Richard Young, Director of Education
I was recently invited to moderate a panel on Foodservice Maintenance and Repair at the Gas Foodservice Equipment Network’s (GFEN) Commercial Foodservice Workshop. The meeting was held at Piedmont Natural Gas’ (PNG) Demonstration Kitchen located in PNG’s John H. Maxheim Natural Gas Technology Center. Not only is this a great test kitchen with an excellent chef (Thanks Chef Doug Allen for all the good eats!), it is just up the road from the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) headquarters, which meant that CFESA’s Director of Training, Dan Reese, would be joining us as a panelist.
For anyone not familiar with CFESA, they are the U.S. trade association of professional service and parts distributors. Their mission is to train and certify service agents and work with manufacturers to make sure agents have the requisite technical resources and OEM parts. Considering how much a broken piece of kitchen equipment can hamper operations, having a knowledgeable service tech walk through the back door armed with the right tools and high-quality parts is a no-brainer. Your cousin’s wife’s neighbor may be a brilliant fix-all, but if your combination oven goes down, you need to be on the line with a CFESA trained and certified pro.
Joining Dan on the panel was Mick Jackson, a veteran technician and area manager for Whaley Foodservice out of Charlotte, NC. Both Mick and Dan are veteran service technicians, so I was truly looking forward to our session. In preparation for our panel, I read several Back Story articles in Foodservice Equipment Reports Magazine (one of my favorites is called Karate Kid, which you can check out here).
Anticipating that both my panelists were great storytellers, I started by asking each about the “craziest thing they have ever seen on a service call.”
Dan immediately replied, “…what haven’t we seen? If you can name it, we’ve seen it! There are too many stories…” They proceeded to regale us with a collection of oddities and some major themes began to emerge:
- Many appliances are not installed properly. A common story involved an operator adding new gas appliances to an existing service that was too small to accommodate them. A call to the service tech inevitably followed because the appliances would never reach cooking temperature. The moral: You do not have an infinite supply of gas or electricity coming into your kitchen!
- Once installed, most appliances are never commissioned on start-up. Efficient combustion requires the right mix of fuel and air and every kitchen gas supply is a little different. Likewise, water using appliances require a certain water quality and composition that can change radically depending on locale. When you install a new appliance, you must work with a qualified technician if you want your appliance to live long and hit maximum food production.
- Deferred Maintenance (appliance neglect) is the norm. Kitchen professionals know that this one needs no further explanation. Most appliances need regular TLC. Dan & Mick had plenty of stories about unwanted service calls related to deferred maintenance. Their bottom line on deferred maintenance: An expensive last-minute service call will definitely put you in a bad mood (please don’t take it out on the service technician).
Some good news: Horror stories are fun, but making money is more fun and the ultimate goal of our panel was to investigate how to reduce expensive and unnecessary service calls. Mick and Dan had good news for the audience. Technology is coming to the rescue and making it easier to:
- Train service technicians using online, on-demand training modules.
- Diagnose appliance failure using built-in control boards in newer, high-tech appliances.
- Expand the knowledge base of service technicians using 3D electronic versions of service diagrams and exploded views loaded on laptops and tablets.
- Track inventory and service records using RFID, scan codes, and databases.
Moving towards a technology-enhanced future will require foodservice operators to overcome their tendency to ignore appliance maintenance while service techs will need to embrace some new and unfamiliar tools, but the potential for energy, cost, and time savings will be worth it. Perhaps we will reconvene our panel in a few years and there will no longer be “too many stories to tell…” Hopefully, we will be down to just a few really good gems.