EXPERT VIEW: Are you asking the right questions about kitchen maintenance?

MCFT engineer at work 1

In all walks of life, if you’re not confident about what you’re buying, you run the risk of not quite getting what you wanted or even, unknowingly, needed. With kitchen maintenance, the risks are high — not only from a commercial perspective, but also compliance and safety. But if you go armed with the right approach and questions, you can find the right solutions, writes Chris Craggs of MCFT.

First of all, an insight into the challenge of kitchen maintenance: catering equipment spare parts provider First Choice lists over 1,000 different manufacturers. Many have wide product ranges and some produce every single item you’d need for a kitchen.

And equipment, if it’s properly looked after, may have a life of 20 years and more. Imagine the range of technical and supply challenges which that represents.

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Secondly, some of this stuff runs on gas (read explosions, carbon monoxide poisoning) and some on electricity. Throw in liberal quantities of water and under-resourced, busy staff and you have major risk.

Thirdly, who maintains this equipment? What training have they had, how would I know they’re competent? The first City & Guilds Assured programme started in 2018, the first Catering Technician Apprenticeship in 2019. Few, if any, will have left school thinking to start in this industry.

Lastly, what is the prevailing customer message? Often, it’s ‘that’s too expensive, you need to cut costs.’ So you have a huge range of complex equipment, real danger, inadequate training and resources and you’re now going to try and save money?

What to do?

1. Understand what’s involved

Reflect on what you are looking to achieve, on your estate and on the equipment which you can’t work without. Your goals might include safety, minimised disruption, maximised efficiency and extending asset life.

2. Evaluate your need

Are you open breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week and rammed busy — or a primary school, 190 lunches in a year? This, coupled with the care with which your users look after the equipment, will determine the frequency of useful planned maintenance visits.

In fact, if your users don’t look after the equipment, you’re quite possibly wasting your time on PPM — there’s nothing PPM can do to prevent sabotage.

Do you have key, mission- and revenue-critical equipment or lots of backup? Better look after this kit especially carefully. Stop and work out the financial impacts when key equipment is not working and maintenance bills quickly make a lot of sense.

3. Service provider

Your choices are a one-stop-shop to look after everything or individual contracts with original equipment manufacturers; local firm (likely to be familiar) or national provider (better systems, can be impersonal); small (value your business) or large (better able to cover peak periods and staff holidays).

Now go looking

1. People

The successful delivery of maintenance will be 98% down to people — obviously the field service team but also the committed and resourced back-office functions. If that’s the case, how do you go about assessing your service providers? If you’re vetting the people you are the exceptions. Most are relying on 70 pages of legal clauses — no way to assess genuine commitment.

Go and visit them: And talk to a range of staff. Seems like hard work? It’s the only way to gauge whether the salesman’s promises might be delivered — is the organisation set up to see their promises through?

Having talked to a range of staff, trust your instinct — if they’re passionate about their work, proud of their business and their colleagues, you’ll likely get a good job.

Scope of work: How will it actually be delivered? Great to see nicely presented lists — how is this seen through in the field? With the greatest respect, unless you can see a demonstrated process for the technicians to follow, preventative maintenance is likely to be inconsistent, varying from one technician to another — and from one day to the next.

Technical competence: Sounds obvious, surely that’s what the provider is offering. Yeesss. But go back and look at how people fall into the kitchen maintenance industry — not usually through planned development programmes and demonstrated competence. So seek verification on exactly this point.

2. Technology

It’s 2022 — we are connected. Does your provider embrace technology?

– To facilitate their own processes — the days of paper job sheets should have long gone in the catering industry, although we do know they’re still a significant feature — and accuracy and speed of information correspondingly slow.

– To facilitate their customers’ work processes, feedback and information: placing calls on an app, real-time progress updates, historical data and insights into their estate. Which equipment seems vulnerable? Are some sites more careful than others?

– To be abreast of technology trends — the Internet of Things — whether remote monitoring of fridge temperatures or ability to predict failure — or even to monitor consumption of utilities, the bills for which have gone through the roof.

3. Doing the right thing

It’s probably still the case that customers don’t want to pay a premium for green credentials — but if the service provider seems to live the ESG values (rather than glibly tick boxes) that’s got to be a clincher.
Maintenance may seem straightforward but due to a number of factors, it absolutely isn’t.
Any maintenance service will be delivered by humans. Go and see them — and ask questions.

Chris Craggs is CEO of MCFT, an internationally-renowned company specialising in the maintenance of commercial catering and refrigeration equipment.

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Tags : maintenanceMcFT
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