Ask these Questions Before Buying Restaurant Equipment
Most foodservice operators know that there are three major categories of expenses for their business. These include food, labor, and equipment. Because your customers are coming to you for food, most operators do not want to skimp when buying food. That’s not to say they aren’t looking for the best price and value, but your food budget isn’t the place that you want to cut corners. With labor, it’s generally a management task to get the most value for the money that you spend. That can be a grey area where it is important to pay more for high quality servers that engage and care about your customer because it creates repeat business vs. hiring staff at lower wages and spending your money to continually get new customers in the door. Restaurant Equipment and supplies are an area where it may seem like you can reduce your expenses – but it is hard to tell if you’re making a good decision by selecting a product based on cost.
Is that low budget slicer the right choice? It may work out fine for your operation, or it may leave your customers waiting for their meal at peak operating hours because the maximum production doesn’t deliver the product you need. That’s when you will be back shopping for a commercial slicer and you won’t be looking at the low priced option. The same case can be made for purchasing budget supplies. We all know that value priced steam table pans are more likely to get bent corners and edges because they are a higher gauge metal. If you’re using them more to store and transport prepped ingredients the bent edges aren’t an issue but put them in a steam table together and you won’t be able to get a seal between the pan and the well so heat is escapes from your steamtable. Now the steamtable is using more energy because it’s operating inefficiently and there is a risk that the product in the steamtable is at an unsafe temperature. The few dollars saved by buying the lower priced supplies doesn’t seem like much of a savings and better quality hotel pans are likely your next purchase. To avoid these complications, we’ve put together a list of questions that can help you evaluate your equipment purchase to get the right product and the best deal. If you’re planning to do some restaurant equipment shopping in the future, keep this list handy.
1. Is the size right for your kitchen?
Be sure to measure the space in your kitchen before you even start shopping for equipment. You should also have an idea of your workflow and the kitchen layout that will best support an efficient operation. In the end, everything you need for your concept should fit in the space you have allocated for your kitchen. You don’t want to break up your work flow because of an uninformed purchase.
2. What features are deal breakers and what features are nice but not required?
The restaurant equipment industry is always trying to find a way to make a product better or more saleable and one way to add value and increase the price is to add features. A steamer with all the bells and whistles may look great, but if you aren’t going to use those features, you’re wasting money by paying for them. To avoid this mistake, you’ll want to do a little research before you shop and identify what features will benefit your operation and reduce labor or improve output and then what features look cool but won’t get used.
3. What is needed to maintain this item?
If you’re speaking to a sales person, ask them what the required maintenance specific to that model is to keep it operating efficiently and to extend the lifespan of the unit. You may also want to go online and see what people have written in reviews about a product but be sure to take that information with a grain of salt. You can also review the owner’s manual and use that to compare different models of the same type of equipment or products from different manufacturers. Some equipment will require more maintenance than others and this may direct your decision.
4. Is this product Energy Star Rated?
The kitchen is one of the greatest energy usage areas in most facilities but to combat this restaurant equipment has steadily made improvements in energy efficiency. Not only will a more energy efficient piece of equipment save money on your utility bills, but with an Energy Star Rated equipment purchase, you open up the possibility of rebates on your taxes or from your utility provider. These rebates very from state to state and sometimes even in metropolitan areas, but you can find all that information out on www.energystar.gov/rebate-finder, and while you may spend a bit more upfront on an energy efficient equipment choice, you will most likely save more than that amount on your utility bills over time.
5. How long is the Warranty and what is covered?
It is important to compare warranties just as you would features when you are shopping for foodservice equipment. If you have a current operation, take a look in your kitchen to see how long you’ve had some of the different pieces of equipment. The life of a commercial ice machine is 8-1/2 years. If you’re choosing between ice machines and one is warrantied for 1-year and the other for 5, it is a better idea to choose the machine with the longer warranty because you’ll likely have that ice machine at least five years.
6. What is the Total Cost of Ownership?
The cost of restaurant equipment goes beyond the purchase price. We’ve discussed energy usage, maintenance, and warranty, you’ll also want to consider installation costs, delivery costs and replacement parts. All fees associated with the ownership and maintenance of that item will give you the cost of ownership. Let’s say you are comparing commercial fryers and one model is two thirds the price of the other model, but it utilizes oil at twice the speed. Fryer oil is an ongoing expense and depending on your usage, it’s highly probably that once you calculated cost of ownership, you would see that the more expensive fryer really had the lower cost of ownership.
7. Where else can this equipment model be purchased?
While you may be standing in front of the perfect piece of equipment with your wallet handy, it’s important to step back and make sure that you’re getting the best possible price and that the dealer you are working with can assist you after the purchase. The dealer’s value is in servicing the customer – that’s you. From timely delivery, quality installation, set up and staff training, the dealer you choose can help you get the best you can from the piece of restaurant equipment that you choose.