Many established restaurant and cafe kitchens have equipment that’s at least 20 years old. If it has been well looked after, there's no reason it can't last for many more.
So what's the difference between domestic and commercial equipment? An $80 home microwave is used twice a day, and if it fails, it will be thrown away. A $2800 commercial microwave is mission-critical and might be used 100 times a day - the heating element (magnetron) is designed for greater speed, heat and repetition.
A domestic dishwasher takes 90 minutes to do what a commercial washer does in 3 minutes. A commercial deep fryer can cook 3 kgs of chips in 4 minutes, but a home bench-top unit would take almost an hour to do batch after batch.
Understanding the Value of Commercial Equipment
The long life of commercial equipment is related to its high initial cost.
The higher cost and value is a result of various elements:
* Performance & Productivity - it can handle the pressure of a busy kitchen, with large quantities, fast speed and little need for downtime.
* Reliability and Ease of Maintenance - it should rarely fail under pressure, particularly if properly maintained. When repairs are needed, they can be done quickly and on-site.
* Energy Cost and Saving - it can handle cooking, cooling and processing efficiently
* Warranty - a guarantee of performance backs the equipment
* Health Code Conformity - easy to clean and sanitise, and safe to use
* Long Life - robust construction means it will last for many years
The Australian Tax Office also believes in the length of time most commercial equipment lasts - their 2020 Depreciation Schedule lists a range of equipment, and the time over which it can be depreciated. Check the kitchen equipment list on Page 201 - for example, they allow depreciation of cooking equipment and refrigeration over 10 years.
Life & Maintenance of a Refrigerator, an Oven, a Fryer and a Dishwasher
Commercial equipment is designed for regular repairs and maintenance - it's made from heavy-duty parts, and when repairs are needed, it has easy access for replacement or repair on-site. Let’s look at four pieces of equipment, simplified down to their basic elements:
* A refrigerator is an insulated steel box, with door seals, a thermostat and a cooling system.
* An oven is a steel box, with door seals, a thermostat and a heat source.
* A fryer is a steel tank, with a heat source, baskets and drainage tap.
* A dishwasher is a steel box with a spray arm for high-pressure hot water.
The Refrigerator may need the door seals replaced - that's quickly done by a visiting repair service. If the thermostat needs replacement (a simple piece of electronics), or the motor needs more refrigerant, it's a simple procedure for a qualified mechanic. Expect it to last 15 year or more.
The Oven may need new door seals, a replacement thermostat or control knobs, or the heat source (gas or electric) cleaned or replaced. These are all straightforward jobs for a mechanic, and because stoves last so long, most parts are readily available. Expect it to last 20 year or more.
The Fryer may need a thermostat fixed, or the burners, thermopile (temperature wire) or pilot light replaced. These are standard parts that are easy to replace. It's a simple stainless steel tank that's designed to last for many years. Fryers are in use all day long, and need more cleaning than other equipment – look after the burners, thermostat and pilot light, and it can easily last 15-20 years.
The Dishwasher is a tank with a water pump, wash & spray arms, plate racks and a thermostat. It may need the thermostat and control unit replaced, an occasional pump repair and daily cleaning of the wash arms. There’s no reason why it won’t last for 20 years or more.
As shown, repairs and maintenance are simple procedures that will keep high-priced equipment working hard for many years.
Understanding Stainless Steel – Made to Last, and Not Cheap
304 Grade Stainless Steel is used to make everything from appliances to wall cladding and cooking utensils - it's easy to sanitise, very durable and resists the acids found in food and cleaning chemicals. It contains 65% iron, plus 18% chromium and 8% nickel. It is not so good for conducting heat, compared to carbon steel and regular steel – that’s why woks and fry pans are not made from stainless steel.
316 Grade Stainless Steel is often called Marine-Grade Stainless and is more resistant to corrosion from the salt and chlorides in saltwater. It has 18% chromium and 10% nickel and is not usually used for kitchen equipment.
Regular Maintenance Guarantees a Long Life for your Equipment
Your equipment needs to be cleaned regularly, given room for ventilation, and build-up of grease and food scraps avoided. Make sure the rear of equipment is kept clean - this is where grease builds up, and makes repair access more difficult.
Have the instruction manuals available in PDF format, and printed in a kitchen folder. Demonstrate to staff the proper use of controls and the capacity of each item. If you have non-English speaking staff, download the manuals in their language – these are commonly available.
Preventive maintenance is less expensive than emergency repairs, and ensures your equipment is ready to handle the busy times without interruption. For example, refrigeration is under extra strain in summer, and mechanics are in high demand. Winter is the best time to get them along to check the refrigerant levels in motors and thermostat settings.