The restaurant business may be just about as tough as the HVACR business. The hours are long, the work can be grueling, and good help is always at a premium. Competition and regulations abound, times and tastes change, and, today, everyone is a restaurant critic, thanks to social media. So, what can HVACR contractors do to help their beleaguered clients who own and operate restaurants? They can start by understanding what qualities are important to restaurant owners/operators when it comes to HVACR contractors.
Georges and Claudie d’Arras are the co-owners of Bistro Du Beaujolais, a French restaurant in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. In addition to responsive service, the d’Arrases said communication is key between restaurant owners and HVACR contractors.
Georges d’Arras has been in the restaurant business for 41 years, 29 of those as an owner. The couple has owned and operated Bistro Du Beaujolais in its current location for 12 years. An electrical fire in 2009 necessitated a reconstruction of the 100-year-old structure, and during that process, the couple ran into some issues with the installer of their HVACR equipment.
“We told him we didn’t want vents directly under the bar seating area, because that can be very uncomfortable for women who are wearing dresses or skirts,” Claudie d’Arras said. “But he didn’t want to listen to what we were saying.”
Although the d’Arrases could understand the installer’s desire to move things along as quickly as possible, this restaurant represents their life’s work, and they were not going to be deterred. Eventually, the location of the vents was changed.
Fortunately, their experience with the service side of the company has been much more positive.
“When we have trouble with the air conditioning in the kitchen or one of our coolers, we need a response right away,” Claudie d’Arras said. “We know that’s not always easy for them, but they have always been very responsive.”
As another example of the importance of communication, Georges d’Arras related a story about a previous contractor the couple had worked with and a troublesome piece of refrigeration equipment.
“We kept having trouble with the same cooler again and again,” he said. “The company sent out a service technician three times, and we had to pay for three service calls, but they couldn’t get it fixed. When the equipment breaks down again and again, it’s very inconvenient and frustrating.”
The problem eventually turned out to be the compressor, and the d’Arrases said they’ve often wondered if the company simply didn’t want to replace the compressor because it was under warranty.
“Maybe the contractor was under pressure from the manufacturer not to replace things that are under warranty; we don’t know,” Claudie d’ Arras said. “But whatever the case, it certainly seemed like they were putting their own needs before ours. That’s why it’s so important that HVAC contractors communicate well with restaurant owners. It makes a world of difference when someone lets you know what’s going on and why.”
SEEKING RESPONSIVENESS AND COMMUNICATION
Bruce Hill, owner of three restaurants in the San Francisco area, said the main things he looks for in an HVACR contractor are responsiveness and a consistent line of communication.
“Running restaurants, we’re constantly on the edge of something breaking, and we need peace of mind that someone is going to get back to us and be there when we need them,” Hill said. “We understand that a vendor might be busy, but it’s a big plus if they can just call back and acknowledge that they received our message.”
Hill added that this seems like a simple request given all the forms of communication that exist today.
“Even just a quick text message that says, ‘Hey, I got your message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can’ is enough to give you some peace of mind.”
Hill also said he likes to learn from the HVACR technicians who work in his restaurants, especially if it can help him be proactive instead of reactive.
“I have no problem with [a technician] telling me, ‘You know, if you had done this, you wouldn’t have had this problem,’” he said. “That really helps get me into the preventive mode, which is where I like to be.”
FOR CONTRACTORS: SATISFACTION
Contractors who perform restaurant HVACR work know they’re taking on a tough role.
Sandy Lamarre, co-owner, R+S Mechanical, Raleigh, North Carolina, noted that restaurants’ HVAC and refrigeration equipment is worked hard in a demanding environment. But the toughest challenge for contractors can be fitting themselves into restaurants’ schedules.
“Their workdays are long, and they often need us there first thing in the morning or late at night,” Lamarre told The NEWS. “And, in the case of refrigeration equipment, we may only have small windows throughout the day to get in there and service it when they’re not busy. But, we work hard with the managers and accommodate their time. Our job is to have them concentrate on the business aspect of running their restaurants and let us take care of the equipment, so they don’t even have to think about it.”
Why would a contractor take on the challenges of performing work in a restaurant? To Lamarre, the answer is simple: There is a unique satisfaction that comes from it.
“When you get into a restaurant in which the kitchen air conditioning or the walk-in cooler isn’t working, their people know you’re there to solve their problem,” he said. “They’re so glad to see you that six of their staff will high-five you on the way in, and after you have the equipment up and running again, another five individuals will high-five you on the way out. It really makes our technicians feel appreciated to get that immediate recognition from a customer. There’s a lot of satisfaction.”
Eight Ways to Help Your Restaurant Clients Save Money
Dennis O’Connor, small business energy advantage program manager at United Illuminating in Orange, Connecticut, offered eight energy-saving tips contractors can offer to their restaurant clients. United Illuminating provides electrical services to more than 300,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in the greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas of Connecticut.
- Controls upgrades — “Many restaurants use as much as 40 percent of their energy when they are closed,” O’Connor said. “This indicates that there are great opportunities for both HVAC and refrigeration controls that can match a restaurant’s power usage to its changing needs.”
- Motor upgrades — According to O’Connor, significant refrigeration system savings can be achieved by replacing standard pole motors with electronically commutated motors (ECMs), which may reduce energy consumption by 35 percent.
- LED lighting — “Contractors can select energy-efficient LED lighting in a variety of temperature colors to retain the ambiance of a restaurant,” O’Connor said. “This lighting lasts more than twice as long as what is being replaced and uses less than half of the energy.”
- Get with the program — It may seem simple, but programmable thermostats can help your restaurant clients save money and also help keep their diners comfortable.
- Demand-controlled ventilation — “Equip your restaurant clients’ HVAC systems with demand-controlled ventilation to automatically adjust the volume exchange of fresh air depending on the occupancy of the dining area,” O’Connor advised. “This will help save energy when the restaurant is less busy.”
- Perform regular maintenance — Make sure your restaurant customers are following the scheduled maintenance of their kitchen equipment, coolers, freezers, and HVAC systems.
- Tune the exhaust hoods — “Installing smart exhaust hood controls will help ensure your customers’ hoods work properly but do not pull more air than necessary out of the kitchen,” O’Connor said. “Smart hood controls automatically adjust as heat and emissions increase, which not only cuts energy costs but also increases the comfort in the kitchen.”
- Check the main traffic points — In some restaurants, it may be possible to minimize energy loss at the entry/exit doors by installing a conditioned entryway or air curtain.
Publication date: 9/4/2017