If you’re in the food service business, you know that maintaining comfortable conditions in your restaurant is a must.
It’s never okay to allow your dining room to become too hot, cold or humid. You also can’t have too much equipment noise disturbing your customers. Then there’s the problem of drafty conditions or even kitchen smells being pulled into the dining room by a poorly-functioning restaurant HVAC system. Any of these problems can cause you to lose customers and impact your bottom line.
- Related article? Restaurant Air Conditioning: Are Comfort Issues Driving Diners Away?
Restaurant HVAC is a mission-critical system, and when something goes wrong, you need it taken care of immediately. If your current service provider makes you wait days for a repair, sends technicians that can’t fix the problem, or problems keep coming back, it’s time to cut your losses and find a better option. But how can you choose the right one? Read on for some advice about choosing a new service provider you can trust with your restaurant HVAC system.
Why Restaurant HVAC is Challenging
Keeping your restaurant consistently comfortable can be more difficult than for other types of businesses. You have varying numbers of people in the space throughout the day, you have doors opening and closing all day long (letting all your conditioned air escape), and you have kitchen appliances adding heat into the space and exhaust sucking air out of your space. It’s a complex problem with many variables, and it takes training and experience to get it right.
Restaurants also have different acoustical requirements than other types of businesses. Nobody wants a noisy restaurant HVAC fan blaring nearby while they are trying to enjoy a meal, yet fans are necessary for a number of reasons. They not only add conditioned air where it’s needed, but they help maintain the proper air balance to prevent migrating odors. The trick is understanding how to position ducts and fans, and run them at the right speeds so they won’t disturb patrons.
You’ve also got other mission-critical equipment that impacts the operation of your restaurant HVAC: your refrigeration equipment. Your walk-in coolers, low boys, blast chillers and freezers put out a lot of heat that can wreak havoc on the operation of your HVAC system. And the reverse is also true: if your restaurant HVAC isn’t working as it should, it can affect the temperatures inside your refrigeration equipment. And that can be a recipe for disaster: it can endanger your health inspection status and even the health of your customers.
It’s important that you choose a service provider for your restaurant HVAC that understands the conditions you work in and how to design and maintain your system accordingly.
7 Things To Look For In A Restaurant HVAC Service Provider
So how can you tell if a heating and air conditioning company has what it takes to install, repair and maintain restaurant HVAC equipment? Look for the following signs of expertise and commitment to customer service:
1. Experience with restaurant HVAC
A great way to get started is to ask colleagues in the restaurant business (especially in your neighborhood) who does their restaurant HVAC work. It’s a good sign when you see the company’s trucks around your area frequently; if your neighbors are calling them back again and again, they’re probably doing good work.
Before you hire anyone, make sure they can demonstrate a history of successfully working with restaurant HVAC systems. Don’t just take their word for it: ask for references from satisfied restaurant owners and managers. When you call those references, ask how long the company has been working for them and what type of service they performed. Ideally, you want to hear about installations, preventative maintenance, and repairs.
2. Refrigeration & kitchen expertise
Did you know that some restaurant HVAC companies also have expertise in refrigeration repair and maintenance as well? There are several reasons you’re better off with the one service provider handling your restaurant HVAC and your refrigeration needs:
- A single provider is better able to evaluate the impact of all your systems on one another. Here’s an example: if your AC is not maintaining the set temperature, your open air cases may be running constantly as they actually attempt to cool the surrounding space. You need someone with an eye on the big picture.
- You get one trusted point of contact that understands your equipment, your business and your needs
- One provider means less paperwork with combined work orders and billing.
EVEN BETTER: look for a restaurant HVAC company that repairs and maintains kitchen equipment.
3. Prompt and reliable
It’s a good sign when the restaurant HVAC company’s sales rep shows up when expected to look at your equipment. But you want to find out more about the company’s reliability. Promises about response time are all well and good, but you want to know how well they keep those promises. When you speak to their references, ask how long it takes to get a technician there in an emergency and their track record for arriving on time for appointments.
4. Technicians are certified and well trained
Check out not only the company’s credentials, but the certifications technicians hold and the level of training they receive:
- Make sure all technicians are licensed if required in your state.
- Especially in states like New York that do not require licenses, look for MSCA or NATE certifications, which prove that a tech has completed a rigorous training program, passed certification exams, and received ongoing education.
- Ask about EPA 608 certification, which is required for any tech who handles refrigerant.
- Find out what kind of training the company provides for its employees. When an HVAC company invests in regular training, it shows a level of commitment to quality and customer service.
5. They guarantee their work
Here’s another sign of a commitment to quality. A restaurant HVAC company should guarantee their installations, repairs and maintenance work for a period of one year.
6. Access to parts
A quick response time is not always an indicator of how fast you’ll be back up and running. What if it takes 3 days to get the parts to complete a repair? Look for a service provider that has a large inventory of parts, as well as relationships with numerous parts suppliers in your area.
7. They maintain the equipment they sell and install
Stay away from restaurant HVAC companies that only want to sell you equipment and install it, then walk away. Instead, choose a company that will take responsibility for ongoing maintenance. That way you can be more confident that the installation was done right.
Speaking of preventative maintenance: how often you do it is just as important as who you choose. Regular maintenance of your restaurant HVAC system and your refrigeration equipment keeps your equipment running efficiently and reliably and keeps your repair expenses down. The right provider can work with you to come up with a maintenance schedule based on your equipment and usage, and pricing that works for your budget. You’re probably familiar with maintenance agreements for HVAC, but here’s a great source of information if you’re new to refrigeration maintenance plans: Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.