Contractors and service technicians who work in restaurant refrigeration need to understand something: As valuable as their services are, they are — in the mindset of restaurant decision makers — only one part of a complex and often confusing equation.

This becomes apparent to me each year when I attend the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago. On display is virtually everything that is in a restaurant, not to mention many food service-related aspects of hotels and motels. A sampling of products and services on display at the most recent NRA show, for which decision makers in food service have to consider, include accounting systems, bags, cabinets, dishwashers, employee services, first-aid equipment, gloves, heaters, insecticides, janitor services, knives, labels, management services, napkins, online services, plates, quality control, reservation services, scales, tables, uniforms, ventilators, warmers, and yogurt.

That’s virtually a category representing each letter of the alphabet and, within each category there could be dozens of vendors. Additionally, ice-making and dispensing equipment of all kinds, as well as chilled- and frozen-food cases ranged from small portable reach-in units to massive walk-in machinery.

Three thoughts come to mind.

First, I’m wondering how decision makers could take a pass on the NRA show, which is clearly a 101 on the sector’s latest and greatest. Take a look at that list above and note how many of those items are technology related — technology that changes annually, if not more often. In the same respect, I’m wondering how many refrigeration contractors who install or service food service cooling and freezing equipment can afford to take a pass on attending this and similar shows. This opportunity allows authorized dealers to reacquaint themselves with the equipment and products they are most familiar with, and it presents a chance to see what other manufacturers are bringing to the food service market. There is a lot of competition out there, and I think contractors need to be aware of that.

Second, as quick as the media is to shine a spotlight on a new restaurant’s chef and menu, there is so much more that goes into the anatomy of a restaurant. A poor-quality freezer or cooler can sink an opening just as quickly as a lousy-tasting dinner special, sloppy wait staff, or an inferior wine. Typically, more than 60 percent of new restaurants fail within the first two years of operation — and I suspect the complexity of what’s going on behind the scenes is a major contributor.

Third, even when all the ice machines and dispensers, and all the reach-in and walk-ins are installed and running perfectly, they are going to fail from time to time. Here’s where the restaurant manager and refrigeration contractor have to be on the same page. Quite a bit of the new refrigeration technology shown at NRA deals with fault-detection systems that contractors can monitor remotely. Even if that is not present, restaurant shift managers need to be on the watch for the built-in on-site warning signals included inside most refrigerated and frozen-food equipment. Even though they should, most managers don’t catch these early warning signs.

The message for refrigeration contractors who work in restaurants and other food-service areas is to be up to speed on the best products so if asked to offer input from a decision maker starting up a new restaurant, they can offer wise advice. Remember, those decision makers are probably not experts in refrigeration, so they are looking for help. And contractors need to develop a good rapport with on-site restaurant/food-service managers, so those folks know to call the contractor for regular preventive maintenance and to call quickly when there is even a potential problem lurking. Early detection is important, as a restaurant without refrigeration for any length of time is a restaurant likely sporting a closed sign.

Publication date: 6/17/2013

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