Purchasing Equipment: Where To Begin?

I can clearly remember my first equipment purchasing decision as a foodservice director. Even though it was just a replacement of a worn piece of equipment, the decision was important to me. Questions I had to answer included: Should the exact item be purchased for replacement? If not, should the replacement be the same brand but a newer model? Should a different brand be considered? What new technology is available? Are there examples of this type of equipment that are more energy-efficient?

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Even the smallest equipment purchase can be difficult, but equipping an entire new facility can be mind-boggling. Where should an operator begin? In order to purchase both large and small equipment effectively, operators should be guided by the needs of their facilities and personnel. To assess these needs properly, a good evaluation of the operation should be conducted, as well as an investigation of new technology. Remember that equipment needs should be menu-driven. Operators should resist the urge to buy any new technologies that may not fit into their menu concepts. It is essential for us to evaluate equipment for optimum use, versatility, efficiency and productivity within our individual programs. This is key because efficient equipment purchases will typically set the stage for reductions in the cost of labor, energy, operations, maintenance and food purchases.

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It is essential for us to evaluate equipment for optimum use, versatility, efficiency and productivity within our individual programs.

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Which resources are available to evaluate equipment purchases? Within the foodservice industry, there are several sources of information and it is wise to research a variety of them. Current books and trade publications such as FE&S can provide good beginnings to a needs assessment. Today, the internet also will provide information that is accessible right from your desktop. If you are designing a new facility or entering into a major renovation, it is a good idea to involve a foodservice consultant specializing in facilities and equipment during the early planning stages.

When planning a new facility or renovation, I have found it very helpful to attend a major trade show such as NRA or NAFEM. These shows provide some of the newest trends and technologies, and manufacturers are available to demonstrate pieces of equipment that may be of interest. It may also be a good time to compare different brands or models, since a wide variety of choices are available all in one place.

Once you know which equipment pieces are needed, it is essential to have a sound bid procedure and to write specifications that assure that items requested will be provided. I define a specification as a statement understood by buyers and suppliers of the required quality of products, including allowable limits of tolerance. A good specification should include a brand name and model number, a brief description of the piece, energy source and specific type, codes that are required, delivery and installation instructions, and any optional accessories. It is very important to continue the process through delivery and installation. One very important step is to check-in deliveries carefully to make sure what is received is what was specified. This is typically more difficult for directors who operate multiple sites. In this situation or if you cannot personally be on site, someone familiar with the specification should be designated to check-in the delivery. Specifications could include information on who is to demonstrate new equipment. At a minimum, this should be scheduled through the supplier.

Information on equipment received should be organized and kept where it can be accessed for follow-up on any warranty issues or future service needs.

To summarize, equipment purchases are investments that should be taken seriously. Time and energy should go into the purchasing process to optimize your financial investment. Research, assessment, a purchasing plan and evaluations are essential steps in the process and all should be undertaken as often as necessary.

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