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Updated Apr 11, 2024

Opening a Restaurant? Here’s Your Equipment Checklist

Determine your precise equipment needs before launching your eatery.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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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 of your entire business. To help you know what your kitchen needs, we spoke to experienced restaurateurs to determine what you should buy, what you should lease and the equipment you 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:

Front-of-house (FOH) restaurant equipment

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

1. Tables and chairs

The number of tables and chairs you need will be determined by the size of your restaurant, fire codes and your eatery’s overall design. You should 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 because it’s usually more cost-effective than leasing.

2. Podium

If you plan 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 perhaps silverware. You’ll likely want to buy this furniture instead of leasing it.

3. POS System

At its most basic level, a point-of-sale (POS) system will allow your waitstaff to input orders and your guests to pay for their meals. There is a wide variety of systems, all with different options and customizations. If used properly, POS systems can also help with inventory tracking. POS systems typically are leased from the vendor and include regular updates. [Check out our picks for the best POS systems]

4. Linens

Linens — including napkins, towels, rags and aprons — are some of the most essential 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,” noted restaurateur Nick Kamboj, CEO of Aston & James. He recommends hiring a linen service to provide the restaurant with weekly fresh linens and cleaning services. “It is worth it,” Kamboj advised. “Trust me.”

5. Dishes

Guests eat with their eyes before they ever taste your food — a fact that should inform everything from how your chef plates the food to the tableware you use. In general, round, white plates tend to enhance sweet flavors, but black, angular plates can boost savory flavors. Red plates tend to reduce how much diners eat and blue plates can be a turnoff to one’s appetite altogether.

6. A security system

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. The cost of electronic access control will vary depending on the type of hardware used and the number of doors you must secure. Costs may range from $1,000 and up per door.

FYIDid you know
Our guide to choosing the right business security system can help you protect your location, tools and machinery properly.

Back-of-house (BOH) restaurant equipment

Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, it’s also the heart of a restaurant. It’s where you show off why you started your business and bring your menu to life. Consider investing in or leasing high-quality equipment for your kitchen carefully because it will be in heavy use every day. You should budget anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for your BOH equipment, depending on your restaurant’s needs.

7. Refrigerator

“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 refrigerators.

8. Freezer

Like a cooler, you must determine your restaurant’s needs when acquiring a freezer, which can be a chest, upright or walk-in. The size of your freezer will also determine your monthly operating costs for this equipment.

9. Food preparation counters

Stainless steel food preparation counters are standard in commercial kitchens. They resist corrosion and contamination and are 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.

10. Range

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. Meanwhile, electric ranges are elegant and easy to clean. You’ll likely want to consider leasing this big purchase.

11. Oven

Most ranges come equipped with a standard oven. However, 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.

12. Ice machine

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

13. Sinks

Health authorities require most commercial kitchens to install a triple-sink wash station.

14. Dishwasher

Many restaurants have an industrial dishwasher that washes many 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.

15. Slicers, mixers and food processors

These tools are necessary for quick and efficient food preparation:

  • Slicers: Slicers are available in manual or electric options. If your slicing is high volume or frequent, you should invest in an electric slicer.
  • Mixers: Mixers should also be chosen based on needs and use frequency. If you have 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 items, such as mashed potatoes and whipped cream.
  • Food processors: Food processors come in four types — batch bowl, continuous feed, buffalo chopper and combination. Determine what types of dishes your restaurant will prepare to decide which food processors are right for you. 

Consider leasing food processors and mixers to ensure your tech stays up to date.

16. Baker’s racks

You’ll use baker’s racks to store the bulk of your dry goods, such as flour, sugar, spices and any other nonperishables that must be within your kitchen staff’s reach.

17. Knives

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.”

18. Pots, pans, bowls and cutlery

These will be some of the most utilized pieces in your kitchen. You should 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.

19. Time and attendance software

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

20. Payroll software

Make running payroll a simple and easy task that helps you with taxes and any other benefits your employees are entitled to. Most payroll platforms are subscription services with base fees of $30 to $150 per month plus additional per-employee fees of $2 to $15 per month. [See our picks for the best payroll services.]

21. Safety equipment

Your restaurant must comply with all local safety regulations. Generally, you must ensure you’ve got a fire extinguisher, wet floor sign, aprons and more.

Did You Know?Did you know
For employee safety, most states mandate that your restaurant provide worker's compensation insurance.

Leasing vs. buying equipment

Here are some best practices to keep top of mind when deciding whether to lease or buy equipment.

Consider the equipment’s lifetime.

While it makes sense to lease some equipment, Diamond recommends looking at the life of the equipment before deciding whether to buy or lease. “If the equipment is going to last over two years, it may be better to purchase on a loan or capital lease,” Diamond advised. “If [it’s] two years or less, leasing is a better option.”

Rely on leasing more in your early years.

Leasing equipment makes sense when you’re starting a restaurant because, unfortunately, some studies estimate that 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first year — and 80 percent fail in the first five years. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s true. 

Determine how much the core benefits of leasing matter to you.

Some key benefits of leasing include:

  • Leasing means you likely won’t need a big down payment.
  • Leasing helps ensure you get 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 when you lease because it will be part of your agreement.

If any of these considerations are an especially high priority for you, leasing may be the superior option for your needs.

Leasing best practices

If you decide to lease your restaurant equipment, consider the following advice: 

  • Build and maintain strong vendor relationships: Danny Hodak, founder of Taboonette, said that restaurant owners should be firm and cultivate good relationships with vendors when leasing. “Remember that everything is negotiable in the business,” Hodak advised. “Never be afraid to demand (politely ask) better terms or anything that you feel you need to help you and your business.”
  • Get a monthly payment estimate directly from your vendor: When leasing, you may not understand your exact costs until you’re locked into an agreement. Do not rely on financing calculators — they generally 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. However, early on in your business, those rates can be significantly higher if your business credit score is lacking. Instead, ask your vendor for your precise monthly costs.
  • Know which documents you must provide: Some restaurant equipment lessors may not require detailed financial documentation for applications on dollar amounts from $10,000 to $100,000. However, expect to provide complete financials and a business plan for financing on $100,000 to $500,000 (and up).
TipTip
Use our free business plan template to save time and stress while writing this key document.

The best business software solutions for restaurants

When it comes to back-of-house essentials, software is nonnegotiable — and we’ve done the research to determine which platforms are best for restaurants. After years of studying the market and testing products, we’ve come to the following conclusions.

The best restaurant POS systems

Among our picks for the best restaurant POS systems, you’ll find platforms that specialize in customer experience improvement, transaction fee minimization and restaurant hardware. In particular, we highly recommend TouchBistro as a restaurant POS system — learn why via our TouchBistro review.

The best restaurant accounting software

All businesses, including restaurants, need accounting software to manage their books, comply with tax regulations and pay vendor bills. Restaurants, in particular, benefit from how effortlessly accounting software manages thousands of daily transactions. It would be impossible to organize this many purchases and vendor payments by hand and restaurant accounting software does it all instantly.

Among our picks for the best restaurant accounting software, you’ll find excellent options for bill pay, small restaurants and inventory management. Intuit QuickBooks Online is one of our top accounting software recommendations for restaurants — read our Intuit QuickBooks Online accounting software review to see why.

The best restaurant credit card processors

Unless your restaurant is cash-only, you absolutely need a credit card processing company in your wheelhouse. For starters, restaurant customers frequently use credit cards to pay for their meals. Additionally, with the continued growth of contactless and near-field communication mobile payments, payment processing technology is more crucial than ever because it powers multiple customer payment options. 

Some of our picks for the best restaurant credit card processors come with hardware and others make it easy for your restaurant to get approved. Some are ideal for customization or fast-growing restaurants. 

The best restaurant phone systems

Business phone systems are crucial to your customer communication infrastructure, including phone-based takeout, delivery orders and reservations. They also help you stay in touch with vendors, repair services and other crucial third-party partners.

The best restaurant phone systems streamline multilocation restaurant management and collaboration with features like automatic voice response. As detailed in our Ooma review, Ooma is an excellent choice for small restaurants.

The best restaurant HR software

Restaurants have exceptionally high employee turnover rates and restaurant tax management and payroll can be quite complicated. Enter HR software, which you can use to manage all this via an in-house HR team or in collaboration with a third-party outsourced service. You’ll lower your risk of regulatory violations while improving employee conditions.

Among the best restaurant HR software, you’ll find options that excel at performance management, reporting and employee onboarding. For combined HR and payroll excellence, we recommend Paycor — learn more via our Paycor HR software review

The best restaurant payroll software

Our picks for the best restaurant payroll services ensure that your hourly and salaried employees get paid promptly and in full. No matter your restaurant’s size, we recommend Paychex’s payroll software — explore why via our Paychex payroll review.

Opening the doors to restaurant success

A successful restaurant experience starts for customers the moment they walk in the door. For you, success starts from the moment you plot out what equipment to obtain. Identify all the key tools and machinery from the get-go, make a plan for which items to lease or buy and then get moving. Do this all smartly using the guidance above and customers will likely love what awaits them on the other side of that door.

Max Freedman contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Kiely Kuligowski is an expert in project management and business software. Her project management experience includes establishing project scopes and timelines and monitoring progress and delivery quality on behalf of various clients. Kuligowski also has experience in product marketing and contributing to business fundraising efforts. On the business software side, Kuligowski has evaluated a range of products and developed in-depth guides for making the most of various tools, such as email marketing services, text message marketing solutions and business phone systems. In recent years, she has focused on sustainability software and project management for IBM.
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