Opening a foodservice operation involves a nearly innumerable amount of decisions. We hope this article will help serve as a general guide for the process of selecting food preparation and cooking equipment, as well as supplies. In future blogs from this series, we will also cover sanitation, table service and bar service. While some topics we discuss may seem like obvious considerations, we understand with the amount of choices and decisions involved with this process, often the simplest of aspects can be overlooked.
1. Develop a menu
Often times, before beginning to select equipment and supplies for your foodservice operation, it is best to develop the menu, or at least, a rough outline of the dishes you plan to serve. By identifying the different type of foods you plan to prepare, you will be able to make many more effective equipment decisions. With a strong plan, you may find that rather than buying multiple pieces of cooking equipment, you can combine them into one. Items such as combi ovens, or ranges with modular tops, including burners, charbroilers and griddle components are just a few of many examples. These combination products can work as space savers, and in many cases, as budget savers as well.
While it is virtually impossible to anticipate every item that will appear on your menu, as seasonal offerings and special promotions can cause adjustments to occur. However, a strong outline will also help guide you in making choices that can accommodate the specialty items as well.
Here are some key questions to ponder when developing your menu:
- What meals do you plan to serve? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night snacks? Will you close part of your kitchen at certain times?
- What items will be prepared from scratch? Will you bake your own bread products? Will soups be pre-made and rethermalized? Will pizza dough be par-baked or fresh? Will drinks be hand-mixed?
- How much prep do you plan to do in-house? Will vegetables be purchased pre-chopped? Will dough be made from scratch? Will meat be pre-sliced?
- How often do you plan on altering your menu?
- What skill level of staff do you plan to employ? Will you have executive chefs, line cooks, or staff with little experience that will be trained on site?
The list goes on and on. Each decision will greatly impact the type of equipment and supplies you will need.
2. Make a preliminary list of equipment and smallwares needed to prepare those food items
Once you have created a menu outline, you can begin to decide what products will be needed to create each dish. At this stage, you may find the amount of equipment needed is too vast and your menu may need some adjustments. You may also discover that you can include more dishes to your offering because the equipment you plan to buy will easily accommodate these additions. In this stage, it is again important to ask yourself the questions listed above. If you anticipate that the majority of your staff will have limited experience, you may want products with simpler controls. If you plan to do the majority of prep in-house, you need to make sure you have the correct amount of support tools available, such as scales, slicers, food storage boxes, can openers, etc. It is also very important to determine how often your food deliveries will arrive to make sure you have enough space in your walk-in and refrigerated equipment to accommodate these incoming products. A well-laid out shelving system for dry and cold storage will be an integral component in effectively utilizing your available space to the highest capability.
At this stage, we recommend you list every possible item you think you may use and then go back later and eliminate certain products. An easy way to do this is to go one menu item at a time and list what is needed for that dish, from prep to completion. Then, go back through the list and find product duplications that exist from menu item to menu item. It is at this point where you may find a particular dish requires too many unique products and should be eliminated, or that some spin-off entrees can be added to your menu because they will use the same equipment you already plan to buy. It is best to begin with too many products on your list rather than realizing that you didn’t plan for enough space under your exhaust hood when it’s too late.
3. Develop a kitchen layout, review code requirements and construction constraints (such as pluming, electrical and gas lines), and make any adjustments to original equipment selections.
Once you have your preliminary list of products, we advise that you involve a professional kitchen equipment contractor or consultant to help guide you through the next stages. This person will be able to assist you in a variety of ways. They will have a strong understanding of the local building as well as fire and health codes. In using their knowledge of these regulations, they will be able to identify if your selections will be in compliance. They will also have experience working with layout and design programs such as AutoCAD or Revit, which will allow them to present you with a very detailed drawing of your kitchen layout. These specialized consultants will help you take construction limitations like drain locations, utilities and load bearing walls into consideration. They are also highly experienced with the foodservice products that are available and may be able to offer some equipment changes, which will help you save money or increase productivity. It is also a good time to trim down your first draft of the equipment and supplies list to have a finalized copy of what is truly needed for your operation. This will help avoid delays when you move into the next phase of the project.
4. Have a formal quote provided with spec sheets and cost.
At this point, depending on the scope of work offered, your kitchen equipment contractor will provide you with a quotation for your project and spec sheets for the pieces of equipment. Or, they will refer you to a foodservice distributor who will work with you on pricing and product specification. If your project is large, you may wish to have multiple foodservice distributors bid on the equipment and smallwares packages to ensure you are getting the best pricing. Be aware that some distributors include certain services in their quotations, like set-in-place, equipment staging, and product demos while others do not. These services could be the reason for wide variations amongst bids. It is best to outline the services you will need ahead of time to eliminate confusions for the bidders and yourself during bid review.
5. Make final adjustments
Once you receive the bids from the contractor/distributors, you will be able to determine if your selections are all within your budget. It will also assist in factoring whether or not you need to make adjustments to your equipment/smallwares lists or attempt to secure additional financing. You will also be able to figure out which foodservice company will best and most affordably be able to handle your job. The company you choose will also be a good resource in helping meet budget constraints by offering suggestions such as changing manufacturers on certain pieces of equipment or even reworking portions of your menu.