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Checking it Twice: Preventative Maintenance for Restaurants

While preventative maintenance is not one of the most glamorous aspects of running a restaurant, it is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to long-term success. Proper maintenance is essential to customer satisfaction, retention, and reputation-building. Not only does it lessen the need for out-of-the-blue repairs, keep costs under control, and increase the quality of the food, but it keeps a kitchen humming like a well-oiled machine.

In 2022, restaurants in the US spent $28 billion on equipment repairs and maintenance and $35 billion on new equipment. High-quality equipment kept in good working order is paramount to a successfully-run kitchen. A malfunctioning stand mixer, an out-of-order freezer, or a broken food processor can result in potential health and safety hazards in addition to losses in time, money, and credibility.

Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule and following a comprehensive checklist will narrow down your staff’s to-do list, ensure smooth operations, and allow for more time to perfect your restaurant’s mouthwatering menu.

Restaurant Equipment Maintenance Tasks

  • Cleaning and Sanitation

At the top of your list of things-to-do should be setting up a cleaning schedule. Restaurant equipment cleaning and routine maintenance is a balancing act of things that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Because cleaning is not a one-size-fits-all practice, a regular schedule should be customized depending on the equipment. While an ice cream maker might only need to be deep cleaned weekly, a frequently used grill calls for a thorough cleaning several times a day to prevent grease build up and avoid a potential fire hazard.

In addition to setting up a schedule for each piece of equipment, it’s important to keep a list of the appropriate cleaning agents and tools that are required for every apparatus. Ice makers require a certain type of cleaning agent that differs from coffee maker, for example. Because all of this can seem overwhelming, we’ve compiled a Kitchen Cleaning Checklist to help keep you on top of things.

  • Inspecting Equipment

Most restaurant equipment is quite complex with many moving parts that can wear down over time, so the next item on your to-do list should be a schedule for inspecting each piece of equipment for basic wear and tear, loose or missing parts, and leaks. Most commercial kitchen equipment are work horses that can be damaged due to their intense use. Train your staff to identify safety hazards, missing parts, and broken pieces which should be recorded on the checklist and immediately brought to a supervisor’s attention.

To prevent frustrating mishaps, regular maintenance for moving parts such as motors, fan blades, filters, and any other components is imperative. Keeping a fully-equipped tool chest and arming yourself and your crew with the proper training for making minor repairs as they happen can prevent costly replacement and repairs.

  • Calibration and Adjustments

Commercial kitchens are brimming with small-scale gauges and gadgets like food scales and thermometers that require regular recalibration to stay accurate. Pressure settings in dishwashers, sinks, and gas burners should also be monitored regularly.

  • Evaluating Electric and Plumbing Systems

Faulty or frayed wiring, poorly fitted pipes, clogs, leaks, and loose connections can lead to electrical fires and floods that can throw a wrench in overall operations. Routine inspection of your restaurant’s plumbing and electrical systems should be high on your checklist of regular maintenance practices.

Types of Preventative Maintenance

Stay ahead of problems and extend the life of your commercial equipment by performing preventative maintenance daily, weekly, and monthly to catch broken or worn-out parts before they create huge issues.

When key pieces of equipment like an espresso machine or pizza oven are out-of-service, it can place a huge strain on the kitchen, causing staff to fall behind and sales to plummet. Careful planning and availability of parts can prevent equipment from being out-of-commision for extended periods of time.

Items like filters, belts, screws, and gaskets are all part of the invisible machinery that makes a kitchen tick. When creating your own kitchen checklist, it’s a good idea to consult manufacturer instructions and keep manuals on hand.

Cooking Equipment

Cooking equipment is one the most costly capital investments a restaurant owner will ever make. But properly-maintained kitchen equipment can last for years or even decades.

Below is a list of some of the most important tasks to keep equipment well-maintained.

  • Clean ovens and grills daily.

  • Inspect burner intake to remove any obstructions.

  • Replace the oil in fryers and clean grease filters daily.

  • Check for worn-out parts in appliances at least once a month and replace them promptly.

  • Inspect and calibrate all temperature and time gauges on ranges and griddles monthly.

  • Stainless steel blades on mixers should be washed daily with a gentle detergent.

  • Remove debris from air vents and wipe down motor heads on stand mixers, food processors, and blenders.

Refrigeration and Freezer Equipment

There are essential steps you can take to keep food stored in your refrigerator and freezer more manageable and delicious. From keeping vegetables fresh and crisp to preventing freezer burn on meats, proper maintenance of your refrigeration equipment can have a huge impact on your menu.

  • Clean and defrost walk-in coolers and freezers.

  • Check air filters.

  • Monitor and recalibrate temperature.

  • Check drain tubing and pans for sludge buildup.

  • Inspect door gaskets and hinges every quarter for defects, cracks, and tears that let air escape from refrigerators and freezers.

Dishwashing Equipment

Keeping your dishwasher and sinks clean and mold-free and knowing what problems to look for makes all the difference. The temperature and water pressure in the dishwasher and sinks play key roles in preventing disease and foodborne illness.

  • Clean and sanitize dishwashers and sinks after every 20 cycles.

  • Delime your sinks and dishwashers to eliminate mineral deposits caused by hard water once a week.

  • Inspect hoses, drain lines, and spray arms every day to make sure they’re clear.

  • Check water temperature and pressure settings weekly. Dishes must be washed at 165°F for a stationary rack or at least 180°F for dishwashers to eliminate microorganisms and bacteria.

  • Check dishwasher gaskets monthly.

Beverage Equipment

Beverage equipment demands attention as dirty filters and of- temperatures can change the appearance and flavor of drinks.

  • Clean coffee and espresso machines with machine-specific tools and cleaners. Pay special attention to cleaning the steamer wands where milk residue can build up.

  • Clean soda fountain nozzles, diffusers, and ice chutes and flush out syrup lines monthly.

  • Replace water filters every six months to maintain proper filtering of mineral deposits and contaminates.

  • Check CO2 levels for adequate pressure on soda fountains regularly .

  • Calibrate the temperature of coffee and soda machines at least every 2 months.

HVAC Systems and Ventilation

Though HVAC and ventilation maintenance is easy to forget, it’s crucial to maintaining a safe working environment for your employees and customers.

  • Clean or replace air filters monthly to extend the life of your HVAC system and prevent fire hazards.

  • Check and adjust thermostat settings if you notice a sudden spike in your electricity bill.

  • Perform an HVAC system checkup every year.

  • Inspect ventilation hoods and greasing fan motors.

  • Check your exhaust fan frequently for any signs of wear or damage.

  • Worn out belts and bearings should be replaced immediately.

  • Clean kitchen hoods, filters, ductwork, and fans weekly to prevent fires.

Plumbing Systems

Backed-up toilets, leaky faucets, clogged sinks, foul odors, mold, and other plumbing mishaps can derail your restaurant. For this reason, it’s critical to maintain your plumbing systems.

  • Inspect pipes and drains for leaks and clogs daily.

  • Clean grease traps at least quarterly.

  • Check bathrooms for loose or faulty moving parts daily.

  • Ensure compliance with all safety codes.

Time-Based Maintenance Checklist

Daily Maintenance Tasks

Back of the House

  • Cleaning, brushing, and scraping fryers, racks, and grills

  • Emptying and degreasing drip trays

  • Cleaning the inside and outside of ovens and ranges

  • Checking door seals

  • Cleaning debris and wiping spills in refrigerators

  • Sweeping or mopping the floors or walk-in refrigeration units

  • Recording internal temperatures in refrigerators and warewashers

  • Cleaning and sanitizing all components of food prep equipment

  • Cleaning all utensils, countertops, bowls, coffee makers, and kitchen tools

Front of the House

  • Cleaning furniture and POS equipment

  • Removing, cleaning, and sanitizing soda machine nozzles

  • Emptying an sanitizing ice bins

  • Cleaning walls and carpets

Building Systems

  • Checking, identifying, and repairing any frayed wires

  • Inspecting timers and power supply units

Building Exterior

  • Ensuring ADA parking spots are clear of debris

  • Ensuring sidewalks are clear of debris or hazards

  • Ensuring all doors and locks are functioning properly

Weekly Maintenance Tasks

Back of House

  • Replacing oil in fryers

  • Deep cleaning fryers, ovens, and ranges

  • Cleaning the intake fan on a combo oven

  • Changing filter paper in the fryer

  • Clean the fryer filtration system

  • Seasoning the grill or griddle

  • Checking door hinges in walk-in refrigerators and freezers

  • Polishing stainless steel

  • Cleaning the dishwasher filter

  • Testing water temperature and pressure in the dishwasher

  • Ensuring drain lines are clear

  • Emptying and cleaning overflow water trays in the refrigeration unit

  • Removing interior shelves in the refrigeration unit

  • Cleaning the exterior and interior of refrigeration unit

  • Replacing coffee machine filters

  • Pouring drain cleaners down sinks

  • Cleaning the walls

  • Organizing stock rooms

  • Cleaning grease range valve knobs

  • Checking refrigerant level

  • Ensuring temperatures in the storage room meet code

Front of House

  • Disconnecting and cleaning syrup connectors on beverage dispensers

  • Inspecting the condition of furniture

  • Looking for cracks, holes, or divets in the floor or tears in the carpeting

Building Systems

  • Check inlets, circuit breakers, panelboards, and electrical distribution systems

  • Check refrigerant lines on HVAC systems

Building Exterior

  • Landscaping tasks such as mowing the grass, weeding, and taking care of flower beds and containers

Monthly Maintenance Tasks

Back of House

  • Checking for and eliminating grease buildup on the range exhaust and fan.

  • Removing and thoroughly cleaning the ice bins

  • Descaling the coffee machine

  • Washing floors and walls behind the equipment

  • Sharpening knives

  • Checking fryers for gas leaks

  • Inspecting gaskets for tears

Front of House

  • Emptying the ice from the top bin of the soda dispenser and cleaning and sanitizing the bin and chute

  • Clean the condenser on the soda dispenser

Building Systems

  • Confirming that warning lights work correctly

  • Surveying all machinery and moving systems

Building Exterior

  • Cleaning windows

  • Checking for any tears in screens or cracks in shutters

Seasonal Maintenance Tasks

Back of House

  • Cleaning condenser coil on refrigeration unit

  • Inspecting compressor and clean the fan blades on the refrigeration unit

  • Cleaning and replacing filters

  • Cleaning and organizing stockrooms

  • Descaling the oven

  • Replacing water filtration cartridges on the ice machine every six months

  • Cleaning condenser

  • Visually inspecting griddles and ranges

  • Replacing worn knobs

  • Testing refrigeration temperature controls

  • Checking refrigerant levels

Front of House

  • Checking the appearance of signs and replacing when needed

  • Examining floor mats

  • Tightening hardware on dining room furniture and fixtures

  • Tightening restroom stall hardware

Building Systems

  • Ensuring the HVAC system sits level

  • Inspect fan blades on the HVAC system

  • Clear debris around outside HVAC units

Essential Maintenance Tips

  • Consider Usage Nuances

While sticking to a maintenance list is pretty straightforward, it can get a little tricker when you factor in workload. After you’ve created a basic maintenance checklist, go back regularly and customize it to account for periods of higher demand, workload intensity, and frequency of use of each piece of equipment.

  • Follow Regulations and Manufacturer Recommendations

Though very few chefs follow recipes to the letter, failing to follow manufacturer instructions to a “T” when it comes to equipment maintenance can be a recipe for disaster. From street food trucks to fine dining establishments, restaurants of all shapes and sizes must follow local, state, and federal safety regulations.

  • Outsource When Necessary

While most regular maintenance practices can be performed in-house, some tasks like electrical wiring, HVAC, and large kitchen equipment repairs require professionals. In addition to reading reviews from previous customers, look for companies certified by CFESA (Commercial Food Equipment Service Association) when calling upon a professional.

Documenting your maintenance activities is the key to preventing disaster. The goal is to catch things early and be ready when things fail. “The checklist offers a means for management to review recurring maintenance issues to determine which pieces of equipment are beginning to require repairs and what parts might be kept on hand for immediate replacement,” says Brumback. Keeping records “puts management in the driver's seat rather than the repair company,” he adds. What’s more, having a paper trail will help with regulatory requirements such as safety and food inspections.

  • Understand the Value of Preventive Maintenance

When it comes to kitchen equipment maintenance, prevention is key. In fact, the less attention paid to preventive maintenance, the more expensive it becomes. Inadequate maintenance can lead to more frequent breakdowns and premature equipment replacements. Because out-of-service equipment can lead to the elimination of certain menu items, a significant loss in revenue can result.

A lack of preventive maintenance can also cause restaurants to fail health inspections; food, hygiene, and sanitation audits; and fire safety checkups. Faulty equipment can lead to safety hazards for restaurant workers as well which could result in OSHA violations and open a restaurant up to lawsuits.

  • Perform Maintenance in a Timely Manner

Whenever possible, equipment maintenance should be performed outside of restaurant hours so it does not interfere with business. Having a clear and consistent schedule for maintenance ensures it gets done on time, avoids business disruptions, and prevents the high cost of last-minute repairs.

  • Train Staff During Onboarding

Comprehensive training for all restaurant employees enhances productivity and saves time and resources in the long run. Arming your staff with standard operating procedures and maintenance checklists helps prevent maintenance tasks from slipping through the cracks.

  • Keep Reliable Vendor Information on Hand

There will be times when professionals are needed to perform more serious or complicated maintenance or repairs. Part of a good maintenance plan should include the careful selection and management of vendors to ensure timely deliveries, flexible payment terms, and consistent service.Your management crew should maintain a carefully documented and up-to-date list of which vendors are used for which issues to save critical time in the event of an urgent repair.

  • Simplify Restaurant Maintenance by Leveraging a CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System)

Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) can simplify maintenance management practices by automating the scheduling and tracking of tasks, saving time, and reducing human error. A CMMS can help managers make informed decisions about scheduling preventative maintenance tasks, budgeting, and planning equipment repairs or replacements. A CMMS can also help restaurants stay compliant for inspections or audits.

Take Away

In the restaurant industry, there's more to operating a successful operation than great customer service, an enticing menu, and immaculate presentation. A potential make-or-break ingredient in a restaurant’s recipe box, equipment maintenance is a critical behind-the-scenes aspect of the food service business.

Optimizing maintenance practices can not only enhance food quality, customer experience, and overall efficiency, it can be the difference between failing or flourishing.

By Eileen Strauss

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