Should You Invest in Restaurant Equipment?

Conquer the task of building a restaurant kitchen

If you had unlimited bank, outfitting a restaurant kitchen would be a piece of cake, right? Maybe, but no one wants to make mistakes. After opening more than 50 restaurants, I have found that a combination of new, used and leased equipment works best. A $200,000 kitchen with all new equipment can be built for $150,000 with a mixed approach.

Before choosing, answer some questions. What fits in the space? What type of cuisine will be prepared? How many people need to be served each night? While a kitchen is typically designed to suit a specific concept, make sure you can execute a different one if the restaurant changes to meet market demands.

Consider the pros and cons of each choice with your budget in mind. Most importantly, do your homework. Your own needs and expectations will come into play, so remember these are guidelines, not gospel. 


Ice machines 

For some operators, leasing everything can be a good idea. It lowers opening expenses and lessens the headaches that come with owning equipment.

That said, certain items should always be leased because of their high probability of breaking down, such as ice machines, dishwashers and other equipment that combine water and electricity.

If the dish machine glitches, the leasing company will send a repair person on a Saturday or holiday to fix it, saving you from paying someone double time.


Food processors (such as Robot Coupe) Grills
Hood fans
Mixers (such as Hobart or Berkel)
Stainless steel tables
Small wares (mixing bowls, stockpots, shelving, sheet pans)
Slicers (such as Berkel)

As a rule, anything without moving parts carries little to no risk. Exhaust hoods are pricy but durable. A new 11-foot hood can cost around $13,000. A smart shopper could save 50 percent buying used. Stainless steel hand and dish sinks are smart used purchases, too, and will last a long time.

Watch one episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” and you’ll see how some operators abuse their equipment. I’ve seen 2-year-old ranges completely shot. But I’ve also come across ranges like Jade or Montague that can last 20 years.

Quality endures only when the equipment is diligently cleaned and maintained. That said, grills hold up even if mistreated and are a good bet to buy used. Still, ask a lot of questions. Where is it from? Are there maintenance records? Can you get a warranty? 


Deep fryers
Immersion circulators

It’s better to roll new when it comes to anything high-tech, especially considering the rapid improvements in efficiency. Some technology comes at a high price, such as POS systems, but can offer savings on labor and food shrinkage.

Considering that refrigeration is the only barrier between fresh and spoiled food, it makes sense to go new. Compressors are fragile. Insulation breaks down. If you want to save a little, ask your supplier if they have any new units with superficial dings. A couple of dents are fine. Griddles and deep fryers need to be carefully cleaned and maintained. I wouldn’t trust used unless its past can be documented.

Ranges have the fewest moving parts and can last forever if well maintained. But here’s the rub: This is the heart of your kitchen. If you can afford it, buy new. Buy top line, heavy duty maximum BTUs. Pay once, take care of it, and use it for 20 years. The price difference between a top and bottom of the line can be 10 to 20 percent. Consider that $2,000 over 20 years is $100 a year. 

Measure Twice, Cut Once 

Estimating the exact amount of space for equipment versus knowing hard numbers can be costly, so double-check.

Other tips for purchasing equipment:

  • Look carefully at the gauge of the steel and check its fit and finish.
  • Inspect insulation and wiring.
  • Test the equipment.
  • Play with the controls.
  • Compare brands. Differences from one manufacturer’s six-burner range to the next can be big.
  • Always factor in the expense of your time. Finding good, used equipment will require more effort than purchasing new.
  • Remember warranties that come with new equipment have value.
  • Buy the best you can afford. The price difference between bottom tier and top brands is typically around 10 percent, but the quality difference can be huge.