May 7, 2019

Keeping Your Cool With Your Restaurant’s HVAC System

This article was published in the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) Knowledge Library. 

Five Tips to Ensure HVAC Efficiency

It is every restauranteur’s dream to secure a three-star Michelin rating for their delicious cuisine. However, if your guests are unable to enjoy your creative dishes due to a stuffy or poorly ventilated dining room, this dream may remain unfilled.

When seeking a place to dine, most people spend a fair amount of time researching the menus and reviews of their local eateries. It is unlikely that they are also investigating how well the building’s temperature is being controlled. But this is exactly what a restaurant facility manager should be paying attention to in order to manage costs, be energy efficient, and ensure happy customers return again and again.

The ABCs of HVAC

For those new to facility maintenance, let’s define the acronym – HVAC. It stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. In short, it’s what keeps the temperatures and air quality of homes and buildings comfortable for its inhabitants.  While we may compromise on these comforts in our homes, facilities such as restaurants, are subject to a regulatory environment, which forces them to ensure that these important systems are in tip-top shape year round.

Even without such regulations and codes, a successful restaurant will want to provide a pleasing experience to its customers from the moment they walk into the door to the settling of their bill. It can be difficult to enjoy a luscious meal if the temperature is too hot or too cold or remnants of yesterday’s garlic chicken remain in the air.

Securing a 5-Star Rating for Your HVAC

Restaurant facility managers play a major role in the success of a restaurant. While much of their work is behind-the-scenes, ensuring that all facets of the building’s systems are operating efficiently and effectively may very well be one of their most important responsibilities.

When managing a restaurant’s HVAC system, it’s important to keep the following best practices in mind.

1. Invest in the Best

You’re all too familiar with the phrase, “you get what you pay for.” This couldn’t be truer when it comes to selecting your HVAC system. It may be tempting to choose an off-market brand in order to cut costs, yet this decision is sure to back-fire in the long run.

Let’s face it – any HVAC system is going to experience hiccups from time to time and parts will need to be replaced. Finding parts for unknown brands may take time, if they are able to be secured at all. Anything that causes a delay in the repair of your HVAC must be avoided. Every minute counts when it comes to repairs of these critical systems that keep your restaurant running smoothly, and possibly even open for business.

Purchasing a well-known branded HVAC system is an investment that will reap a multitude of rewards. First, parts will be easier to replace. Secondly, warranties are likely to be more comprehensive, which may reduce future repair costs. Lastly, vendors are familiar with the brands and are able to quickly diagnose issues and easily perform repairs.

2. An Ounce of Prevention

Every restaurant’s kitchen staff works diligently to clean and care for kitchen equipment to lengthen its lifespan. This same attention must be paid to your HVAC system and accompanying ductwork. This starts with ensuring that all HVAC assets are documented and are easily accessible by all employees. Key details of this documentation may include:

  • Brand name, model, and serial numbers of equipment,
  • Location of all units, thermostats, and sensors,
  • Square footage of each room, and
  • Age of the equipment.

Spending the time to create and maintain an electronic database of this information will enable repair personnel to address any issues quickly and easily. Also, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association recommends getting air ducts cleaned every three to five years to prevent excessive debris negatively affecting the air quality. Lastly, setting up a preventative maintenance program with your vendor will keep any potential HVAC issues from boiling over.

3. Knowledge is Power (and Cost-Saving!)

In addition to keeping up-to-date records of your HVAC systems, training your employees on basic HVAC operations can save you from an emergency service call. Every employee should be aware of the location of each thermostat and how to adjust it manually, should the need arise.

If sensors or thermostats are remotely controlled through EMS (Electronic Monitoring System), employees should have access to and know how to operate these remote devices. The more educated your team is on your HVAC systems, the less likely they will be to call for help on issues they can possibly address themselves.

4. More is Not More

Every restaurant owner wants their customers coming back for more. However, when it comes to energy-efficient HVAC systems, more is not more. Installing units that are too big or too small for the facility will result in higher utility expenses and possibly a premature replacement as incorrectly-sized systems fail to do the job.

When selecting a new or replacement HVAC unit, it’s important to know the exact square footage of your restaurant as well as the locations of stove hoods, doorways, and even thermostats, which could impact the proper cooling and ventilation of your restaurant. Remote sensors may be a viable option if these temperature-altering items cannot be moved.

5. Repair or Replace

Depending on the size of the facility, the cost for a new HVAC system can range from a few to several thousand dollars. Therefore, the decision to replace needs to be carefully reviewed. There are a few factors that need to be considered, however, the most important factor is the unit’s age. In addition it may be helpful to consider the following:

1.  Since installation, how much has been spent on repairs?
2. When did the warranty expire?
3. Will replacing the system incur other indirect costs, such as ductwork repairs or replacements?

As with any business decision, the pros and cons of repairing or replacing will need to be examined. The more you know about this important asset, the better prepared you will be to make this decision.

Conclusion: Your Award-Winning HVAC System

Along with your restaurant’s cuisine, the ambiance of the facility plays a major role in your customer’s experience. Ensuring that customers are comfortable while they enjoy their meal is what will create brand loyalty and ultimately, a thriving business.

Additionally, a restaurant that is properly cooled, heated, and ventilated will keep your kitchen and wait staff energetic and productive, which may reduce employee turnover. Working in a facility that continuously spills out unpleasant odors or is simply too hot or cold could indirectly impact your staffing costs if turnover is rampant.

Continually rising occupancy costs and ever-changing regulations for restaurant equipment can make the management of HVAC systems challenging. However, when proper attention is paid to foundational elements such preventative maintenance, employee training, and partnering with knowledgeable vendors, restaurant facility managers can keep their cool from dinner to dessert.

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