Following manufacturer checklists and carrying out preventative maintenance can add years to the life of foodservice equipment.

Just like with a new car, one of the great things about purchasing a new piece of foodservice equipment is the warranty — in particular, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that if anything goes wrong, the repair won't cost a penny.

Of course, foodservice equipment stays in operation long after that peace of mind fades. With guarantees typically valid for just one year, most pieces of equipment have many, many years of good service in them after the warranty expires.

The question, then, is how to maximize those years in the most cost-effective manner possible?

According to Paul Toukatly, service manager and chief operating officer with Duffy's Restaurant Equipment Service & Parts, which boasts seven locations serving markets in upstate New York, this is an easy enough task for certain pieces of equipment.

Foodservice operators and their staff, he said, can typically handle most of the maintenance on low-tech equipment themselves, as well as inspect for larger problems that require the help of a service agency. "Simple fryers, simple ranges, countertop equipment, those types of things; most operations can take care of these pieces themselves in terms of basic cleaning and making sure that things don't get twisted or broken. And most manufacturers are pretty good about giving guidelines in their manuals in terms of what to look for when inspecting their equipment."

When it comes to more complex units, such as refrigeration, combi ovens, steamers and equipment operated with a computerized control panel, Toukatly recommends servicing by trained technician, typically in the form of preventative maintenance agreements.

These deals, he said, can take practically any form the customer wants, from a simple phone call reminding operators that it's time for a servicing to agreements where a service agency is essentially kept on retainer, performing any and all maintenance and repairs in exchange for a set monthly or quarterly fee. One factor in establishing a preventative maintenance agreement, as well in the agreement's ultimate cost to the operator, is the type of foodservice establishment in question, Toukatly said. School cafeterias, for the most part, cook just one large meal per day and are only in operation 9 to 10 months out of the year. In such a situation, once-a-year servicing, ideally held during the summer or winter break, would probably suffice. On the other end of the spectrum, high-volume restaurants could require scheduled service appointments once per quarter.

Toukatly recommended a few common sense steps to screen potential service agencies as preventative maintenance partners. A good shorthand for a solid company, he said, is its affiliation with the Commercial Food Equipment Association (CFESA), where Toukatly currently serves as vice president. "I would recommend they use CFESA members in general and certainly above that CFESA certified companies. With certified companies you know what you're going to get: they're financially sound, they keep up on training, they have the proper tools, they're uniformed and they're professional."

On top of that, operators should ask for references, how long the company has been in business, and how the firm handles problems that crop up between scheduled visits. It's also important to know how long the service agency guarantees its work and what happens when and if it makes a mistake. "If there are service companies out there that tell you their techs never make mistakes, they're lying," Toukatly said. "They're human, just like everybody else. Talk to other customers to find out how the service company handled it when something went south. Did they try to take care of it or did they try to cover it up?"

Even after this screening process, Toukatly recommends the business relationship start small, limiting the first preventative maintenance contract to just six months. That short-term arrangement will allow operators and service agents alike to see how well the two businesses mesh and give operators a chance to learn if the deal actually saves them money. If both parties are satisfied after that contract is complete, they then have a good basis for mutually beneficial partnership that can span years, according to Toukatly.

While probably not quite as good as new equipment under warranty, that sort of relationship should provide operators with some serious peace of mind.