Keep up with the needs of your building — or pay dearly in the long run
If rapper Lil Jon owned a pizza shop, his iconic lyrics would still ring true. In the realm of building maintenance, shop owners not only must consider how their restaurant looks “to the window, to the wall,” (and from the ceiling to the floor), but they also must “get low” checking the floors, baseboards and pipes. The image of Lil Jon slinging pies might be the most exciting part of this article, truth be told. Building maintenance protocol is boring, after all. However, the less glamorous, behind-the-scenes jobs are crucial to keeping a business running efficiently and making money.
When it comes to building maintenance, few restaurateurs are more dedicated than Mark Starr of Spokane, Washington. Starr has owned and operated David’s Pizza for nearly 22 years. He arrives at five o’clock each morning to ensure everything is in order. Something he can’t stress enough: “Don’t fall behind. Don’t put it off.” Problems only come back tenfold; and procrastination could put you out of business. It’s sobering to think about potentially losing your business because you didn’t take care of a leaky pipe when it was manageable, so regular upkeep is essential.
Most of this maintenance is related to how guests view your establishment. Starr says “the building is the first thing your guests see. Look at it as your guests do.” What impression does it give? Are the windows smeared with fingerprints? Are light bulbs burned out? Something to keep in mind: customers don’t care about property lines; if it looks like it’s yours, it’s yours. If the parking lot adjacent to yours is littered with cigarette butts, it will make your business look bad.
Nevertheless, determining necessary maintenance can be daunting. That’s why Rodney Nelson, president and head of franchise development of West Side Pizza International Inc., includes a maintenance schedule in all his operations manuals. Most shops have a similar checklist for employees to regularly reference to keep the operation running smoothly. Vic DiOrio, one of the owners of the family-run DiOrio’s Pizza and Pub in Louisville, Kentucky, shared some of the items on his checklist. Most of them involve cleaning — spot cleaning windows, floors, and tables, vacuuming rugs, and checking the bathroom. These simple daily tasks simultaneously keep everything under control and make the restaurant look good.
In addition to making the pizzeria look good, daily maintenance is the best way to catch bigger problems. Allan Rosenberg, owner of Butchertown Pizza Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, has a nightly cleaning crew come in to wash the 9,000 square feet of his restaurant. Because of how much water is used, Rosenberg checks the baseboards, tiles and grout every morning for any sign of damage. By staying on top of this, he reseals baseboards the minute they begin to warp or pull away from the wall, thus preventing opportunities for mold to grow and pests to come inside. Moreover, as Janet Miller, food safety supervisor of Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness, points out, restaurants with unclean floors or floors in disrepair are at risk for violating their health inspections. Checking the baseboards and tiles only takes a few minutes, but neglecting that duty could cost Rosenberg thousands of dollars in repairs, treatments and lost revenue — not to mention risking his restaurant’s good rapport with the Health Department and the public.
In addition to daily cleaning, everyone seemed to agree on a few building maintenance protocols. Across the board, pizzeria owners warned to maintain the HVAC system. The air filters should be changed a minimum of three times a year, more depending on how hard they’re working. Pizza shops have flour everywhere, which gets sucked into the system and causes it to run much less efficiently. Like Starr says, “The harder a building has to work, the more money it’ll cost you.” Changing the HVAC filter only costs about $10 if you do it yourself, but you’re guaranteed to pay much more if it breaks down.
Another thing everyone agrees on is plumbing and hot water maintenance. Inadequate hot water supply is a health code violation, and scalding should be addressed immediately for safety concerns and because it usually signifies an element is about to go out. Starr advises cleaning the hot water heater annually to keep it running longer and most efficiently. He also recommends installing a soft water conditioner, if you can afford it. Hard water leaves lime deposits and can clog equipment. Bill Reisert IV of The Reisert Group, LLC in Louisville, Kentucky, warns restaurant owners to “keep pipes insulated and water flowing.” He recalls an ice storm a few years ago that required several building owners to file claims for busted pipes, most of which could have been prevented if they’d been prepared.
According to Reisert, “slip and falls” is the number one claim business owners file, so any maintenance to prevent them is important. That means repainting the colored stripes for steps, maintaining the non-skid stickers on steps and ramps, ensuring the security of handrails, and keeping sidewalks and parking lots shoveled and salted in the winter. Not one of these tasks costs more than a couple of hours and $20, but if disregarded could cause serious physical or financial harm.
Sometimes, though, you just have to wait and “jump off that bridge when you come to it.” When projects are necessary, Starr and DiOrio agree that cheap fixes are rarely the best choice. DiOrio has discovered he gets much more life from marginally more expensive parts. Starr says: “You get what you pay for. Use your brain, do the research.” Starr offers valuable advice, “Never pay for big projects in advance.” He recommends progress payments because, “Once a company is paid, you have nothing to hold over them for warranty of the work.” This is one reason he and DiOrio prefer to work with people they know. According to Starr, “It’s a good way to grow your business… and when you have a relationship it’s easier to assure you’re getting a good job.” These projects become investments in both the building and in the business.
So when it comes to building maintenance, if you don’t trust Lil Jon, take it from the guys who have figured things out the hard way: routine upkeep is the best way to save time, money and headache.
Maggie Dickmann, who grew up in her family’s pizzeria, is a freelance writer based in Louisville, Kentucky.