You have to consider many different factors when buying restaurant equipment. Many of these issues interrelate with each other so if you concentrate too much on one thing than you may have a problem down the road. Here are a few things you should know so your equipment is not a huge liability.
Design, Kitchen Plan, Usage and Efficiency
Choosing the right equipment is a team effort that involves research and consulting experts or current users. You also should get the input of the chef before you go on a shopping spree. This goes hand and hand with laying out a kitchen plan that follows code, includes all the necessary equipment and can handle your customers orders efficiently and effectively in your kitchen.
The equipment included in your kitchen plan is a collaborative project with your contractor/electrician. It must fit the menu and also be able to handle a packed restaurant. As different dishes have different preparation requirements, a restaurant must think about what they will be cooking and have the equipment that can quickly and easily prepare what is on the menu.
Remember you will need refrigeration space, work tables and cooking stations (along with dishwashing, storage, etc.). Before you purchase anything you should imagine if your chef and other cooks will be able to get what they need when they need it with as little interruption as necessary.
Used vs. New Equipment
Almost all restaurateurs, unless they have an unlimited budget, must decide if they want to buy new or used equipment. Often, it is some new equipment and some used equipment.
Used equipment is of course cheaper, but it does not have the security that something new does. You are unlikely to have a warranty, and it will be hard to get your money back if it dies after a certain point. So if you do buy used equipment, you have to do a lot of research even if you are buying big time brands. Find out how long the used piece normally lasts and if there is one flaw that does most of them in. There are also some alternatives for cheaper new equipment, which are appliances that have cosmetic flaws and overstocked items.
Consider the complexity of the equipment….electrical cooking equipment are more efficient than gas but they have more moving pieces and may mean very expensive repairs. The more complex the equipment the more of a wild card it becomes with age.
Consider if you could survive without the piece working for one day or several days. The more crucial the piece is, the more you want to get the best the market has to offer. Frequently, you will find instances where a repairman needs to order a part that takes a couple days to arrive. Of course, you do not want to have to close down the restaurant until you have a fix, so it is better if it the least important thing in the kitchen.
Consider the condition of the equipment and the credibility of the seller. If it is used, find a repairman to come along and inspect it in addition to testing it out.
Some equipment may make sense to lease, like ice makers and dishwashers. Be sure to do the math and figure out if it is cost effecitve over the long term.
Repair, Maintenance and Utilities
With equipment, you will face costs that are not only upfront, but should be accounted for in your financial projections and budgets. You should consider the repair costs (which are somewhat unpredictable), the maintenance costs (which are predictable) and the utility costs (which are mostly predictable). The repair and maintenance costs are normally higher with older equipment, and if very old, may require a specialized repairman. Different equipment uses different amounts of power, gas and water. This has to be thought about before you make purchases. Remember to schedule out maintenance checks and to do your own inspections too.
Before You Cook Anything for Your Customers
- Test It
You and your staff should be familiar with the equipment before you cook for customers and you should be 100% confident it works.
- Warranty Card
Any new piece of equipment needs to be registered to qualify for the warranty so before you do anything, fill out the card or use their online registration. Make a photocopy just to be 100% sure.
- Read Owner’s Manual Cover to Cover
Every piece of equipment does not follow the standard design in one way or another. Do your homework. You do not want to find out about it when a staff member breaks it. Owner’s manuals for used equipment can be found online.
- Find and Post a Repairman for Each Piece of Equipment
You should have an accessible list with repairmen for everything in your kitchen. If that repairmen isn’t available 7 days a week, find a backup or replacement.
- Train Employees Systematically
On the job training does not work for expensive and dangerous equipment. Train your staff step by step during meetings (outside work hours), showing them the equipment’s capabilities and limitations and how to prepare menu items with it.
- Set up Inspection Schedules
You should go through your equipment weekly and find out what to look for. It is just like checking the temperatures of the food (but not as frequently) and is vital to stopping problems before they start.
- Set up Maintenance Schedules
Stop problems that you would not notice before they start. So call in a technician periodically to make sure everything is in working order. General ware and tear can lead to the entire piece of equipment going offline. Indeed, some parts have shorter lives than the rest of the device. Keep up to date on this.
- Cleaning Schedule
Everything must be clean, for safety, sanitary and efficiency reasons. In addition to abiding by the law, make sure everything easily accessible is cleaned daily. The hard to get to places also should be cleaned periodically as set by a schedule.
- Repair the Small Parts
Even the parts that do not look too important or are not necessary for the appliance to work should be replaced or repaired. If it has anything to do with safety, you may be liable if you let staff use equipment without fixing it first.
Post instructions somewhere for function of the equipment. Include pointers, safety instructions and cleaning directions. You would be surprised how there are instances where no one knows the answer to a question about a piece of equipment.