Peter Powell

The June 7 column looked at opportunities for refrigeration installation and service work within the supermarket sector. This column takes a look at the same possibilities within the restaurant industry.

The supermarket perspective came from presentations and printed materials at the Food Marketing Institute Expo in Las Vegas this past spring. The restaurant viewpoint comes from information made available at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago a few weeks later.

One NRA document is called “Forecast: Uncovering Opportunity in a New Economy.”

Sometimes printed information of a more general nature requires you to read between the lines to see the refrigeration opportunities. For example, when the supermarket sector says food safety and energy savings are concerns, the assumption is that there will be investments in energy-efficient refrigeration equipment that can hold proper temperature for products that need to be refrigerated or frozen.

But with the NRA forecast, the HVACR aspect is more specific. In a chapter on sustainability, there is specific wording related to our industry.

It came as the result of a survey conducted by NRA among operators of various types of restaurants, so the findings get down to which kind of restaurants are more likely than others to invest in upgrading HVACR equipment.

Here’s a quote from the document:

Family dining operators were the most likely of all full-service operators to upgrade energy-efficient refrigeration, air conditioning, and heating systems. About half of family, 40 percent of casual, and 34 percent of fine-dining operators invested in more efficient refrigeration, heating, and cooling systems (in 2009). This year, 32 percent of family, 28 percent of casual, and 27 percent of fine-dining operators plan to invest in more efficient systems. In quick service, 32 percent invested in energy-efficient systems in 2009, and 30 percent plan to do so this year.

That seems to say that activities in 2010 might not be at the same pace as 2009, but there will still be activities going on. The challenge for contractors who can do such install work is to find it and be a part of it.

At the same time, more energy-efficient equipment usually requires closer attention so that it continues to operate properly and as efficiently as promoted. That then becomes part of the service side of a contractor’s business.

I suppose the thing to do is take a look at all the restaurants around you. According to the NRA statistics, anywhere from 25-50 percent of them have had or will have HVACR upgrades. The question for refrigeration contractors: How can you be a part of the installation of the updates, or the ongoing maintenance, or both?

FOOD SAFETY

Like those in the supermarket sector, restaurant operators place a high priority on food safety. Much of that concern relates to safety throughout the supply chain. Once in the restaurant such food is supposed to be handled properly in the kitchen and move pretty quickly to the customer’s table. But restaurants also have reach-in refrigerators and freezers, and many have walk-ins. Proper maintenance of that equipment should be a high priority, something contractors can stress to owners in offering preventive maintenance.

A major part of this equation is ice machines. Few are the full-service restaurants that don’t offer ice with water or soft drinks. And virtually all “quick serve” restaurants have ice dispensers within easy reach of customers. Like food products, drinks are a safety concern. Water coming into the ice machines needs to be as pure as possible. (That is a recurring topic in several of the feature stories in this issue of The NEWS.)

Again, contractors play a major role in assuring restaurant owners that ice machines are operating properly - and efficiently. That is, if the owners will let them do so. Here, contractors need to promote to owners/managers the value of regular maintenance.

RECOVERY

If the recent economic downturn seems to be stifling the willingness of operators or owners in committing to more aggressive service and maintenance by HVACR personnel, some consolation can be taken in the forecast statement that restaurateurs seem “cautiously optimistic about 2010” and predicting they “will see a gradually improving operating environment.” If it hasn’t seemed to happen yet, consider that the report says, “The second half of the year (2010) is likely to be stronger than the first.”

Let’s hope that that does happen and those contractors - be they installers or servicers or both - will find themselves factored into restaurant operators’ gradually improving optimism.

Publication date: 07/05/2010