There are many good reasons for motor cars on British roads to be given an MOT every year. Failure of equipment is a danger to everybody in a car, and every other road user.
To maintain their cars to the standard required to pass an MOT, motorists know that they must also stump up for a service — preferably every 10,000 miles or so. Motorists may begrudge the servicing and MOT bills, but they are a legal requirement and ultimately cannot be dodged.
The parallels with commercial catering equipment are obvious: professional combi ovens, extractors or refrigeration arrays cost around the same as a family car; they operate in a high pressure environment; and they combine myriad moving parts with flammable liquids and gases.
But, unlike with motoring MOTs, there is no legal standard to which commercial catering equipment needs to adhere, and therefore no compunction to consistently service and maintain that equipment. By extension, there is also no legal requirement for service and maintenance engineers to be trained to a prescribed level in order to carry out their duties.
“There are still far too many national and large users who do no preventative maintenance at all,” said Steve Elliott, managing director for Serviceline, in an interview with Catering Insight earlier this year.
“That is not good because they are not getting the best of their equipment and they are too reliant on the emergency service. We still have to operate at the emergency end of the market far too often. I doubt if there is a car driver in the country who doesn’t have his car serviced sometimes, but there are lots that don’t have their catering equipment serviced.”
Elliott continued: “The next challenge is poor service, poor maintenance and too many operators in the market place — some offering cheap maintenance. There is no such thing as cheap maintenance. You wouldn’t take a Mercedes Benz to a back-street garage and ask them to maintain it, similarly if you have spent £15,000 on a combination oven why would you not spend £100 getting it serviced properly? The discrepancy in valuation is a great barrier.”
Preventative maintenance does more than protect equipment; it can also safeguard an entire restaurant or hotel business. Hart District Council has just inspected 50 commercial kitchens for fire risks. 15 were forced to close for faulty equipment or gas leaks.
The number of companies failing gas inspections is particularly concerning given that all commercial catering premises were written to before the inspections took place, informing them of the campaign and their obligations to make sure that gas installations and appliances were safe.
The issue of health and safety relating to gas leaks is only a fraction of the story when it comes to planned preventative maintenance, but it is certainly a graphic illustration of the risks that commercial kitchens face when they fail to plan properly.
“Clients certainly sit up and take notice when I point out that their kitchens could actually be closed down by the council if they fail to maintain them properly. You can see them starting to do the sums in their heads, and the conversation for a comprehensive preventative maintenance agreement becomes a lot easier,” explained one catering equipment service professional who asked not to be named.
Pete Adamson, business development manager at Service 2000, agrees that it is a short leap from a health and safety conversation to a more comprehensive service agreement.
And he says that while there is still resistance from a few caterers which regard preventative maintenance arrangements as an “expensive luxury” most operators know they shouldn’t be without it.
“The truth is that professionally serviced catering equipment by competent service engineers will reduce the frequency of costly breakdowns, reduce disturbance to the catering operation and extend the period between costly replacement equipment programmes,” he says. “With increasing focus on health and safety issues, the carrying out of planned preventative maintenance will become the norm throughout the catering industry.”
The competition between service businesses is fierce, and difficult to define. Manufacturers and their authorised dealers provide support under warranty contracts, and aim to extend these contracts beyond these warranty periods.
Independent service providers offer maintenance during warranty periods to ensure that equipment exits those warranties in peak condition, and then maintain regular servicing to extend the life of every component in a kitchen.
There have been considerable efforts to create off-the-shelf service level agreements by the biggest players, but the reality is that almost every contract is different and requires detailed negotiation. Servequip is arguably closest to creating a fixed framework for clients to pick from. Neill Pearson, operations director for the company, explained its three tiered solution: Premier, Privilege and Priority. Each tier brings a different package of benefits to customers, including faster call out times, greater discounts on any parts and more frequent planned maintenance visits.
Two Services, a nationwide operator that provides cleaning, hygiene and servicing for commercial kitchens, prefers to customise its solutions to its clients, according to company director Alan Osborn.
“We offer a flexible range of options that can be tailored to suit the needs of individual customers. First of all they have a choice of three-, six- or 12-month service intervals. We normally recommend six monthly to get the maximum benefit, but we respect the fact that some customers only want to pay for an annual service visit,” he adds.
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Malcolm Skinner, operations director for services firm Marren, suggests contracts should always reflect the profile of the customer. “Preventative maintenance contracts can be tailored to the needs of our customers,” he says. “For example, one customer may operate a 24-hour facility that requires a service more frequent than say a 9 to 5 operation. In reality it really is down to the usage of the equipment that determines how often it is serviced.”
Serviceline takes a hybrid approach, with a standard range of preventative maintenance contracts, augmented with tailored provisions. “We offer fully comprehensive for complete budget cover; labour inclusive of breakdowns and routine PPMs; and preventative maintenance for regular servicing and safety cover,” explains Elliott. “Customers use these basic formats to choose a wide variety of variances, and tailor-make their service for their particular operation, and budgets.”
Beyond gas safety certification, the commercial equipment maintenance and service industry lacks legally enforced professional standards. But there are quality assurance certificates that some service companies use to promote their expertise.
Serviceline, for example, says it is the UK’s only ISO accredited catering and refrigeration service company. “We use directly employed, specialist engineers, trained and qualified in their discipline, carrying tools, test equipment and emergency spare parts, with immediate back-up from technical managers and our own spare parts operation, so we are not reliant on anyone else to deliver our high quality service. The bar we have set for the rest of the industry is high,” says Elliott.
Marren also takes pride in its quality and expertise. “As a specialist contractor we believe our services are competitive as we invest in training our people to the highest level and have the backing of all the major manufacturers,” says Skinner.
There is little doubt that much of the operator community has woken up to the benefits of purchasing a planned preventative maintenance contract. Even in the independent restaurant sector, more and more business owners are accepting that the combined risks of failing safety checks and suffering downtime caused by equipment failure are making it a prudent investment.
Catering equipment manufacturers have also substantially improved their own services offerings in recent years, as the need to provide some form of preventative maintenance and ongoing care has grown. Instanta, the water boiler and sous vide machine manufacturer, has invested in taking the size of its field-based technical team to 45 engineers over the past five years.
Nick Neal, sales and marketing director at Instanta, says the company offers commercial customers a choice of level one or level two maintenance contracts, with the flexibility of rolling those over one-, three- and five-year terms.
“We have found that most of our customers want a fixed cost each year to help them budget and don’t want any unplanned costs,” he remarks. “Regular scheduled service reduces the potential issues and takes the worry out of remembering when to change filters or arrange for a service visit. We have seen more and more customers taking up fixed term contracts to help them plan their budgets. This continues to be the trend as our customers realise the benefits of having a service contract with a national business such as ours.”
The emergence of specialist third party maintenance companies that complement and compete with manufacturers’ service arms has stimulated the market and increased awareness with customers.
The experience of Two Services when it comes to servicing is becoming more of a norm than an exception, it would seem. “Around 75% of our customers have either preventative maintenance or labour comprehensive contracts with us,” reveals Osborn. “Many of these customers have had these contracts with us for 10 or more years. That shows quite clearly that many companies are fully convinced of the benefits. Prevention is better than cure, and kitchen equipment can’t be expected to run 24/7 without effective servicing.”
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Promoting the value of PPM
Nick Oryino, managing director of Dorset-based Carford Group and vice chair of CESA, gives his verdict on the role of planned preventative maintenance in the commercial catering market today.
“The best way to look after equipment is to have it regularly serviced. Cost-wise, it’s a win-win: efficient operation minimises running costs and regularly servicing will maximise the life of the equipment.
“CESA actively promotes PPM (Planned Preventative Maintenance) contracts as the ideal solution. PPMs are designed to keep equipment in optimum condition by sorting any problems before they get critical. The frequency of service depends on the equipment — in most (but not all) cases, two services a year should be enough. Gas equipment should be checked annually or whenever you suspect a problem.
“PPM charges vary depending on the level of cover provided, the location and the size of the kitchen. Some contracts cover servicing only, some also include the labour charges for repairs needed. The cost will also vary depending on the agreed speed of response time, in other words how fast the engineer will respond to an emergency service call-out (usually anything from a few hours to a couple of days) and the number of planned maintenance visits scheduled per year.
“A PPM contract will not only extend the life of equipment, it also minimises ‘down time’, because equipment is much less likely to breakdown, plus it ensures that health and safety criteria are met. There’s additional peace of mind, too, because if there is an unexpected problem, then the service provider will come and fix it, quickly.”
Case Study: rapid response leaves kfc cock-a-hoop
Croydon-based service and maintenance business Servequip grabbed a lucrative deal with KFC thanks to its rapid response to difficulties in the fast food company’s Isle of Wight outlet.
The restaurant was frustrated with the service it was receiving from a local support provider and looked to the mainland for help.
“One of my stores had been waiting six months for three of its Henny Penny machines to be fixed and the subsequent loss of sales ran into thousands of pounds,’ explains KFC area manager Vicky Kattri, who got in touch with Servequip after a recommendation from another local company.
“Our existing service provider had historically taken up to a week to respond to our call-out requests — and eventually refused to come at all! — but Servequip Assistance managed to get an engineer out to the store the very next day. By this stage the situation had become so bad that one of the other stores had been unable to sell any chicken for five days.”
As the fryers were out of warranty, KFC spent more than £4,500 on labour charges and spare parts in the six months before Servequip intervened.
“On another, more recent occasion I had an issue with a piece of equipment whereupon I called Servequip and told them I had a really bold request,” adds Kattri. “Normally they offer me next day service but I said I really needed them here in an hour. They managed it and I was blown away. They have to get on a boat to get here. This was moments before a very important audit which could have gone really badly but due to their help we got the highest score ever. It is a long-awaited breath of fresh air and as a result of all that they have done I will no longer allow any other service company into my business.”