Choosing the Right Kitchen Equipment (and Making Them Pay for Themselves)

By Doug Radkey, Foodable Industry Expert

A memorable, profitable, sustainable, and scalable restaurant arguably starts with the correct choice of equipment. When setting up your location, the kitchen and bar planning process can be one of the most exciting, exhausting, confusing, and detrimental aspects that will, in fact, determine the long-term success of your venue.

Much of the process comes down to research and truly understanding your concept and size of location. It would also be wise to work with a trusted supplier, consultant, chef, and/or experienced bar manager to develop a reliable and productive space that will maximize every available square foot available to you.

Choosing the wrong equipment or choosing the wrong placement of equipment can have a significant impact on both your start-up and operating cash flow, in addition to productivity levels, staff morale, customer service, and overall food and beverage quality.

Let’s look at four key areas that can assist you in your equipment decision-making process.

Budgeting

A lot of your decisions can be made early on within both your business plan and your concept development plan. Everyone has a budget and equipment plays a large part, often 15-25 percent of the start-up costs. It’s important to first determine your wants versus needs, plus the style and size of kitchen or bar that you’re planning to develop, in comparison to your new and exciting menu.

When you know your budget, you will know if you can afford average or premium equipment, or new to refurbished equipment. Pro Tip: Determine your most vital pieces of equipment based on your menu and look for premium in these items, as they will be used the most.

Consider working with an accountant who can develop a plan to reduce capital gains while discussing other available options to aspiring restaurateurs. Alternatives should include leasing your kitchen and bar equipment during the start-up process.

Productive Capacity

With utility costs continuously on the rise, it would be ideal to locate more “green” equipment that will improve your cash flow — and essentially pay for itself through energy savings in the long-term. Measure this against your operating hours and meal-break strategy to determine how long specific pieces of equipment will be on for. This will assist in helping you determine your specific needs and the options most suitable to you.

Gas ranges, for example, will provide a variety of heating speeds dependent on the units BTUs. Take the time to research the unit through the available spec sheets. By doing so, you will learn just how long the range takes to heat up and the BTUs it will require to match your style of service.  

Productivity doesn’t stop there. Ergonomics or “staff mobility” is equally as important. Consider the number of steps required by staff to reach fridges or other workstations, in addition to the height of tables and equipment stands, to reduce the amount your staff will need to bend to complete a task. A comfortable working environment will enhance your staff morale and there are numerous options available to you through today’s manufacturers.

If you know your location’s electrical, gas, and plumbing capacity, try to work within its parameters when choosing items, or expect utility upgrade costs with your contractor. Discuss these details with your property management and project engineer. Finally, always look for ways to reduce water and chemical use. Choose equipment that is also easy to maintain and clean for the most optimal productivity.

Choice of Supplier

When trying to decide on your main equipment supplier, look for vendors that have a large range of options for the same items (different price points), excellent customer service, showrooms, delivery and installation services, preventative maintenance programs, and financing options. Discuss new versus used, look for product or service “value adds,” product warranties, training programs, and future availability of parts. It is worth shopping around to 2-3 trusted suppliers in your region to make an educated decision based on experience, price, and their valuable options.

Balancing Menu

Before finalizing your equipment purchase, keep room for scalability and future flexibility within your menu. Understand your target market and proposed menu mix. How much fresh product will be used to execute your menu and concept? What is the delivery schedule going to be from the vendors in your area? How much fridge space is going to be required to keep the product fresh in comparison to the estimated sales and delivery schedule? How many ranges and deep fryers are you going to need, for example, to keep up with your seating capacity?

Once your equipment is purchased and you’re nearing the start of your operations, create a manual for all of your staff. This manual will help them understand the equipment pieces. Establish proper training and cleaning schedules, in addition to when each piece of equipment should be turned on and off, to ultimately reducing utility costs and unnecessary wear and tear.

You also want to keep a budget off to the side for kitchen and bar smallwares that seem inexpensive at first but add up quickly. These are just the starting points that need to be considered when choosing the correct equipment that will not only work hard for you, but ones that will also maximize your financial investment.