As the focus coming in to the 21st century shifts more toward small town, individual life and the impact we make on our planet, support for entrepreneurs and local businesses has spiked. With recognition coming in from movements such as Small Business Saturday it’s a great time to consider starting your own restaurant or food truck.
According to statistics collected by Small Business Trends, 40-60 year-olds make up over half of the startup workforce. The majority of startup owners completed high school or have a GED, and many didn’t go much further than that, proving that you can have a successful life without an expensive education.
Reasons for beginning personal businesses ranged from pursuing a lifelong passion to dissatisfaction with corporate America. And the most hopeful statistic we came across was that 82% of business owners didn’t doubt that they were qualified to run their own company successfully.
Chances are, if you’ve thought of starting your own business at all, you probably already have a plan of some sort. And once you’re ready to dive in it’ll become obvious that a lot is involved – not just finances, but marketing, product manufacturing, and customer service.
The restaurant business has been one of the industries most affected by startups. More and more customers are drawn to restaurants with delivery options or sustainable practices (such as Chipotle and Panera Bread), and chains are less and less appealing.
Whether you’re interested in beginning your own craft brewery or a small place offering up good ol’ home cooked meals, an important part of planning for a restaurant is knowing what equipment is necessary to get you starting off solidly.
Not only that, but potential restaurant owners should also be aware of common price points for certain pieces of equipment and whether or not “used” machines are a sound investment.
Below we’ll be digging into the individual pieces of equipment necessary for getting a starter restaurant up and off of the ground.
Nothing is worse than realizing on opening night that you’re lacking an important part of the kitchen features; so let’s dive in.
Refrigerators & Freezers
There are many things to take into consideration when shopping for refrigerators and freezers for your restaurant. To begin with, space – make sure that the refrigerator and freezer will fit comfortably in the space in a way that makes sense to everyone. You don’t necessarily want them in the most trafficked area, as it will make food prep annoying for everyone.
Also consider energy efficiency. Not only is it an attractive addition to a restaurant (although customers won’t necessarily know about it), it’ll be a money saver as well. Energy Star certified fridges and freezers are a great place to start.
Whether you’re looking at walk-ins or stand-alone units, make sure that the layout makes sense for what you’re trying to do. Is there enough room for food? Is it an easily organizable space?
If you feel good about all of the above qualifications, then take a look at price. In general small stand-alone refrigerators are priced at around $1,500, with walk-ins starting at $3,000 for smaller units.
Ice Machines & Drink Dispensers
These two are often overlooked, but very important.
What’s the first thing your waiter or waitress asks at a restaurant? If you would anything to drink other than water.
Ice machines (or ice makers) are best bought as new as possible, as older units can gunk up easily and cause more problems than they’re worth. They come in variety of forms such as undercounter, ice dispensers, and stand-alone cube ice machines.
The size and output of the machine should be appropriate for the volume of customers you plan on serving. Running out of ice is a small but annoying detail. The go-to units price in at about $2,000. According to the website Food Plus Ice, there are many undercounter ice makers to choose from in the market place.
When it comes to drink dispensers, these save a lot of time for everyone. They vary by size to accommodate whatever range of beverages you’re looking at and are easily attached to drink packs. A six-drink dispenser comes in at around $3,000 – definitely pricey, but worth it as beverages are an essential part of any restaurant.
Ovens & Ranges
Oven selection should depend on what exactly you’re planning on cooking. A commercial piece of equipment comes with a wide range of options, so that’s really your best bet, but if you’re into any kind of specialty baking or cooking, look for units marketed that way.
If you’re going to be doing more baking (think: cupcakes, bread) than anything else, you’ll want to pay attention not just to industry standards but to additional perks. Convection ovens are ideal as they actually circulate the hot air instead of just surrounding the food, as conventional ovens do. Convection ovens also give a more even bake to whatever it is you’re working on and although they are a bit pricier, the investment might be worth it in the long run.
The other draw for commercial ovens – and ranges – is that they’re easy to use, universal, and easy to clean. It won’t take much for someone to transition into your restaurant if they’ve ever used a basic oven or stovetop.
You’ll need a hood with the range for appropriate ventilation. This isn’t just necessary to the restaurant, but is also something that inspectors will look for. It’s important for a productive and safe kitchen environment.
As with refrigerators and freezers, keep space in mind. The output of the equipment needs to make sense for the volume of business you’ll be doing, and the general shape and size of the unit needs to fit into your kitchen plans.
In An Ideal World:
Hot Water Baths
Although not necessary for every kitchen, water baths are a great addition if you can spare the extra expense. They allow for very precise temperature control and can be used in banquet settings to ensure that food is at a safe and ideal temperature.
You may have heard of some chefs using sous vide – the process of hot water bath cooking at precise temperatures to maintain flavor, color, and tenderness (especially in meat). Food is vacuum sealed in a bag and then cooked in the water baths; afterwards, they may be broiled or grilled to add texture as the chef desires.
Sous vide machines are becoming more readily available these days but range in price from $80-$100. If this way of cooking interests you, you might want to consider a sous vide machine as a future investment for your business and your personal style.
Vacuum sealers range from $200-$1000 depending on what you’ll be using them for. They’re amazing when it comes to portioning out, pre-planning for large groups of guests or very detailed meals, and saving leftovers.
Sealers are quick and easy to use. They preserve the freshness and integrity of food by sucking all of the air out of the plastic packaging so that food isn’t crushed or juices wasted. They also protect against oxygen, unwanted flavors, and bugs. They may not seem necessary but a commercial-grade cauum sealer is guaranteed to make your job necessary and to cut down on food waste costs.
This is another small addition to a kitchen that some people might overlook.
Depending on what your restaurant menu looks like, you might be buying large cans of food. If you are, you’ll definitely want to invest in a commercial opener ($40-$100). They’re virtually indestructible and easy to use, making opening cans anything but a hassle. Most come manual but muscles aren’t required; just give the arm a quick twist and watch it do the work for you.
Some chefs and business owners believe that a slicer is actually an essential in the kitchen. But again, this goes back to what your menu looks like and what you’re planning to do with your offerings.
Slicers cut meat and other foods quickly and uniformly, making for a great presentation and quality. There are two different types of slicers to choose from on the market – manual or automatic. Obviously manual takes a bit longer to get the job done, and many places prefer automatic. No matter which piece of equipment you choose make sure that all employees who will be using it are properly trained, as they can be dangerous, and no one wants a fingertip in their meal!
Now is the time to pursue your passion if you’ve been considering starting your own business. Although there are many things to take into consideration and plan, with the right guides and resources you can have an efficient kitchen up and running in no time.
Keep an eye on the market to understand price ranges when it comes to restaurant equipment and consider talking to established restauranteurs who have already been through the process and can tell you what is essential, where to find it, and whether or not it’s a good option for buying second-hand.
No matter where you decide to take your business, remember that efficiency and quality are going to help maintain not only the reputation of your business, but the cost as well. If units are the correct size and do their jobs well, you’ll be buying and maintaining exactly the right amount of food to make your customers happy.