How to set up a preventative maintenance program for your café or roastery

If you’re a café owner, roaster, or even a barista, this post is for you. After all, your business is coffee—and you can’t make that coffee without equipment.

From the point where coffee enters a roasting facility, to when that final cuppa is served to your guest, coffee equipment forms an integral role in coffee’s existence, start to finish.

When you’ve been in the coffee industry long enough, you’ve seen first-hand all sorts of equipment horror stories.

Boilers that are so clogged with scale, the water runs white.

Group head screens with so much build-up, the holes are clogged with basically rubber.

Grinders. Oh, grinders. You know what I mean.

Or even roasters catching fire. Yikes.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. To avoid all of the above, preventative maintenance is your friend.

The key word here is preventative.

Coffee needs equipment to exist. Roasters, espresso machines, brewers, and grinders all work together to make coffee, well, happen. Equipment is one of the largest investments in a coffee company—yet most of us hardly take care it.

We think that since we put a water filter on our brewer, no scale will build up. Or say "tomorrow I will (fill in the blank with undesirable maintenance chore.)" Then when something breaks, or clogs, or catches fire, we stop our businesses and call an emergency technician to get us up and running.

I think sometimes we forget about the lost opportunity to generate income and provide quality service to our customers when we can’t operate. We all know what it costs to have a technician show up, but what about the dollars that walk out of your café, or pounds of coffee that aren’t being roasted, while your staff stand around and wait? Imagine we have to tell a wholesale client our roaster is down and we can’t deliver their coffee—the lifeblood of their business? Maybe they’ll find somewhere else to go from now on. Somewhere reliable. Scary.

Not convinced by the strict economic argument? Here's another reason to keep your equipment maintained: flavour. Clean, well-maintained equipment will enhance the amazing-ness of the coffee that you’re preparing.

Preventative maintenance (PM for short) isn’t cheap, but it isn’t expensive either. You will be better off paying for PM today instead of emergency service, and lost customers, tomorrow.

How to set up your PM program

Many PM tasks are easy and can be done by trained employees.

  1. Start with a checklist—something that details what you have to do and when you need to do it. Break down tasks into those that can be done by employees and those that should be done by a qualified technician. After all, maybe a part-time barista checking the resistance of the 240v heating element in your espresso machine isn’t a good idea. When creating your checklist, keep in mind there are tasks for every piece of equipment. There are also things that should be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. For example, backflush your group heads daily. Empty your chaff daily. Replace your group gaskets quarterly (or as needed). Inspect your drum, motors, and drive chains quarterly. Etcetera.
  2. Appoint a maintenance champion. He or she will be the point person for all equipment questions and delegate tasks to particular team members, whether that’s the barista closing the cafe or the operations manager scheduling a technician to do the PM service.
  3. Record the make, model and serial number of all of your equipment. Having this information handy will help when calling a technician for repairs, the manufacturer for warranty questions, or even looking up how-tos online.
  4. Keep the number of a trusted service technician handy. Keep in mind they usually offer some sort of PM service, and some even offer discounts if you commit to a regular schedule.

Whether you're doing the PM service yourself or contracting it out, knowledge is an asset. There are free how-to videos, and most equipment manufacturers actually detail PM schedules and tasks on their website. For example, here are Modbar’s espresso machine PM program and La Marzocco’s PM checklist.

Having a well-developed PM program at your coffee company will pay dividends through increased quality, less downtime, and happy customers.

As always, share your thoughts, ideas, your own PM programs, and comments.

Thank you for joining me once again.

Roast on.


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