Know the menu thoroughly before purchasing kitchen equipment for a new operation
Operators hoping to avoid mistakes when buying kitchen equipment for new restaurants should get involved early, says David Howard, president of Neighborhood Dining Group in Atlanta. When equipping a new operation, understand the menu’s needs before you shop, says the former chef and 30-year veteran of the foodservice business.
A common error is ordering equipment before the menu is finalized. “Kitchen design is about flow and how efficiently the menu is executed,” says Howard. “If a fryer is crucial to the concept but sits in a back corner, the extra steps needed to get to it waste time and, ultimately, money.”
He advises restaurateurs to actively participate with the chefs, architects and engineers when outfitting kitchens. “Chefs are creative; the others are technical and mechanical,” says Howard. “They work independently of each other–the operator needs to be in the middle.”
Lessons often are learned the hard way, he cautions. Howard recalls ordering a $35,000 exhaust hood that was an inch too wide for its space in the kitchen. Now, he personally measures for all equipment and compares figures with those of the architect, engineer and vendor.
Overlooking installation basics also can cause expensive headaches. “It’s the details you have to check. Make sure equipment is correctly leveled, for example,” he says. And check for the proper electrical voltage. Be sure gas, water or steam pressure matches manufacturer’s suggested settings.
Few foodservice directors or chefs have a clean slate and $12 million budget with which to design and equip a kitchen. But Executive Chef Steve Bergman of The Methodist Hospital in Houston had that opportunity. The center’s newly remodeled Market Place, opened in March, is a 27,000-square-foot space with kitchen and 500-seat cafeteria. It came about after 2001’s tropical storm Allison flooded the hospital with 20 inches of water, causing extensive damage. What had formerly been the hospital’s cafeteria and foodservice area was turned into a makeshift supply center, with food for employees supplied by outside caterer and nearby hotel.
Creating a new foodservice operation allowed Bergman and Rebecca Scheiner, Methodist’s commercial foodservice manager, to fix inherited mistakes. “No more imported retherm ovens [at $10,000 each] or blast chillers,” Bergman says. Finding replacement parts for these aging pieces was a costly nightmare.
Transitioning from a decentralized kitchen to a centralized one for the 900-bed hospital took months of research, planning and networking with chefs and foodservice directors from other hospitals. Setting a budget and comparison shopping came next. And although vendors were willing to negotiate, Bergman says price was not the driving factor. Getting the right maintenance contract and follow-up service were.
One mistake Bergman vows never to repeat is buying equipment that is too specialized. Earlier in his career he paid $25,000 for an 80-gallon dough mixer. “I had a vision of doing yeast breads from scratch,” he says. After several batches, the mixer was eclipsed by the convenience of prepared dough.
“My next purchase, a 144-quart stand mixer, will be more practical.”
In addition to checking menus and measurements, veteran foodservice directors advise operators to read warranties before making equipment purchases.
At a minimum, a warranty should define what will and will not be covered and for how long, says Costas Katsigris, director of hospitality services at El Centro College in Dallas. Almost all manufacturers design their own guarantee programs, with most covering repair or replacement of defective parts. Operators should learn who is responsible for repair (especially if nonfactory personnel assemble equipment) and when the warranty takes effect.
Note all exemptions to coverage. Often these excuse the manufacturer from equipment problems that are the result of improper use.
Before the equipment arrives, hire the right installer, says David Howard of Neighborhood Dining Group. The restaurateur learned the hard way. It took a year–and $4,000–to correct air flow in an exhaust hood purchased for the operator’s Queen Anne’s Revenge in Charleston, S.C. The problem: poor installation.