Whether getting a hot dog at a baseball game or a bucket of popcorn at the movies, all those savory snacks fall under the umbrella of concessions. Perhaps more important than the food itself is the equipment you use to cook it.
Once you have your menu planned, it’s time to start shopping for the right products. This may include large equipment like restaurant ranges, countertop equipment and heat lamps, smallwares products like squeeze bottles, and disposable products like napkins and disposable cups.
What Are You Serving, and Where Are You Serving It?
The food you’re serving directly affects the type of equipment you need. So before loading your online cart with a plethora of goods, think about what you’ll be dishing out to customers. Most concession equipment is useful for only one product. Think about it—you can’t use a popcorn machine to make pizza, and a nacho chip warmer wouldn’t be so good for cooking hot dogs and brats. If you want to serve five things, you’ll have to invest in five pieces of equipment. Here’s a rundown of where concessions are sold and what you need for them.
Nothing better than a dog at the game, right? Large stadiums that house sporting events and concerts generally have multiple concession stations throughout. These stations can serve multiple items, so investing in equipment specific to those items is a must. Larger venues like stadiums generally house a commissary kitchens in a central location to take care of the majority of the prep work. From there, items are “finished” in the stands on countertop griddles, conveyor ovens and warming stations to give them a fresh-cooked experience. Other popular menu items for stadium concessions are hot dogs and brats, popcorn and nachos.
County Fairs & Theme Parks
Most concessions at fairs and theme parks operate out of stands and focus on one thing. Whether it be cotton candy, funnel cake, ice cream or turkey legs, fairs tend to purchase a lot of equipment to make very specific things. Like other concession stands, it’s best to decide on a menu before purchasing equipment.
Picture a man walking with his kids into the cinema. What’s he got on him? Probably a bucket of popcorn, a couple boxes of candy and a large fountain soda to top it all off. While those are the “big 3” of the movie theater industry, some places have branched out to offer nachos, pretzels and hot dogs.
Food trucks have enjoyed a revival the last few years, and with good reason: They provide freshly cooked food in convenient places. Whether it’s burritos, burgers, sandwiches or salads, food trucks generally focus on one type of cuisine or style. Since food trucks have limited space, countertop griddles, fryers and undercounter refrigerators are go-to, compact items. Many states require commissary kitchens to serve as a home base for food trucks.
Commercial vs. Residential
There is a difference between the equipment used in restaurants and the equipment that you use in your home. Before you go buying your equipment, take time to figure out which pieces of equipment must be commercial because of state laws and where you can get away with using residential models. For example, that refrigerator from home cannot withstand the amount of use demanded from a restaurant every day and the government requires that it have an NSF certification. However, there is no law stating that you have to use a commercial microwave, and you can purchase several of these at many stores for a low price.
Most venues do not have access to many electrical outlets, and many events will limit the amount of electricity a vendor can use. When choosing your equipment, try to stick to liquid propane (LP) with your large equipment. Some events will ask for a list of all of your electrical equipment, and if it is too long, you will be denied access to the venue.
Also, stay away from equipment that has 220 volts or more. Most locations do not have the proper outlets to handle this sort of heavy-duty electrical equipment, and you will be stuck high and dry if you cannot plug the equipment in.
New vs. Used
When starting a business, it is very easy to save a bunch of money by purchasing used equipment from an auction house or local dealer. You can sometimes save up to fifty percent on the equipment. However, some places will not offer warranties on used equipment and, unless you are very familiar with all of the equipment, you will not know what to look for in a reliable piece of used equipment. A mix of new and used is typically what most owners settle on, selecting new equipment for smaller pieces, such as countertop warmers, and used equipment for larger items, like a griddle.
Building Your Own Equipment
The ingenuity of the small business owner is quite remarkable, and, while you may not be able to build a deep fryer, there are other areas where one can design their own equipment and save a ton of money in the process.
If you have the right tools, equipment designed for housing some of your warming and holding pieces can be fashioned from pipes, sheet metal and a little elbow grease. Also, depending on how strict your local fire laws are you may be able to fashion your own vent hoods for your booth.
Sneeze guards are another item you can make using acrylic or polycarbonate sheets cut to custom sizes and formed around your holding display.
The majority of these pieces are best bought new since they are small and cost relatively little. But make no mistake; while they are small, you will likely spend a hefty amount on smallwares throughout the life of your business, since they need to be replaced more frequently than equipment.
Figuring out what to buy can be a daunting task. To make your list, sit down and imagine yourself working in your concession stand. Write down what you are holding, how you are storing and what small utensils you are making use of daily. It also helps to talk with an equipment and supplies dealer to get his or her input on all of the utensils you will use in your concession stand.
Do Not Forget Disposables
It’s usually bad form to hand someone a hot dog without a tray or napkins. Consider all of the ways that you will be serving your food to your customers and make a list of the disposable supplies you will need. You can even turn your disposables into a selling point if you purchase biodegradable disposables and market yourself as a green concessionaire.
Purchasing the right equipment and supplies for your unique menu will allow you to spend money where you need it and save money when you can. A well thought-out plan of attack for these purchases will help define how successful your business will be.