The purchase of refrigeration, warewashers and prep and cooking equipment takes a sizable chunk out of the budget when opening or remodeling a restaurant. The conundrum facing operators is to go with new, used or both. Budget, needs and anticipated usage are the major considerations. Where to buy also factors into the decision. With many options available, including restaurant-supply stores, independent dealers, online sources, auctions and broadliners, a few old hands share advice on getting the best deal.
Purchasing from a local equipment dealer has proven to be the best choice for Burt Rapoport, owner of Rapoport’s Restaurant Group in Boca Raton, Fla. Over a period of 20 years, he has built a relationship with one supplier, and this loyalty has served him well. Rapoport consistently gets certified equipment with a warranty and service plan for both new and used pieces, he says.
To avoid surprises, Rapoport asks the dealer to submit an equipment proposal during the restaurant’s design phase. He compares the proposal against his budget, which helps determine if he should go with new or used equipment, or a combination of the two. “When I’m considering used items, they tend to include steam kettles and tilt skillets, because these pieces stand the test of time,” he says. Refrigeration is one item he never buys used. Through trial and error, Rapoport has learned that a new refrigerator with a factory-installed compressor has more longevity.
When looks count
Jake Bickelhaupt, chef-owner of 42 grams in Chicago, has found good working equipment at bargain prices through private sales and online sites. When designing his fine-dining restaurant, he initially planned to purchase a new gas range for the open kitchen. After discovering equipment dealer prices were above budget, he decided to buy used through a private sale from another chef. The stove was in perfect working condition and just needed a bit of elbow grease to clean it up—key because it was in full view of guests and had to look presentable.
Depending on features, a new six-burner range runs around $1,300. Buyers can usually find used restaurant ranges for $750 to $900 by searching on eBay, craigslist and online restaurant supply stores.
Bickelhaupt also bought a used reach-in cooler on craigslist, which saved him $1,500. He wasn’t concerned about the exterior condition of the cooler, he says, since it’s hidden from the dining room. His priorities: a compressor in good working order, a tight seal on the door and a clean interior. “The drawback of a private sale is I did not get a warranty, did not get a service plan and was told there are no refunds,” he says. “It’s really ‘buyer beware.’”
The auction route
Purchasing restaurant equipment at live auctions can yield good deals, but go prepared, says Jeffrey Yarbrough, founder of United Country Real Estate and Auction Services and past president of the Texas Restaurant Association. “Know the retail price of the new equipment you are planning to buy, and try to stay below 50 percent of that price. And don’t get into a bidding war with another operator and find yourself paying more than you’ve budgeted in the heat of the moment.” If the auction has a preview time, Yarbrough advises buyers to pack a tape measure to make sure the pieces you have in mind will fit in the kitchen.