Remodels provide operators the chance to stay relevant in their customers' ever-changing eyes. A fresh look and an updated menu — the latter made possible by new kitchen equipment — can help attract new customers and keep the old ones interested.

Of course, nothing so valuable can come easily. Trying to remake an entire operation can be a complicated and expensive undertaking, one where a mistake can cost tens of thousands of dollars and/or years of frustration.

According to Wayne Stoutner, president and owner of upstate New York-based firms Appliance Installation & Service and Express Commercial Services, one particular attempt to control costs can backfire on many occasions. Often, operators try to handle the design of their new kitchen without the help of a dealer, design team or foodservice design consultant. This often results in a back-of-the-house workflow that just doesn't work.

"Although they have a lot of experience working in a kitchen, they don't have nearly the experience of a dealer or consultant that's been designing kitchens for years, or even of a rep. We do see [kitchens that were poorly designed by the operator], but unfortunately we see it when it's too late and now the customer's got to work in a fairly inefficient kitchen for the next 20 or 30 years," he said.

On top of basic problems with layout, operators who design a kitchen on their own can easily make mistakes with big-ticket items. One piece that regularly causes trouble is the exhaust hood. Many times, Stoutner said, an operator will try to use the existing hood system with their new equipment. Systems not up to the task, though, can create major — and expensive — problems with airflow and heating/air conditioning. "Once the kitchen is up and running, you have all kinds of issues. It can completely ruin the environment — the comfort level — in the rest of the facility," said Stoutner.

Walk-in coolers represent another piece that can cause trouble if not properly specified during a redesign. It's not uncommon, said Stoutner, for operators to try to use their walk-in as a blast chiller, for instance. If the unit can't maintain temperature when staff bring racks of hot food, thousands of dollars in food can be lost. What's more, the operator will then have to re-work how and when they cook food or make a big additional equipment investment.

Of course, remodeling problems don't all involve kitchen design. Final equipment hookups can present another common headache, said Stoutner. Many times operators will not assign that task in their contracts with the different tradesmen. When it comes time to get a kitchen running, then, an operator will need to pay someone extra to handle that job. This alone can easily cause a remodel to go over budget.

Avoiding catastrophe isn't the only reason to work with kitchen design and repair professionals during a remodel, though. Such a collaboration can help operators get the best equipment for their needs.

Experienced dealers and designers, said Stoutner, will be able to help select which pieces of equipment can handle an operator's new menu. Service agents, particularly those with the Certified Food Equipment Service Association, can offer insight into the reliability and service costs associated with that equipment.

Another area where a service agent can help is the evaluation of existing kitchen equipment. Understandably, many operators want to incorporate as much of the old equipment in their new kitchen as possible. That idea can be both good and bad, depending on the condition of each individual equipment item, said Stoutner. "If a piece of equipment is three-quarters of the way through its lifespan, it's probably a good idea to swap it out during a remodel. It doesn't make much economic sense to pay to have it installed in the new kitchen and then only be able to use it for another year or two. Any CFESA service agent can help determine the condition of a piece of equipment and have a reasonable idea of how long it might last."

Service agents happily provide this type of help to customers old and new, Stoutner said. Accepting such guidance will only make the remodel process and the years of operation that follow go more smoothly. "Most of us will be more than happy to pipe in with our opinion. The more knowledge operators have, the better off they're going to be in the long run."