It is no secret that the average restaurant owner operates their business on a tight budget. And restaurant equipment, well, it’s not always budget friendly. That’s why it is important to shop around for the best value for your dollar, even if it means considering used equipment. It’s also important to be aware of what you’re looking for when comparison shopping and to heed the advice of ‘buyer beware’. Used restaurant equipment may have the better price tag, but it’s not always the best deal.
We’ve listed a few things to consider before making your next big equipment purchase.
Gas commercial ranges, along with gas charbroilers and griddles, are generally the best used equipment purchase. The reason for this is commercial gas ranges have few moving parts and are generally easier to repair than electric.
Take the time to check out a used commercial range carefully. Also, make sure to determine which type of gas the appliance uses, propane (LP) or natural. On most ranges, this is usually noted with a tag on the rear of the unit or behind the bottom kick plate located beneath the oven door. If there is a gas regulator still attached to the gas connection pipe in the rear of the unit, it is possible to tell from the label on the top of the regulator. If the regulator is marked 3”-6”WC, it is natural gas. 5”-12”WC signifies propane gas. If the appliance you are looking at doesn’t use the type of gas your operation is equipped for, it’s best to move on. Conversion is costly and requires a qualified technician to do the work.
Tip: Plan on having a gas technician test any used gas equipment you purchase for leaks or operational defects. The cost of testing is money well spent, as it can eliminate the threat of dangerous conditions. If the price is right (be sure to add the cost of the tech evaluation), commercial gas ranges, charbroilers, griddles and open burner units can be a great place to save money while still receiving a serviceable piece of equipment.
Commercial fryers are a different matter. Gas fryers are one of the major causes of kitchen grease fires in foodservice operations because they bring together open flames (of the gas burners) and flammable grease (the oil you use in frying). When these two items are directly combined, the result is fire.
The only thing separating these two highly flammable components in fryers is a layer of thin steel in the fryer tank. The problem with a used fryer is that often it has been sitting somewhere, for quite a while, with an empty tank. If the tank is mild steel, it has most likely begun to rust. The rust can create tiny pinholes in the metal, which can eventually eat through the tank completely. What’s worse, these pinholes of rust cannot always be seen. The only way to find them is to fill the tank with water or oil and check beneath the tank to see if it drips. Unfortunately, sometimes even this does not make leaks apparent.
When the fryer is turned on, the heat from the burners will cause the metal to expand, and that’s when the dripping starts. The only reliable way to test a fryer is to fill it with oil, hook it up to a gas supply and turn it on. You’ll also want to check to see if the thermostat works correctly by using a long, deep fat thermometer.
For most people, it is simply not worth the effort to do all this. With new commercial fryers available for less than $700, used fryers are not the place to save your money. Most new commercial fryers also come with a warranty on the fry pot so you can be covered in the event of failure. Not to mention the peace of mind factor!
Many restaurant owners seek out used equipment when faced with searching for commercial refrigerators, such as a reach-in unit or a pizza prep table. With this, as with the gas equipment, a certified technician can be an owner’s best friend when evaluating items for purchase.
Most self-contained commercial refrigerators are easy to test. The two main things are as follows:
- Plug it into a 120V dedicated wall outlet and let it run for about half an hour after placing a refrigeration thermometer inside. See if it gets down into the safe zone marked on the thermometer, about 38-40°F for a commercial refrigerator and 0°F (sometimes lower on certain ice cream holding cases) for a commercial freezer.
- Check the doors gaskets to make sure that they seal completely around the doors. To do this take a dollar bill and close the door on it. Grasp the edge and pull it slowly out. You should feel some resistance as the door gasket grips the body of the box making an airtight seal. Move the bill all around the edges of the door, inside, outside, top and bottom. If the bill comes out easily, the gaskets probably need replacement. With installation, this can cost $100 or more, depending on the number of doors on the unit.
Commercial refrigeration repairs can be quite expensive if any of the major components are defective, so paying a service technician to test any potential purchase is a good insurance policy.
Tip: Commercial refrigeration always seems to fail when a restaurant is closed and everyone has gone home for the day. Expensive food loss can make that bargain refrigerator cost as much as a new one. Hunting for parts for obsolete models can prove impossible and the refrigeration system may use refrigerant that is no longer available. Also, some older models will not comply with current NSF standards or local and state health department codes. Check out used refrigeration carefully and completely before plunking down your hard earned cash.
New commercial refrigeration units are not without their occasional problems, but issues are typically apparent right away. Most problems are usually minor and can be quickly remedied by the manufacturer’s authorized service agency at no cost to the new owner. Modern refrigeration systems use the industries mandated refrigerants that every refrigeration mechanic has access to and is familiar with. Door hinges, gaskets, shelves and refrigeration components should be available for the long term.