How to look after (and save money on) your café equipment

The Coffee Commune

Without equipment, your café is really just a bunch of hungry and thirsty people waiting for you to provide a service that you don’t have capacity to provide.

Equipment is at the centre of your business, or as Geoff Michelmore from Brew Solutions recently said on The Coffee Commune podcast, it’s ‘the heart and soul of your café’.

Your equipment is a business investment. Not only that, it’s the critical component in what makes your business profitable. The key is to acknowledge and understand that protecting this investment should be a top priority in your business plan.

We consulted both Geoff and Mark Minnis from Minnis Hospitality Supplies, and the consensus was that protecting your machines means protecting the quality of your product, which is ultimately what keeps customers loyal and leads to your overall success.

“A breakdown can interrupt your operations and cost you valuable business, and more importantly, customers,” Geoff says.

“Even if you have a spare machine or a spare part ready to use on the go, delay to set it up on a busy Saturday can still be a problem. This is why equipment maintenance is critical for your business.”

There is a lack of education on the café owner side on what technical servicing needs to happen and how often it needs to happen. In the expert opinion of both Geoff and Mark, preventative maintenance is always better to help you identify and prevent malfunctions and breakdowns before they interrupt your trade.

Equipment can seem to be functioning but if not calibrated correctly it’s not doing its job correctly; it’s making a bad cup of coffee.

“One such example is water filtration installed in a coffee machine. Water filtration expires, which is not always noticeable and it can be causing damage inside the machine leading to scale build-up and blockages. Scale build up causes the machine to work harder, restrict flow, can damage parts and reduce the quality of coffee extraction,” Geoff says.

“Preventative maintenance is much better and makes your asset last longer. A skilled technician is worth their weight in gold, they can quickly diagnose a fault, explain the issue and minimise potential extended damage down the line; you really can’t put a value on a good technician.

“Understanding the work of doing maintenance on your machine and getting ahead of the game, allows you to protect your asset, making it last longer, have less breakdowns and produce higher quality coffee.”

Geoff suggests finding a technician you can trust and following their guidance to keep your machine running in its optimum condition, reducing costs and increasing quality in the long run.

Mark has a similar perspective. “I want our customers to be successful,” he says, “so they need to be getting the best out of their equipment, while reducing the costs of warranties, maintenance, repairs and upgrades.

“Other than maybe a seasoned pan, there is no equipment that works better when it is dirty. Every piece of equipment needs some degree of cleaning.

“From clogged burners, to electric elements in combi ovens, to dishwashers and bain-maries coated with scale, to refrigeration compressors covered in grease and dust with spots that don’t close properly or with damaged seals that bleed energy. These are all issues that impact on your business.”

Commercial equipment contributes to a great deal of energy consumption. Dirty appliances generally need to work harder to perform, making them less efficient.

“A poor cleaning regime will not only drain your resources, but can lead to breakdowns in equipment, creating additional costs such as a service technician, extra labour caused by disruption, loss of trade while the equipment is repaired, and the loss of stock,” Mark says.

As a critical component of all food service and hospitality operations, Mark likes to use the refrigerator as an example, but the same principle applies to other equipment. When a refrigerator breaks down or isn’t working at peak capacity, it reduces profits for the business and the quality of the stock.

“If a fridge breaks down it will probably be in the middle of service or overnight, when the operation is closed. The ramifications of food spoiling and dealing with maintenance issues during service can be large,” he says.

“Regardless of whether the refrigerator is used for displays and merchandising, for keeping beverages cold, or used in the kitchen, the product stored in refrigerators and freezers is valuable, expensive to buy and expensive to replace.

“But there are other ramifications from poorly working refrigeration with less than obvious costs. The harder the piece of equipment has to work, the more noise and heat that is generated in an already hot and noisy kitchen, making it harder for staff to work efficiently.

“Dust builds up on the condensers and the moisture in the environment means that the condensers get clogged, making the refrigerator work harder than it is designed to do. Cleaning all refrigeration condensers will allow your refrigerator to perform better, which will reduce electricity costs.

“Cleaning condensers every three months is an inexpensive and preventative maintenance procedure that will reduce the likelihood of breakdowns, which in extreme cases will mean you lose product and have to buy a new refrigerator.”

Mark recommends a few simple steps to maximise the performance of refrigeration:

    1. Clean condensers and filters regularly.
    2. Never overstock refrigeration. All refrigerators have a maximum capacity that must never be exceeded.
    3. Vents where the cold air is blown from should never be covered or blocked. The maximum correct air flow is critical
    4. In displays, the shelves are a set depth to facilitate the required air flow. Displayed products should always be kept within the shelf ‘footprint’.
    5. Refrigerators have set defrost cycles to save energy. The defrost times should be changed so they don’t conflict with peak trading hours.
    6. Double-glazed glass will use less energy than single-glazed displays.
    7. Reach-in, self-serve and open face displays should always be kept away from draughts.
    8. Refrigeration should be as far away as possible from heat sources, and well-ventilated. This includes the compressors that run the refrigerator. Remote compressors should be used wherever possible.

“Following these simple steps will benefit your business by giving you an appliance that will maintain temperature better, maximising the life and value of the stored product and minimising equipment breakdowns and costly repairs,” Mark says.

The Coffee Commune