“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Not so if you’re a restaurant operator. Warm weather and summer vacations mean more hungry diners looking for good eats and cold drinks. About 45 percent of Americans plan to travel this summer,1 accounting for 657 million trips in the 16 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.2 As 91 percent of those trips will be taken by car,3 restaurants of all types – even those not near popular tourist destinations – should expect a flood of hungry travelers fueling up for the road ahead.
Increased volume can be good for business, but restaurant operators who fail to prepare for the season risk long wait times for customers to receive food or spreading foodborne illness if their equipment isn’t functioning properly. These tips can help you prepare for summer in style, so you can meet customer expectations and take advantage of everything the season has to offer.
1. Prep Your Equipment.
Due to fluctuating traffic patterns and changes in sales mix, many restaurants don’t use year round every piece of equipment they own. For example, a restaurant that keeps three fryers busy during the summer might decommission one for the winter to account for lower demand in the off-season.
Likewise, equipment that breaks down during the winter might not be immediately repaired if operators find they can get by without it. While streamlining operations and postponing repairs might save money in the short term, you don’t want to be caught off guard when the summer rush hits. If a regular maintenance schedule isn’t possible, in early spring it’s important to start inspecting and testing equipment that may have sat dormant for several months. It’s also a good time to stock up on common replacement parts.
2. “Summerize” Your Kitchen.
Many restaurants change menus and offerings with the seasons. Even if you offer a single menu throughout the year, certain items probably sell more in the summer months than in the winter. For example, hot items such as soups and comfort foods are replaced by refreshing cold dishes as best-selling items. Having a seasonal menu can place additional strain on ice machines, soda fountains, ice cream machines and other cold-side equipment, which must operate at the highest efficiency possible to keep up with demand.
Operators who anticipate the change in sales mix stay ahead of the game by maintaining and servicing equipment that faces additional use in the summertime. Refrigeration equipment (coolers, ice machines, etc.) works harder during the summer months due to not only the change in sales mix but also the warmer weather forcing the equipment to use more energy to maintain an optimal temperature.
Inspecting refrigeration equipment is a very important part of summer prep, as any equipment that fails to keep temperatures out of the Danger Zone can lead to foodborne illness. The Danger Zone is defined as 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean coils, compressor areas and filters to ensure your equipment is running efficiently. In addition, check that door gaskets seal properly, especially if your equipment has been idle for any amount of time.
3. Extend the Season.
There’s no rule that says your summer season must be limited to Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you have an outdoor dining space, such as a patio or deck, set up heaters as early as possible. By doing so, you can start patio season in the spring, when the evenings are still cool, and extend it all the way into early fall. Since patio space can increase a restaurant’s capacity by 30 to 50 percent, this is a great way to bolster sales and accommodate summertime patrons.
Outdoor heaters aren’t the only equipment that support patio season. By expanding your seating capacity, you place a greater demand on ice machines, soda fountains, bar equipment and more. Some restaurants install outdoor kitchens or bars to help ease the equipment stresses of the season. Complete regular preventive maintenance tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing ice machines to ensure your equipment can meet the demands of an extended summer season. You might also want to stock up on common replacement parts, such as ice-machine filters. Having extras on hand keeps you cool in the summer heat.
4. Streamline Your Maintenance and Repairs Strategy.
You can save time and money on summer prep by partnering with a consolidated parts provider such as Heritage Parts. With the largest inventory of Genuine OEM parts in the country, more than 99 percent parts identification accuracy and same-day shipping, Heritage Parts can help you minimize inconveniences and maximize equipment performance during the summer rush and all year round. Call 1-800-458-5593 to speak with your dedicated parts specialist, or visit HeritageParts.com to create your own personal online account and order parts anytime.
1 “Summer Vacation Travel Statistics,” Statistics Brain, http://www.statisticbrain.com/summer-vacation-travel-statistics (accessed May 16, 2016).
2 “National Household Travel Survey Summer Travel Quick Facts,” United States Department of Transportation, https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/subject_areas/
national_household_travel_survey/summer_travel.html (accessed May 16, 2016).