Considering purchasing a used piece of foodservice equipment? The simple fact that many new restaurants (and their new kitchens) don’t survive mean there are deals to be had. But for operators to get one of these deals — and avoid lemons — they must be strategic about what kind of equipment to purchase and perform due diligence on the specific pieces they’re considering, says Glen Clark of Lancaster, Pa.-based Clark Service Group.
In general, says Clark, the best bets are pieces of simple gas-powered cooking equipment, such as griddles, ranges and ovens. Fire in a box is technology that goes back thousands of years and these units typically have relatively few components, reducing the odds of failure.
On the flip side, the more complex the equipment, the riskier the bet. Hot-side electric equipment has more components than gas-fired units, which means more possible points of failure. Even riskier, Clark says, are units that rely on multiple inputs, pieces like dish machines (electricity, and heated water) and especially ice makers (electricity, refrigeration and filtered water).
Clark is also weary of used refrigeration in general, simply because it’s hard to tell how well a piece’s components have been maintained. “[Used equipment buyers] could clean them up before they use them, but there might be some excessive wear and tear on the system or on the compressor.”
No matter what kind of used unit operators consider — from a simple range top to a complex combi oven — they can take certain steps to limit their risk. On the most basic level, operators should simply inspect the unit like they would a used car. No matter how well it’s been cleaned, excessive dents and dings, missing knobs and torn gaskets are signs that a piece hasn’t been well cared for, Clark says.
Beyond that, a little legwork can help operators separate the wheat from the chaff. Here are some tips:
- Know the manufacturer. If a piece comes from a factory with a reputation for quality, it’s got a better chance of being a good buy.
- Double check the utilities. Make sure the voltage and/or gas type match the operation’s utilities.
- Find out where the unit was installed before the sale. “Was it in a QSR? Where? The person working might not have really cared about the unit, or was it at a higher-end restaurant where you have a chef who understands the use and care of equipment?” Clark asks.
- Get the name of the service agency that serviced the piece for the previous owner. The repair shop should be able give the unit’s service history.
Even if a piece of equipment passes through this gauntlet — general reliability, factory reputation and use and service history — the operator should then consider total cost of ownership. Pre-purchase, operators should explore how much more they’ll spend on utilities with an older and likely less-efficient unit. They should also factor in the piece’s ongoing maintenance costs, which will probably be higher than maintenance on a new unit. Operators should be ready to pay extra to have a used unit inspected upon installation by a qualified service agency — ideally a one affiliated with the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA). “In the long run, that checkup is going to be a lot less expensive than an emergency service call on that piece of equipment when it fails,” says Clark.
There’s no question that buying used can be a good choice for operators, but it also entails far more risk than buying new. Being careful about what they buy and asking questions about the piece can help operators minimize their risk and get the most out of their purchase.