Back Story: Griddle Riddle

The brand new, 6-ft. gas-fired griddle was leaking grease below the griddle surface—not a lot, but enough to cause smoking, carbon build-up and owner angst. The restaurant owner suspected a bad installation and called his regular service agents at Pierce Parts & Service to come out and make the fix.

“We began by validating the installation, which was fine,” says Joe Pierce, owner of the Macon, Ga., service agency. “We couldn’t find anything wrong.”

But the problem continued. More service calls—plus phone calls and e-mails—ensued.

“We had an excellent six-year track record with this operator,” Pierce recalls. “The chain had just rolled out these new griddles to its 22 units. The other griddles were all fine, which made this one look like a lemon.”

“We checked everything we could think of and couldn't see any source for the leak—the surface seemed solid as a rock,” Pierce continues. “The manufacturer’s engineers were at a loss, too.” The manufacturer decided to step up to preserve good customer relations and sent out a replacement.

The second griddle lasted less than 30 days before it, too, began leaking. “Two months (and seven service calls) into the problem, we were getting hammered from both sides,” Pierce says. “The customer was blaming both us and the manufacturer for the problem, and the manufacturer was blaming us and the customer.”

Pierce finally sent a technician to do a stakeout around closing time. When the kitchen closed at 10 p.m., workers brought in a 5-gal. bucket filled with ice. The tech watched in horror as they dumped the ice onto the 400°F griddle surface and began scrubbing away amidst billows of steam.

“The next day, we used a magnifying glass and discovered hairline cracks where the backsplash was welded to the griddle. When the griddle was hot, the cracks expanded enough for grease to leak through. But they closed back up when the griddle cooled!

“The night crew thought they were doing the right thing—that the steam was helping loosen debris,” Pierce says. “They had no idea how much damage they were doing to the griddle’s welded joints. We later found that at that particular store, only the morning crew received operation and maintenance training on the new griddle.”

The chain’s facility coordinator later asked Pierce to visit all the other stores to show the workers photos of the cracks. “The other store crews, as it turned out, had been following proper cleaning procedures—using a griddle brick on the hot grill,” he says.

“Many times, a manager may forget to share the training details with all shifts, assuming that workers will be able to figure out how a new piece of equipment works,” Pierce says. That clearly was not the case in this operation.

Pierce hired a certified welder to repair the cracks on the second griddle. “The customer is still using it, and we’re still his service agents,” Pierce says.


Copyright FER April 2013



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