From Plate to Table: Getting your Restaurant Kitchen Set Up for Business

If youre thinking of starting a restaurant business, good luck. Most restaurants fail, and those that do have an uphill battle to survive the first 10 years. It all starts with good management practices and, of course, the right kitchen equipment. Heres how to beat the odds.

Chef prepares a meal
photo credit: Franklin Heijnen / Flickr

Getting The Right Washing Equipment

Having the right kind of washing equipment will make or break you in the restaurant business. Dish and hand-washing stations are mandatory by law (at least, hand-washing stations are). Many industrial dishwashers automatically dispense the dish-washing liquid and keep water at a preset temperature.

If youre thinking about buying all new equipment, think again. There are so many restaurants out there with equipment that they used and will have to sell. Scour your locality to find good deals on equipment and take advantage of it.

If you hope onto NATE, the National Association of Trade Exchanges, you can find almost anything second-hand.

Even if you do have to buy new, try to negotiate a good price. The price is not always the price when it comes to commercial kitchen gear.

Dont buy very specialized versions of equipment unless youre a specialty restaurant and even then its risky.

Getting Your Essential Equipment

Gas ranges are almost a must in a commercial kitchen. They produce better, and more even, heat, and thats how youre making your money. Spend wisely. You can buy units used, but just make sure that the sensors and temperature controls are fully functional. Consider having sensors replaced (theyre cheap) before you open the doors.

Buy fryers used, but get a guarantee that the thermostat works before you commit to anything. Have the thermostat calibrated so that its correct. If you dont know how to change the oil in one, then make sure you get that information from the person or company youre buying it from.

If you buy a used grill, make sure its the gas variety.

Buy all of your smallwares, like tongs, salt and pepper shakers, soup cups, and dishware, used, unless you absolutely have to have new items. Obviously, you dont want score marks on the dishes you serve to customers, but if its never leaving the kitchen, the aesthetics dont matter much.

Get things like a sanitary mixer, stainless steel prep table, and other related equipment early on. Prep tables are key for making great food.

Getting The Right Ice Machines and Refrigerators

You need a good ice machine and a refrigerator. Its probably best not to buy used. There are so many things that can go wrong with used items that its just not worth the headache.

Safety First, Never Last

Safety should probably be the first thing you think about. Safety equipment is mandated by state and federal law. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires you to keep first-aid kits in the workplace.

You should also keep fire extinguishers, and other safety equipment in the restaurant.

Restaurant kitchen

Making The Place Efficient

You should never sacrifice ambiance for energy efficiency, but the reality is that utilities are going to cost you a lot of money every month.

You need some way to control costs and one of the best moves you can make is changing out the lights and buying energy-efficient appliances.

Everything from stoves to refrigerators should be Energy-Star rated, when possible. You should change out the lights to high efficiency LED lights, which only cost a few dollars per bulb a year to run.

To Buy Or Lease

Should you buy or lease your building? This is something a lot of business owners struggle with – especially new businesses. If youre just starting out, lease. Its cheaper than going through the rigamarole of buying a property and lets be honest: you dont really know how this location will work out for you.

If you are successful, you can always upgrade later on. If the traffic isnt coming in through the door, or your restaurant fails, you dont want to be stuck in a 30 year mortgage you cant pay.

Leasing also allows you to put more money into other aspects of the business that matter when youre starting out, like supplies, ambiance, an amazing customer experience, and marketing.

Who cares if you own the building if its empty? Most businesses dont spend enough on marketing. And, if youre sacrificing your marketing budget so you can own, youre starting out on the wrong foot.