The ultimate guide to buying restaurant equipment

For many new restaurateurs creating the kitchen equipment list is one of the more demanding tasks. While making a menu is fun and building your brand is a creative process, restaurant equipment is more about finding the right fit for the restaurant opening process and knowing you may need to make changes later.

As you're planning, take some relief in knowing that most restaurants need the same equipment. The essentials you'll find in a Bar & Grill are likely the same that you'll find in an Italian restaurant or a mom-and-pop diner.

Determine your restaurant equipment needs

When you start on your commercial kitchen equipment list, consider your concept, menu, and projected growth. These three aspects can steer you in the right direction for creating your equipment list, shopping for equipment, and prioritizing pieces as you buy or lease.

Menu

The menu will direct you to different types of kitchen equipment. For example, if you serve primarily rotisserie-style chicken, you might not prioritize a fryer. On the other hand, if you own a diner, then your fryer and grill are fairly important, but you may not need a rotisserie at all! 

Look through your menu and list out everything you would need to execute the full menu. Freezer? Check. Walk-in refrigerator? Check. Blender? Pass. It is okay for this list to be a mess. You'll clean it up as you go.

Concept

Your concept will dramatically impact your restaurant supplies list, from the produce you order to the equipment you install. The concept differs slightly from your menu in that it looks at the big picture. Are you a grill-based, fryer-based, or raw-foods based concept? Are slicers more important than a panini press? 

Evaluate your concept to help you prioritize each item. Your most important equipment will need more research given that it may be the priciest investment.

Growth

How fast do you plan to grow, or do you think the restaurant will be extremely successful at first and then level out? This depends on your concept, marketing, and region. For example, a new franchise owner bringing in a brand that wasn't previously in the area will be very busy through the first year and then slump into your normal ebb and flow.

If you expect to grow slowly over time, you may be able to invest in equipment pieces months after opening or may choose to finance some equipment knowing that you'll even out. Alternatively, if you'll be busy at first and then hit a lull, you may choose to rent equipment to handle high-volumes. 

Commercial oven

Identify your essential tools

The essential equipment needed for a restaurant includes commercial equipment that you need to operate on a basic level. New restaurants may not need the best brands or the biggest option on the market, but they will need some type of oven, range, ventilation, and refrigeration. 

Here we’ve provided a full kitchen equipment list and definitions for the most common essential tools.

Commercial oven

No restaurant equipment list would be complete without an oven! Commercial ovens are nothing like your stove at home.

Why a commercial oven?

●  Larger in size

●  Durable and with greater reliability

●  Longer lifespan than home ovens

●  Additional features for safer cooking

●  Often convection - meaning they are more economical than standard ovens.

●  Convection ovens heat more evenly, resulting in higher quality products.

Commercial convection ovens typically cost a few thousand dollars per unit, depending on size and additional functions.

Ranges and ventilation 

One of the most vital pieces of equipment needed for a restaurant, your range will serve as your stovetop. You can use them for sauteing, simmering, boiling, pan-frying, stewing, steaming, and more. They do however require a ventilation system. The ventilation system will remove grease, fumes, smoke, steam, and heat from the air. It is a safety factor but also makes the kitchen environment more bearable.

Ranges and their accompanying ventilation systems are often expensive, costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, they require professional installation, and in some areas, advanced fire-safety system installations such as an Ansul system, which can cost between $3,000 and $5,500.

Food processors

For many restaurants, a food processor is an easy way to get through a lot of prep work. Some chefs don't use them. Others rely on them heavily. 

A food processor can:

●  Cut

●  Dice

●  Grate

●  Puree

●  Blend

●  Chop

●  Slice 

Investing in a food processor can make your kitchen extremely efficient, but it may not be a priority for every new restaurant owner.

Mixers

Mixers are great for anyone who will mix batter or dough. If you're not mixing batter or dough or won't be baking, then you may not need a mixer. These equipment pieces stand apart from specialty items because they are commonplace in most restaurants.

Slicers

Slicers come in two varieties, the classic meat/deli slicer and the slicers for produce. Meat slicers are a must-have for any deli or sandwich shop. However, most restaurants don’t need them but do need to produce slicers. These are smaller pieces of tabletop equipment that will slice ten onions in half a minute. There are also options for tabletop vegetable dicers that are extremely handy.

Cutting boards

Cutting boards are absolutely necessary, and you typically can't use any old cutting board. You want to follow FSA and HACCP color-coding to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. The good news is that the polyethylene cutting boards don’t crack, chip, or warp and can last for years.

Food preparation counter

Nearly all of your restaurant tools will require counter space. You may have many more options when shopping for food prep counters with a greater variance in price as well. These countertops don’t just provide working space. Many come with a space to place your trash can underneath for quick disposal, cupboard space underneath the counter, or even cold-holding trays on the table.

It’s best to invest in counters that are versatile rather than specialty shapes or tables that have overhead features that may actually get in the way.

Freezers and refrigerators

Freezers may be optional, but generally, refrigeration as a whole is not. You will need refrigerators and, likely, freezers. These units come in all different sizes and degrees of power. However, it's worth mentioning that walk-in refrigerators and walk-in freezers are not substantially more expensive than standing units, and they perform better.

Specialty cooking equipment

Ensure that you have an overview of all your needed cooking equipment for your full commercial kitchen equipment list. Specialty equipment can include espresso machines, proofers, soft-serve machines, and more. Again, it’s best to revisit your concept and menu to identify any specialty equipment you may need. 

Specialty equipment can include:

●  Anti-griddle or flash freezer

●  Meat slicer

●  Espresso machines or specialty coffee makers

●  Pasta cookers

●  Rethermalizers

●  Panini grills

●  Sous Vide immersion circulators

●  Crepe makers

●  Steamers or fast steamers

●  Vertical broilers (for gyros, al pastor, and shawarma)

●  Salamanders

●  Smokers

●  Warming tamps

●  Wok or specialty ranges

Servingware

Servingware

Your list isn’t complete just because you have the bulk of your kitchen tools and equipment list put together. How will your guests eat? The answer is serving ware

Servingware includes:

●  Utensils or flatware

●  Plates - including steak plates, dinner plates, dessert plates, breakfast platters, and more

●  Bowls - including soup bowls, bouillon bowls, fruit bowls, and dessert serving bowls

●  Glasses

●  Coffee cups or mugs

●  Barware such as shot glasses, pint glasses, and more 

A general rule of thumb is to keep a 3:1 ratio, which implies that owners should have three of each item for each seat. 

Additional serving ware includes:

●  Sugar packet or condiment holders

●  Creamer pitchers

●  Table-safe coffee pitchers

Storage containers 

Storage needs are a serious matter in restaurants. Not only do you need containers, but you need the right containers and the space to keep them sealed and off the ground. In a restaurant, you cannot plastic wrap over a pan and stick it in the walk-in. 

Any food service establishment should have:

●  Square food storage containers

●  Ingredient bins or buckets

●  Food boxes with secure lids

●  Crocks with lids

●  Scoops

●  Cooling containers for ice baths (will have the base, a colander-style insert, and lid)

Along with storage containers, you'll need food storage labels and date dots. The types of storage containers and date stickers you need may vary based on your local food safety expectations or requirements.

Sinks

This is a key point for any industrial kitchen equipment list. You’ll have a hard time meeting nearly any local food safety expectations without a sink. Most regions require restaurants to have at least a 2-compartment sink or two sinks, with one designated for washing and the second designated for rinsing.

Large commercial kitchens should have at least one three-compartment sink. Although it is possible to hand wash everything in a three-compartment sink, restaurants should consider the value of a commercial dishwasher. 

POS system for restaurant

POS 

When people think of restaurant items, they usually imagine ranges and walk-in coolers. A POS or point of sale system for restaurants is what allows the front-of-house to take orders and process payments. 

A POS system is the most vital piece of front-of-house equipment aside from furnishings. These systems now perform far beyond just processing payments. They can track customer data, simplify inventory management, and even generate sales and productivity reports for the management team.

Poster POS offers unique insights into everyday front-of-house activity with accurate reporting and reliable cloud-based support.


KDS

KDS, or Kitchen Display System, helps restaurants keep up with the fast-paced and high-demand environment of this kitchen. These systems show a digital display of open orders, ultimately replacing the old paper-and-pen ticket system. 

A KDS can include functions such as:

●  Meal coursing or pacing, so tables all receive their items at the same time.

●  Timers and alarms to eases demand on the servers or expediters

●  Recipe indexes for easy reference

●  Capacity management for peak efficiency

Microwave

New business owners often forget that there are a few kitchen appliances for restaurant use. As diners, many people like to believe that their favorite restaurant would never use a microwave. You'll need one on hand just in case, but these devices have many uses. For example, they're great for quickly steaming dense starches such as potatoes. Many industrial microwaves dual as small convection ovens, making them an extremely valuable investment.

Ice maker

The often forgotten restaurant kitchen appliance - the ice maker. Choosing the right ice maker does require some thought. You’ll want to consider the size of the ice machine, the size and shape of the ice it produces, and the utility setup. These machines require both appropriate plumbing and electrical setup. One key element to research is the reliability of the condenser, as many inexpensive machines can require almost constant and expensive maintenance or repair.

Your ice maker isn't just for serving ice-cold drinks. You'll use it for ice baths to properly cool food and cooking techniques such as blanching.

Grill

A professional kitchen equipment list wouldn’t be complete without a grill. These are rightfully one of the most vital pieces of equipment in most kitchens, and there are four key components to review before buying. 

Size is a key factor. Measure out the space you have available in the building, then find the best fit. Typically grills come in 24-inch increments.

Fuel source comes in two variants: gas and electric. Most business owners prefer gas, but if there is an existing grill or an existing fuel line, then it may come with a cost to convert from gas to electric or electric to gas.

Accuracy in temperature holding is a big deal. Most modern grills have custom control knobs to set different temperatures across different areas of the grill. 

Plate quality can also guide you through the buying process. Grill plates are expensive, and if not maintained properly, they will break easily. Higher quality plates mean less maintenance and longer plate life. 

Restaurant equipment

Decide whether to buy new or used equipment

When making your restaurant kitchen equipment list with prices, always consider second-hand or alternative options. New may be nice, but not every emerging restaurateur has the funds or opportunity to buy all new equipment. 

Always consider your budget first, and then evaluate if new, used, or even leased equipment fits best within that budget.

New equipment pros and cons

Restaurant equipment pricing is difficult to navigate because any particular piece of equipment can vary wildly in price. New equipment certainly has its benefits, although there are a few downsides to consider as well. New equipment is often available through manufacturers and online retailers. 

Pros

●  Longer-term usage from the equipment

●  It may come with a warranty for repairs.

●  Most recent technology and features

●  Lower risk of breaking down or needing downtime 

Cons

●  Higher investment costs

●  There is still the risk of breaking down.

●  Businesses must take the full depreciation over the years.

Typically, new equipment seems like the best approach, but often new business owners can choose new options for all of their equipment needs. Buying new equipment does not mean that it won't break or that it won't need maintenance. It also doesn't mean that it will perform exactly as expected. You will still need to do a fair amount of research on each piece of equipment and the manufacturer behind it.

Used equipment pros and cons

Used equipment often has many more drawbacks than new equipment but is often more affordable. It's a low-cost way to enter the industry, but it can be quite expensive in the long run.

Like-new equipment still counts as "used," and often, these are great finds. Given that many restaurants go out of business within their first year of operations, there is often a lot of opportunities to find barely-used equipment. However, many restaurant owners will sell through sites or platforms that don't offer much security. Always take caution when you're working with these types of sellers.

Pros

●  More affordable

●  May present lower operating costs if it is in good condition.

●  Like-new equipment may be a great option and may even have an active warranty.

●  Reduce waste of equipment

●  Tax deductions (in the U.S.)

●  Slower depreciation schedule (the most impactful point of depreciation at the beginning of the equipment's life has already passed) 

Cons

●  Working with an unknown supplier or former business owner

●  It could be problematic equipment, especially if it has been used for months or years.

●  Warranty may not be available.

●  It may be outdated or not have useful new features.

Used equipment may come with additional financial demands such as early repairs or part replacements. However, it may be more financially feasible to purchase used and have the repair done by a professional. There are countless options available; it just depends on your budget and how much time you have to search for equipment. 

Restaurant equipment

Additional options 

Your restaurant equipment checklist doesn't require that you actually purchase everything. Some equipment you may decide to lease or rent. In some cases, you might have the opportunity to purchase a refurbished piece of equipment or buy something out of order and pay for repairs separately. 

Lease Options 

It’s not always easy to determine how to lease equipment for a restaurant. Often you need to search through ads in trade magazines, online forums, and even through local classified ads. Some restaurant supply stores offer lease options on their large equipment. You can find lease financing through Chef's Toys and C Kitchen.

Leasing means that you'll be using financing to fund your equipment and paying for it for a duration of time. After that set time, you may choose to buy it or return it to the supplier or manufacturer. The process is very similar to leasing a car. However, most restaurant owners don't choose to lease a different piece of new equipment afterward.

Pros of leasing include:

●  Accessing equipment with less capital

●  Tax-deductible

●  Chance to buy the equipment at the end of the lease

●  Best to determine if you need the equipment regularly without investing in new equipment 

Cons include:

●  You're not building equity.

●  Leasing can result in high monthly costs.

●  High-interest rates

When you're leasing equipment, you want to ensure that you're not actually sinking more money into equipment than if you outright purchased it. Carefully consider the lease terms such as interest and duration. Ask about the value of the equipment after the lease and who will take responsibility for the maintenance costs.

Also, be sure to carefully review the terms which may violate the lease. Many lease agreements will require or ask for payment in full if the business owner violates the terms. Do you have the option of add-ons for servicing? Will you need to show that technicians were certified?

Leasing offers much more availability and flexibility for business owners when it comes to accessing equipment at affordable prices. Typically equipment leasing is for many months or years at a time, so ensure that you’re still choosing equipment that you want to use, not just what is cheapest or readily available.

Renting or Rent-to-Own

Do you need specialty equipment once in a while? Maybe you're not sure if a particular menu item that requires special equipment will be a hit. These instances are great times to rent equipment rather than leasing or buying.

The difference between renting and leasing is that renting will be for a set rate and a short time, whereas leasing will include interest payments and come with a longer duration. Renting usually does come with a monthly commitment but often doesn’t ask anything from the restaurant owner other than to not break the equipment. Renting is often more expensive than a lease because of the higher level of flexibility. 

Restaurant equipment

Where to lease or buy your equipment

Take your restaurant kitchen equipment list as a strict shopping list when you're looking to buy equipment. It's easy, especially with online shopping, to add a few extras to your cart. Start with your highest priority items, and determine if you'll lease, buy new, or buy used. Then work your way through your equipment list, treating each piece of equipment separately. There's not any benefit to buying equipment altogether unless the supplier or seller offers a unique discount. 

Where to buy kitchen equipment:

●  Webstaurant Store

●  eTundra

●  Restaurant Depot

●  McDonald Paper & Restaurant Supplies

●  The Restaurant Store

●  RestaurantSupply.com

●  cKitchen

●  KaTom

●  Central Restaurant Products

●  Culinary Depot 

Where to lease kitchen equipment:

●  Culinary Depot

●  Currency - formerly known as Currency Capital

●  Direct Capital

●  Chef’s Toys

●  National Funding

●  KWIPPED

●  Elite Restaurant Equipment 

Whether you're buying or leasing, always consider the customer service and availability of the seller. If you're leasing, you'll want to carefully negotiate appropriate lease terms not just for an ideal monthly payment but for good interest and duration of the lease as well. When you're making a purchase, then make sure that the service team is available and that using your warranty won't be a hassle.

The type of equipment is just your starting point. You'll want to give careful consideration to features, lifespan, and reliability associated with the brand and how the equipment matches your concept or location. Unfortunately, there is not a single restaurant equipment list that will work for every new restaurant owner. Instead, you must create a list tailored to your needs. Once you have your list, you can begin the shopping process and evaluate your options between renting, leasing, buying new, or buying used. Best of luck shopping for equipment!


Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.
Try Poster POS for free
Learn why 50,000 businesses love Poster POS. Start your 15-day free trial.

Log into Poster

Forgot your Poster subdomain?