At its core, kitchen equipment isn’t that complicated. The basic technologies behind ovens, fryers, refrigerators and steamers have been around for hundreds of years.
New cloud-based technologies, though, are far more sophisticated and promise to change everything from the rollout of new menu items to food safety to service.
What is cloud technology? In short, it allows kitchen equipment to communicate with and even be controlled by a website or mobile application. It’s essentially the same technology that lets people unlock their car doors or arm their home security system with the push of a button.
Foodservice operators can use this control to monitor energy usage, download the latest software updates to equipment, or push out new recipes to kitchens system wide.
Cloud technology can also have a huge impact on the service side, says Josh Taylor, service director for Philadelphia-based American Kitchen Machinery & Repair. The impact comes from the monitoring and reporting that the cloud enables. For example, if a piece of networked kitchen equipment experiences an error, it can alert the operator.
This becomes especially useful when a problem occurs with holding equipment, like refrigerators and hot holding cabinets. If a unit’s temperature enters the danger zone, the operator can get an alert and take action immediately, avoiding serving unsafe food to customers.
Importantly, the diagnostics on cloud-connected equipment should tell the operator not just when something has gone wrong, but what has gone wrong. Even better, operators can program the equipment to send an alert to a designated service agent, too.
That information could save end users both time and money, Taylor says. “Getting a signal gives us the opportunity to get a service order started. We’d reach out to the customer and say, ‘You have an error. It means this. We’re going to come out and fix it.’ ”
What’s more, since the service agency knows the exact nature of the problem, the company can arrive with the parts it needs to complete the repair on the first trip, reducing costs for labor, mileage and related charges.
Of course, to take advantage of this capability, an operator will need to have a solid relationship with a service agency. Because in these instances, not just any service agent will do.
The shop that receives these notifications is typically set when the piece of equipment is installed, notes Taylor; most manufacturers only allow these notifications to be sent to one of their authorized service agencies. This helps ensure that a company that knows what it’s doing actually performs the work on the warrantied equipment. “Equipment is already sophisticated. Integrating these networking capabilities makes it even more important to work with someone knowledgeable and trained on how to fix it. The last thing you want is to have somebody that’s not trained messing with this stuff,” Taylor says.
Sending error messages directly to a service agency could also impact the formal business relationship between the two companies, Taylor notes. In many cases, the service agent may receive and respond to these notifications on a handshake basis. If enough operators begin asking for this service though, some service agents may charge a fee to help cover their costs.
Such a simple fee, though, would likely be a small price to pay (literally and metaphorically) for all that operators would be getting: A way to address breakdowns before they become serious problems and to perform repairs quickly and economically.