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Opening a Restaurant? Here's Your Equipment Checklist

Restaurant Equipment Leasing and Financing
Credit: Spaskov/Shutterstock

If you're opening a restaurant, acquiring your furniture and equipment should involve a long and carefully thought-out process – these are the tools that will serve as the backbone for your entire business. To help you know exactly what your kitchen needs, we spoke to experienced restaurateurs to find out what you should be buying, what you should be leasing, and the things you absolutely should not skimp on.

Editor's note: Looking for information on equipment leasing? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Your FOH includes anything your guests see and interact with, from décor to how they pay for their food.

Your number of tables and chairs will be determined by the size of your restaurant and fire codes, as well as the overall design. You'll want to have a mix of seating options and tables that can fit together easily to accommodate larger parties. Andrew Diamond, president of Angry Crab Shack, recommends buying your tables and chairs, as it is usually more cost effective than leasing.

If you're going to have a host or hostess to greet and seat guests, you'll need a podium where they can stand and keep the reservation book. Look for a podium that includes storage space for menus and/or silverware. You'll likely want to buy this furniture, rather than lease it.

A point-of-sale (POS) system, at its most basic level, will allow your waitstaff to input orders and your guests to pay for their meal. There is a wide variety of systems to choose from, all with different options and customizations. And, if used properly, they can help with inventory tracking in the back of house. POS systems are typically leased from the vendor and include regular updates. [Looking for a POS system? Check out our Best Picks here].

Linens – including napkins, towels, rags and aprons – are some of the most important items in your kitchen. "Most new restaurateurs are not aware [of] the sheer number of rags/towels required to keep the restaurant clean and operational," said Nick Kamboj, CEO of Aston & James and restaurateur. He recommends hiring a linen service, which will provide the restaurant with fresh linens each week and cleaning services. "It is worth it," said Kamboj. "Trust me."

Guests eat with their eyes before they ever taste your food. That should inform everything from how your chef plates the food to the tableware your use. In general, round, white plates tend to enhance sweet flavors, but black, angular plates can boost savory flavors, according to Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University. Red plates tend to reduce how much diners eat, and blue plates can be a turnoff to one's appetite altogether.

Your patrons will appreciate a sense of security, and you can protect your assets with the right security system. You may even get a discount on your insurance. Costs for electronic access control will vary depending on the type of hardware used and the number of doors you need to have access installed on. Costs may range from $1,000 and up per door.

Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, the kitchen is the heart of the restaurant. This is where you show off why you started your business and bring your menu to life. This is also where you should think carefully about investing in or leasing good quality equipment, since it will be in heavy use every day. You should budget anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for your back-of-house equipment, depending on your restaurant's needs.

"This will house your meats, poultry, dairy and fresh produce," said Kamboj. Depending on the size and needs of your restaurant, your cooler can be a reach-in or a walk-in. "Walk-ins cost approximately $10,000, but should last for up to 20 years with regular maintenance, if you choose to buy," Kamboj added. Many restaurant owners lease.

Like a cooler, you'll have to determine your restaurant's needs when acquiring a freezer, which can be a chest, upright or walk-in. This is important because the size of your freezer will also determine your monthly operating costs.

Stainless steel is standard in commercial kitchens – it resists corrosion, contamination and is easy to clean. They come in various sizes, so you can choose which size works best in your kitchen. You will likely want to lease these.

If your restaurant requires food to be prepared over an open flame, you'll need a kitchen range. You can choose between gas or electric ranges. If you have an open kitchen, gas ranges offer a visually pleasing and responsive cooking experience, whereas electric ranges are elegant and easy to clean. You'll likely want to consider leasing this big purchase.

Most ranges come equipped with a standard oven, but if your restaurant serves baked goods or requires significant oven use, you may want a convection oven, which cooks food by blowing hot air through a fan and exhaust system. This is a big decision, but leasing allows you to keep the equipment new and in good working order.

How else would you serve cold drinks? These machines create ice constantly, so it's ready when your staff needs it.

Most commercial kitchens are required by health authorities to install a triple-sink wash station.

Many restaurants have an industrial dishwasher, which washes a large amount of dishes very quickly and allows for quick turnover of dishware and cutlery. Diamond recommends leasing a dishwasher, because most lease agreements come with maintenance and deals on dishwashing chemicals.

These tools are necessary in quick and efficient food preparation.

Slicers are available in manual or electric options – if your slicing is high volume or frequent, you should invest in an electric slicer.

Mixers should also be chosen based on what you will be using them for and how often. If you are a bakery or pizza restaurant, you'll need a spiral mixer. For any other type of mixing, choose a planetary mixer, which works well for things like mashed potatoes and whipped cream. Food processors come in four types – batch bowl, continuous feed, buffalo chopper and combination. Determine what types of dishes your restaurant will be preparing to decide which types are right for you. And consider leasing both pieces to make sure your tech stays up to date.

This is where you will store the bulk of your dry goods, like flour, sugar, spices and any other nonperishables that need to be in your kitchen staff's reach.

Knives are an undervalued part of any kitchen. A good set will last years with regular sharpening – Kamboj recommends hiring a weekly sharpening service because "sharp knives are safe knives."

These will be some of the most utilized pieces in your kitchen. Make sure to have a wide variety of bowl sizes and materials, as well as cast iron skillets, sauce and saute pans, stock pots, a griddle, frying pans, various sized Dutch ovens and a wok. Cutlery should include forks, knives, dessert spoons, soup spoons, teaspoons, butter knives and steak knives.

Know exactly when your employees are logged in or have left for the day. It can also help with scheduling and time off requests. [Interested in adding a time and attendance program to your business? Check out our best picks.]

Make running payroll a simple and easy one that helps you with taxes and any other benefits your employees are entitled to. Most of these are leased as a subscription service and range from $29 to $150, with varying perSee our Best Picks for Payroll Services here]

You'll want to be sure you're in compliance with all your local regulations. But in general, you'll need to make sure you've got a fire extinguisher, wet floor sign, aprons, etc.

Opening a restaurant can be very expensive, and you may be tempted to buy used or lease wherever possible to save money. While there are certain pieces where this makes financial sense, Diamond recommends looking at the life of the equipment. "If the equipment is going to last over two years, it may be better to purchase on a loan or capital lease," he said. "If [it's] two years or less, leasing is a better option."

Leasing is also a good option when you're first starting out. That's because some studies estimate that 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first year. It's a difficult pill to swallow, but it's true. And 80 percent fail in the first five years. Some other benefits of leasing:

  • It is unlikely to cost you a big down payment
  • It is simple to keep the most updated equipment
  • Leasing may make you eligible for tax credits. You may be able to deduct payments as a business expense.
  • You won't have to pay for maintenance, because it will be part of your agreement.

Danny Hodak, CEO and co–founder of Taboonette, said that when leasing, restaurant owners should be firm and cultivate a good relationship with your vendors. "Remember that everything is negotiable in the business," he said. "Never be afraid to demand (politely ask) better terms or anything that you feel you need to help you and your business."

If you decide leasing is the way to go, you may have trouble knowing exactly how much you'll pay, until you're locked into an agreement. Do not go on the word of financing calculators, as they generally just show you that for every $50,000 worth of financing you need, you can expect to pay $1,050 over five years. That assumes 5.5 percent per year, but early on in your business, those rates will be significantly higher. That's because your business credit score is likely pretty bad.

Some restaurant equipment lessors may not require financials and/or a business plan for applications on dollar amounts from $10,000 to $100,000. For financing on $100,000 to $500,000 (and up), expect to provide complete financials as well as a business plan.

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