Acquiring Kitchen Equipment for Your Restaurant

New York has the Bowery. Chicago has Restaurant Row. Most major cities have this kind of restaurant supply street. Whether the products are new or used, you'll likely buy it here. If you're not located in a major city, going to one may be worth the trip, just for the money you can save and for the used equipment, but bring your bartering hat — and do your homework.

Know what equipment you need for your operation and the menu you've chosen. Know what it costs new and used. Shop around. Check out equipment Web sites, national companies, local companies, and restaurant equipment auctions. Talk to other people in the business about their good experiences and bad ones. Get names from them about good companies to work with. If they can introduce you to someone specific, you'll be a step ahead.

Building a big kitchen is a huge expense. Consider hiring a consultant to advise you about purchasing equipment. Here's what a consultant can do:

  • Review your concept plan and assist in choosing equipment for your concept. Together, you create a list of the equipment you need, including the quantities of each item, and whether it should be new or used.
  • Develop a sourcing action plan for those pieces of equipment. The sourcing action plan includes using resources (online, network, and trade pubs) to figure out several sources for each piece of equipment, developing a process for evaluating the different options (manufactures, distributors, used equipment dealers, and so on) for each piece of equipment, and creating a schedule for acquiring the equipment.
  • Solicit bids for new equipment. Your consultant should also help you evaluate the bids when they come in.
  • Facilitate purchase of used equipment, including negotiating the purchase price, conducting inspections, clarifying warranties, and scheduling delivery.

In a restaurant situation, the simpler the equipment, the better. For example, skip the equipment that boasts internal sensors. They're virtually useless and just another part that can break.

Looking at leasing

Finding financing for equipment is tough until you're an established high-volume restaurant. But feel free to check with your bank if you need a piece of equipment you really want to purchase.

Leasing equipment has certain advantages. You pay for equipment only for the time you use it. When your lease is up, you get a brand-spanking-new piece of equipment with all the latest gadgets by signing a new lease. And when a piece of equipment breaks, it's not your responsibility to fix it.

Things shouldn't change between the time you talk to your salesperson and the billing department sends you a bill, but sometimes they do. Spell out all the financial details in the agreement so you're not surprised when the bill arrives. Get it in writing and check your invoices.

Here are a few items, in particular, that you are prime candidates for leasing:

  • Ice machines and coolers: Both units have relatively short lives. Their motors and condensers work very hard and burn out. They're expensive upfront, and there's virtually no market for used ones. It's better to roll the price over in a lease format for a time, so that when your machine is about to die, your lease will be up, and you'll move on to a new unit.
  • Dish machines: This equipment is the restaurant version of your home dishwasher. It's very expensive upfront and usually can be leased through your chemical supplier. Some chemical suppliers give you the machine if you buy your products from them.
  • Coffeemakers: Coffee companies often give you the machine if you buy the coffee from them. You may pay a little more for the product, but this option gives you flexibility and more positive cash flow. Plus if there's a breakthrough technology, you can usually upgrade quickly.
  • Linens: Lease, don't buy, all your linens, including entry floor mats, uniforms, towels, tablecloths, and napkins. Usually you pay a single bill to have them delivered, stocked, and laundered.

Depending on your volume of purchasing, food suppliers such as U.S. Foodservice, Gordon Food Service, and SYSCO give you a computer with their ordering software that you can use for other business applications. They want to make it as easy as possible for you to place orders with them.

Buying — used versus new

When buying restaurant equipment, negotiating is acceptable and expected. For example, say, "I'll buy this oven and grill if you throw in the stainless steel table." You may walk out with a mixer and food processor instead, but you probably need them anyway.

With used equipment, get some kind of a guarantee in writing. It may not be an extended warranty, but you need some assurance that it's gonna run for a while. When you buy used equipment, you trade off extended warranties and factory support in favor of a lower price. The only way that used equipment benefits you is by saving you money. If you don't save money buying used equipment, you might as well have bought new equipment in the first place.

Don't worry about missing knobs and handles. You can usually add them. Focus on the all-important questions: Does it work? Will it work tomorrow? Is there a guarantee that it will work a week from now?

Don't buy very specialized pieces of equipment used, such as a combination oven (a combination steamer and convection oven) or a conveyer oven. You benefit from a warranty and complete information on the ideal cleaning and maintenance regimen that comes with a new oven. You can buy many pieces of equipment used, like those in the list below, and sleep soundly:

  • Gas ranges: These appliances are excellent candidates for buying used. Unless you derive some sort of personal satisfaction from it, don't go for the copper-clad import from Lyon when plenty of sound products are available that don't command the price. The biggest consideration when buying a gas range is how many BTUs it puts out.
  • Ovens: Gas ovens, like gas ranges, are okay to buy used. But be cautious of purchasing used electrical ovens because so many things can go wrong with them, including problems with the sensors and temperature controls.
  • Fryers: Buy fryers used, but get a guarantee that the thermostat works. Calibrate the thermostat to make sure that the temperature is actually correct. If you don't know how to change the oil, when to change the oil, how to clean it, and so on, get the information from your salesperson. If you can get a manual with the equipment, even better.
  • Grills: Grills are usually okay to buy used, especially the gas variety. But do a detailed visual inspection of wood and gas grills because, over time, the guts eventually burn out. The heat warps and distorts the grill's inner workings. Make sure the grill surface is flat. If the grates are removable, inspect them to make sure that the surface is level.
  • Smallwares: You can buy almost all used smallwares (like tongs, salt and pepper shakers, and soup cups) with confidence.
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