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Breaking the Mould

15 June 2006

Keeping up with the pace of change in the kitchen can mean that owning and maintaining the catering equipment is a costly and inefficient option. An alternative is KitchenFM's modern and well maintained kitchens without the hassle, as Jane Fenwick discovered

ATHLETES AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES IN ATHENS will have been completely unaware that the food that they ate in their Athletes’ Village was cooked on equipment supplied entirely by a company based on the outskirts of Cheltenham. In fact, since then, PKL has supplied complete catering installations to the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the Sydney Olympic ames. At this autumn’s Asian Games in Dohar, the athletes and media village catering installations will all be shipped from Cheltenham, installed and maintained throughout the event by PKL engineers. Closer to home, events such as Henley, Wimbledon, Notting Hill Carnival and Chelsea Flower Show will all have catering facilities supplied and fitted by PKL.

Whilst these flagship events are the ‘glamorous’ end of the PKL’s catering equipment hire business, the bulk of its activities are related to long term hire and increasingly the management of complete and permanent kitchen installations. The days of installing a kitchen and expecting it to ‘do’ for a lifetime are going as food styles, demand fluxes, legislation and health & safety regulations, and personnel all change often day to day.

In the same way that a large sporting event such as the Olympics does not need to own and manage catering equipment for the short time it needs it, the catering sector is beginning to realize that owning the equipment in their permanent kitchens no longer makes economic sense.

Kitchen equipment does not come cheap and equipping a modern commercial kitchen operation from scratch can cost upwards of £100,000. However, once acquired the equipment has a very low asset value and if, for any reason in the future, equipment needs to be changed to cater for a new menu range or to meet the needs of a new chef, for example, it has virtually no exchange value.

Usually, kitchen equipment is capitalized over 10 years but during that period the cost of maintenance beyond the warranty and particularly, replacement parts, can throw even the best planned budget off the track. As Ian Selwood, General Manager of KitchenFM, explained modern catering equipment is built to withstand the heat, humidity and constant use of a catering environment. However, the modern electronic PCB controls are still vulnerable in that testing environment and can fail frequently over the life of the equipment. A new PCB can cost £2,000 or more, punching a hole in the catering budget of any establishment however well it is managed.

Breakdowns can occur in equipment ranging from dishwashers, to combination cookers and refrigeration units. Catering is not immune from the general shortages of skilled maintenance engineers and finding an engineer for that particular make of equipment and then sourcing spares can lead to equipment lying idle and unused for weeks while being repaired. Maintenance agreements can be costly and are often limited in coverage to a simple fix but not including the cost of parts.

According to Selwood, “There is a vicious circle in the catering industry. The cost of buying equipment initially means that caterers are not spending as much as they should on good quality equipment in the first place because of budgetary pressures. The equipment warranty covers the first year of use and the ongoing maintenance contract is expensive and limited, offering no value added benefits apart from simple repairs. As a result caterers tend to keep their catering equipment longer than its design life, and it needs more repairs, costing more …. and so on.”

PKL launched Kitchen FM in 2004 to offer a different option of commercial catering estates from purchasing, owning and managing their own equipment. For a monthly fee, Kitchen FM can supply all the catering equipment needs for any kitchen installation with no capital outlay from the client. KitchenFM capitalizes and owns the equipment, but it also maintains and manages it taking the hassle and much of the unpredictable cost from caterer. It can also design a new facility, or refurbish it and takeover existing equipment in the kitchen that still has a useful life, and incorporate it into the deal. Kitchen staff are trained how to use and clean the equipment, and ongoing maintenance - planned and reactive - becomes part of the agreement which also covers parts, and where necessary, complete replacement of faulty equipment that cannot be repaired on site.

Backed by its experience in the short and long term hire of kitchen equipment, PKL has built a catalogue of over 8,000 pieces of equipment to chose from, including some that have been specially designed and adapted for PKL by the manufacturer.

Also included in the offering is PKL’s award winning JACK unit, a key component of its proactive approach to maintenance in the catering sector. The stainless steel JACK unit, which last year won the MITIE Business Innovation Award at the PFM Awards 2005, has a touch screen through which kitchen staff can be instructed on the use, cleaning and simple fault diagnosis for each piece of equipment in the kitchen in which they are working.

Currently translated into several languages including Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Czech and Slovak, JACK is ideal for inducting new staff in the use of the equipment in their kitchen. It also provides a checklist for fault diagnosis to enable kitchen staff to check off simple common causes of equipment failure before calling in a PKL engineer. This will often identify the likely fault to the engineer who can either come ready equipped with the relevant part or use any of the spare parts stored securely in the JACK unit. The engineer can not only access the store but also re-order parts, record faults and maintenance actions on line via the JACK unit.

The JACK can be personalised with logos, and include customer training on new menus or the presentation of a new dish. One client uses JACK for its weekly update on business performance to staff in each of its chain of restaurants.

Cultural change
The Kitchen FM approach requires a change in culture that recognises that ownership of equipment is not now the best way for a variety of catering operations including commercial restaurants, industrial kitchens and the public sector. Premier Foods, for example, has worked with KitchenFM to refurbish its industrial kitchen for staff catering to one designed around a fleet of KitchenFM core equipment in an efficient workflow installed in just eight days.

Kids Planet, a children’s activity, diner and party centre in Radlett, chose KitchenFM to supply its high specification kitchen and servery area to fit the overall theme of play and to provide nutritious and healthy menus. With lots of ongoing menu changes, JACK plays an important role in training staff, and helping in the use of the equipment and for fault diagnosis.

At the L’Auberge at the Onslow Arms, part of the Massive pub group, the deal involved KitchenFM buying back the existing catering facility under contract, adding some new equipment to increase operational efficiency and meeting the demands of an exclusive French menu. It is also a teaching kitchen giving weekly classes on the art of French cuisine, and is on public display making the maintenance and management of the equipment a top priority. Handing over the management, maintenance and overall responsibility for its catering equipment estate has allowed the Onslow Arms to free up valuable capital tied up in the equipment and concentrate on the menu.


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