Expanding a kitchen with new or more powerful cooking equipment often serves as a sign of healthy business and that the operation needs to produce more food to keep customers happy.
Even if a foodservice operation adds or upgrades just one piece of equipment, though, these purchases aren’t simple. Operators must take a kitchen’s utility capacity into account. While electrical equipment may seem relatively simple to add and install, this rule holds true for these items, too.
Problems arise when a new electrical unit exceeds the amp capacity of the electrical panel or subpanel to which it’s wired, according to Bill Hagar, co-owner of Hagar Restaurant Service, an Oklahoma City-based service agent.
Ideally, noted Hagar, this situation would be avoided in the design/build phase of a restaurant. Operators should talk to their project team about building extra capacity into their electrical utility plans. In the real world, though, this extra capacity is often cut out of plans to save money, leading to real-world problems down the road.
“You might have a 200 amp sub-panel for an all-electric kitchen along a given wall. It was designed so they were planning on 160 amps for a normal load. Now you bring in a fryer that draws 50 amps and suddenly you’re at 210 amps,” he says.
In such a situation, the electrical equipment on that panel may not work at all, or could perform poorly, negatively impacting food quality and safety.
When this occurs, foodservice operators may have to hire an electrician to replace the sub-panel with a unit that has a larger amp capacity. That alone might not do the trick, though. The new, higher capacity sub-panel may exceed the capacity of the main panel, effectively pushing the problem upstream. If this happens, the foodservice operator may need to replace both the main panel and sub-panel — a job that could quickly run into thousands of dollars.
Perform Due Dilligence on Electrical
“After spending the money [on a new piece of equipment] it is a very bad time to find out you have to pay an additional $2,000 when maybe the whole budget for the expansion was $2,000 for the equipment, delivery and install,” Hagar says.
To avoid this situation, Hagar recommends operators perform due diligence on their electrical capacity. This should start with the dealer from whom they will purchase the equipment. Hagar recommends operators partner with dealers that have the know-how and the commitment to service and ethics to properly evaluate the situation before ordering.
Of course, Hagar noted, not all dealers today are local, and operators purchase a lot of kitchen equipment online. If an operator decides to purchase a piece of equipment online, they should find a dealer that offers service beyond a website. Many reputable national or online dealers will have a service agent, preferably one affiliated with CFESA (Commercial Food Equipment Service Association), visit the operation and inspect its electrical capacity before purchasing a new unit.
This guidance, from either dealer or service agent, can help operators avoid an expensive problem and properly budget for their expansion, says Hagar.
“It’s really just the sizing and planning and making certain before the trigger is pulled on the first part of the project,” Hagar added. “If we write the check for the equipment and we haven't done our due diligence on whether or not the building will support the load, then we only have half the story.”