having an established relationship with the service agency also helps. For its regular customers — especially those on a planned maintenance contract — a good service agency will have a record of every repair it’s performed on a piece of equipment going back several years. That information can eliminate some of the guesswork about a piece’s overall condition.

Figuring out the cost of replacing a piece of kitchen equipment can also be complex. There’s more to it than negotiating a price with your dealer. Operators should also factor in the “re-re” — remove and replace, said Beasely. That includes the cost of having the old unit unhooked from utilities and hauled away, and the new unit brought in, hooked up and calibrated. This can easily add several hundred dollars to the cost of a replacement, Beasly said, and should factor into the operator’s decision.

Of course, getting a new piece isn’t solely a financial drain. There can also be benefits to one of these investments, Beasley noted. A new unit will be under warranty; eliminating the cost of repairs for at least one year can be a big savings, especially when compared to the potential costs tied to keeping an older, dying unit running. What’s more, advances in kitchen equipment technology have made many pieces of equipment more affordable to operate, especially in the area of utilities. 

“You could almost talk about any piece of equipment this way. There’s been an improvement in technology in the last 10 to 15 years, particularly with gas usage, electrical usage and water usage, which effects drainage,” said Beasley. In addition, many utilities offer rebates to operators who replace a low efficiency unit with a high efficiency one; dealers should know about these rebates. (For more information on rebates, see this month’s Green Tip on page 86.) Any potential utility savings and subsidies should be factored into an operator’s decision.

While this may seem like a lot to consider, it really is in the best interest of an operation in the long run, Beasley added. An operator who’s not on top of a malfunctioning piece’s history and the full costs and benefits of a replacement will literally end up paying for it.