Richard Dunfield, president of oven maker Roto-Flex, likes to compare a pizza oven to a fine automobile.
While both should give years of trouble-free performance, they need regular attention in order to do so. That means staying on top of routine maintenance.
"If you drove your car seven days a week, 14 hours a day, without changing the oil or checking the tires, the car is not going to last very long," he said. "It's the same way with a pizza oven."
Dunfield tells his customer that if they spend 15 minutes a week maintaining their oven, it's going
to last for a very long time.
While an oven should last even without regular maintenance, the cost will be far greater thanks to the increased number of repairs that will be necessary, he said.
"Usually the pizzeria owner/operator finds this out after the first $1,000 he has to spend getting the thing fixed," Dunfield said. "It is amazing how many people will spend $30,000 to $40,000 on a piece of equipment, park it in their restaurant and walk away from it, never bothering to read the service manual or learn the equipment."
Pizza Marketplace talked to equipment vendors about proper maintenance procedures, and here's what they had to say:
"It sounds very simple, but many of our service calls are simply from lack of cleaning," said Joanne McCormick, sales and marketing executive with New York-based Empire Bakery Equipment.
Operators should pay particular attention to items that come in contact with pizza dough, such as mixers, dough dividers and rounders. The dough can dry up and cause damage and unnecessary service call expenses, McCormick said.
According to oven manufacturer Lincoln, it is necessary to keep oven motors, fans and electronics free of dirt, dust and debris to insure proper cooling. Doing so will help peak performance over the lifespan of the oven, Lincoln officials said.
Dunfield recommends making sure chains, bearings and gears on kitchen equipment are lubricated consistently. He feels so strongly about the importance of lubricating equipment that when he sells an oven he includes a "care package" of several types of lubricants for the various oven components. "Parts need to be greased in order to run smoothly," he said. "Anything that moves has a rotation motor, it has a bearing, and it needs to be oiled."
Ventilation is a critical issue that operators often neglect, Dunfield said.
"I see a lot of ovens out there that have inadequate ventilation," he said. "What that means is that they are not pulling the heat out of the oven, and a lot of times you will see oven doors that have a lot of problems because the massive amount of heat that is just parked there."
Heat buildup caused by inadequate ventilation can increase the wear on moving parts and shorten their lifespan. It also can wreak havoc on an operator's utility bill.
"If the ventilation is right, three things are going to happen," he said. "The oven is going to stay cool, the door handles are going to stay cool and the operator is going to stay cool."
Dunfield recommends inspecting an oven's burners at least once a month. Burner orifices need to be cleaned on a regular basis and the burners should be adjusted.
"If oven owners adjust the flames so they have a nice blue flame with orange tips, what they are going to find out is that their ovens are going to run more efficiently," he said. "And that means that they are not going to be consuming as much gas in order to keep a good flame."
One of the most difficult issues to get across to operators is the value of proactive service, McCormick said. Operators should either keep spare parts on hand or deal with suppliers who stock them.
"If you see items such as bearings and gears starting to wear, order them," she said. "Don't wait until the machine is down. You can save on price increases, overnight shipping charges, service call backs and overtime charges just by having some parts available."
McCormick sees many service calls cost $400 that should have cost $100, and it was completely avoidable.
Read the manual
Most importantly, Dunfield said, is for an operator to learn about his or her equipment. Sit down and read the service manual and develop a regular maintenance schedule. He suggests operators break the maintenance schedule down into items that need to be taken care of on a daily, weekly, monthly, semiannual and annual basis.
"Owning a restaurant is just like owning a house. Your refrigerator is going to break, your air conditioner is going to break and your oven is going to break," he said. "It is the same thing in a restaurant, but because the equipment gets used so much more frequently, it's going to happen more often."