If there’s one thing operators have had to do to survive during the pandemic, it’s adapt. One common theme has been the shift from dine-in service to takeout. Many operators have switched from holding menu items in the back-of-house in equipment like reach-ins to front-of-house merchandisers, making it easier for both employees and customers to grab orders and go.
“We’re seeing hot and cold merchandisers get a workout [from the uptick in takeout orders],” says Isaac Lock, service manager, Hagar Restaurant Service, Oklahoma City. Many operators are relying on merchandisers to run for longer hours and to keep up with higher product turnover.
At the same time that equipment is under more strain, operators want to save money wherever they can. Service agents say it’s possible to minimize the stress on merchandisers without spending more, in most cases, which will save them money in the long run. Here’s their advice:
KEEP IT CLEAN
While few employees relish the idea of cleaning equipment at the end of a long and tiring shift, the exercise has to be more than wiping down the visible face of it. Key areas to keep clean on merchandisers include filter media, condenser coils and door gaskets. But don’t forget the often overlooked.
“Check the condition of the casters,” Lock says. “If they get junked up or damaged, merchandisers may be hard to move and employees won’t pull them out to clean under and behind them.”
DON’T OVERLOAD IT
In both cold and hot merchandisers, overloading the equipment with too much product can cause damage in a few ways. Blocking air flow results in the equipment working harder to hold food at the proper temperature or to recover if the product wasn’t at an ideal temperature when loaded into the case.
“I’m always surprised when employees use case coolers to lower the temperature of hot or unrefrigerated products,” says Scott Hester, president, Refrigerated Specialist, Mesquite, Texas. “When perishables are involved that could end in spoilage or, worse, making people sick.”
Loading with too-warm product also could cause excess condensate, potentially overflowing the collection pan and leaking into the case or onto the floor. That, in turn, could cause equipment to rust or rot, or slip-fall dangers.
And overloading a case with product and blocking the evaporator coil or fan could freeze up the evaporator, resulting in a repair bill.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS
Little things can affect equipment performance in outsized ways, in some cases even having catastrophic results. Inadequate ventilation is one. Give equipment room to breathe. The wrong type of ventilation is another—placing an air-curtained case under or in front of a ventilation duct, for example. If the air from the duct disrupts the air curtain, the equipment will lose cold (or hot) air.
Using the wrong cord and plug set or an extension cord that’s the wrong length or gauge could cause equipment to fail, resulting in major repair bills.
“The good news is that we see more operators in survival mode doing the right thing [such as regular maintenance] to save money,” says Tina Reese, vice president, Commercial Appliance Parts and Service, Tampa, Fla.
Remember, too, to establish a schedule of daily cleaning steps and monthly tasks for employees.
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