The Keys to Protecting Electronic Equipment in a Restaurant

    Operators must take action to condition the power environment before installing new, expensive, and sensitive technology.

    Young woman hand doing process payment on a touchscreen cash register, finance concept.
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    One key solution to maintaining uptime and protecting electronic equipment is a power quality management system that will filter and condition electricity flowing from the grid to each connected device that ensures clean and consistent performance.

    With quick-serve restaurants navigating labor and supply chain shortages stemming from the pandemic, on-site technology solutions have taken on increased importance in preserving business continuity and ensuring a seamless customer experience. Therefore, the consistent performance of POS systems, ordering kiosks, digital menu boards, refrigeration temperature monitors, kitchen printers, security cameras, and countless other pieces of connected, electric equipment are critical to business success. While people and products are necessary for operation, quick-service restaurants that lack the ability to keep inventory at required temperatures, fulfill orders in an organized and timely manner, and receive and process payments in a digitally optimized fashion are doomed to fail in today’s fast paced environment.

    Unlike staffing or sourcing concerns that are subject to external factors, maintaining the productive performance of on-site equipment is something quick-service restaurants can manage almost entirely on their own. Doing so is critical to maintaining advantages in on-prem convenience and availability that the proliferation of delivery dining and ghost kitchens have thrown into stark relief in the last two years.

    Today, many quick-service restaurant giants are advancing, improving, and evolving by upgrading their equipment. Domino’s is trialing new point of sale (POS) systems as one extension of CEO Ritch Allison’s search for innovative technologies that will allow them to “operate more efficiently, with fewer labor hours per unit of sales.” Other mega-chains like McDonalds are improving their kiosks for expanded access, shorter ordering times, and easier customization. Digital menu boards and pro-AV solutions in general are another area of growth, as research from AVIXA projects the global hospitality industry will spend nearly $9 billion on such technologies in 2021. Back-of-house automation software is another example of proliferating equipment improvements.

    These approaches are ambitious and creative, but in this attempt to leave no technological stone unturned, many quick-service restaurants have overlooked a common concern affecting each piece of electric equipment they address: the power environment. Taking urgent action to condition the power environment before installing new, expensive, and sensitive technology solutions is a prudent pre-emptive step to stabilize equipment performance, extend lifecycles, reduce downtime, minimize operating and maintenance costs, and manage risk.

    A Quick-Service Restaurant's Power Environment and its Potential Problems

    The power environment includes not only the quality of the power coming from the grid and flowing into electronic equipment within a given space, but also how that quality varies and fluctuates, and the extent to which the connected equipment itself plays in affecting power quality. The power environments of quick-service restaurants are complex, noisy, and volatile. This results in equipment facing daily variability in the power required to keep service running. Inconsistent power, or dirty power, leads to inconsistent performance, and while many in the industry believe that power availability equates to power quality, that is fundamentally not the case.

    In fact, it is when the power is “on” that connected systems might be at their most vulnerable. Experts estimate a significant majority of the electrical disturbances impacting the integrity of the power flowing to electrical equipment comes from within the power environment itself rather than from outside forces such as dramatic blackouts accompanying inclement weather. Such incidents that can result in visible disturbances such as blackouts are rare. In contrast, spikes, normal-mode noise, and common-mode noise are present to varying degrees nearly all the time due to the fact that any equipment, device, or machinery that draws electricity creates electrical noise within the power environment. This means POS systems, refrigeration units, microwaves, HVAC systems, AV products like digital menu boards or other digital signage, and even overhead lighting can cause electrical disturbances. These continual blips, sags, and swells add up over time, and can create seemingly anomalous errors that lead to expensive and exasperating “no trouble found” service calls. In an industry where time is money, these issues can erode quick-service restaurants’ profits due the costs of replacement components, additional equipment servicing, and especially downtime. In other words – dirty power translates directly to lost revenue.

    Power affects all aspects of a quick-service restaurant’s livelihood. A restaurant with a locked-up POS system cannot properly process payments or place orders. Power loss to refrigeration units can lead to huge quantities of spoiled inventory and menu shortages down the line. Unable to charge for completed orders, fulfill existing ones, or accept new orders, quick-service restaurants must cease operation until the source of the problem is addressed. If that issue is power, the nightmare may repeat itself.  Those digital menu boards mentioned earlier? While SeeLevel HX estimates each one can save a quick-service restaurant over $27,000 per location, issues within the power environment can cut into those savings throughout the course of operation. By how much?  Quick-service restaurants managers and franchisees cannot afford to sit around and find out.

    Protecting Technology Investments by Protecting Power

    One key solution to maintaining uptime and protecting electronic equipment is a power quality management system that will filter and condition electricity flowing from the grid to each connected device that ensures clean and consistent performance. Even the most meticulously engineered and carefully calibrated electronic equipment is inevitably impacted by what is put into it. So, in this regard, a power protection solution works similarly to the way a fuel filter protects a car engine from impurities.

    What should quick-service restaurant property managers be on the lookout for? The three key components that ensure a solid power quality system are a surge diverter, a noise filter, and a low impedance isolation transformer. A majority of commercial solutions available today deploy a surge diverter, a noise filter, or both. The low impedence isolation transformer is often left out, though it actually plays the most important role. This specialized feature acts to isolate the powered instrument from the power source and re-establishes the neutral-ground bond without opposing or disrupting the current path, keeping unwanted noise out without negatively affecting power flow. This ensures only clean, reliable power consistently flows to and through equipment. The most complete solutions for quick-service restaurants include each of these features and function as standalone local-area power conditioners for an entire site. The best place to get information on these sorts of products would be through a professional power quality consultant or an equipment dealer.

    Labor and supply-chain shortages, as well as the pandemic-era emergence of concepts like contactless payment, grab-and-go dining, and automated on-premises experiences, have made the quick-service dining experience increasingly digital for both customers and employees. Most of the digital infrastructure supporting these proliferating products and policies runs on electricity, which means it is vulnerable to power-related failures. These failures can compromise a quick-service restaurant’s efforts to deliver a positive customer experience, which means they have a direct impact on revenues and reputation. With the pandemic tightening margins for quick-service restaurants already, any additional negative impact from power-related equipment issues is something quick-service restaurants absolutely cannot afford. Introducing comprehensive power conditioning is the best way to proactively mitigate power risks so that equipment stays running, revenues remain healthy, and customers keep coming back. 

    Chip Peagler, AMETEK Powervar POS Segment Sales Manager, has 14 years of experience in providing power quality solutions to the POS industry. He also has over 30 years of experience in technical sales. Connect with him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/chip-peagler-a664535/.