- Buying used restaurant equipment can save owners a significant amount of money on important purchases.
- Used equipment can be found at restaurant equipment stores, at in-person or online auctions, or via your online community. Each venue has its benefits and drawbacks.
- If you’re not particularly picky or you’re pressed for time, using auctions and your online community is a convenient way to get used restaurant equipment.
Cooking equipment makes the food service world go ‘round. Unfortunately, lots of commercial restaurant equipment is expensive. From fryers to dishwashers to display cases and everything in between, these items can put a big dent in your operating budget. One of the best ways to cut down on costs is to look for used restaurant equipment.
Many items in commercial kitchens are designed to take quite a bit of use and abuse while still being able to perform their function well. Buying used can lead to big savings and higher profits in the future.
Many, if not all, items in a kitchen can be purchased secondhand. So where should you start to look? Let’s discuss the smartest places to make your used purchases. We’ll cover what to hunt for at that store or auction and which items a restaurant operator should only buy new.
Lots of commercial kitchen equipment stores have used equipment. These stores are reliable places to get some of your larger and more important purchases for a few reasons:
- See it in person: Being able to visit these stores in person can be invaluable when you need to get a firsthand look at the wares. If you’re trying to find used tabletops or countertops that fit the decor of your restaurant, for example, being able to view them yourself will allow you to exercise your best judgment.
- Involve your staff: You can bring along your kitchen staff to see what they like best. Chefs can be particular about what they look for in cookware, a prep table, or a reach-in fridge, for example, and have preferences across the board for equipment.
- Get protected with a warranty: Lots of brick-and-mortar stores offer warranties on used items. This can be key when purchasing large, expensive electronic items like commercial refrigerators or ovens.
One major drawback of brick-and-mortar stores is you’re generally limited to what they have in their showroom. If you don’t see what you want, you’re stuck with a trip to other stores until you find what you’re looking for or run out of options. This can be time-consuming. While you may get lucky and strike gold, you run the risk of coming back empty-handed.
Additionally, you may end up with a hodge-podge of items from different manufacturers. While that may not be an issue, some people prefer items to match.
Since most used restaurant equipment is bought on consignment, you can usually haggle with the store owner. They’re usually happy to give you a discount if you agree to make a large purchase, so buying several items at once can land you a good deal.
Online Stores for Used Restaurant Equipment
If you’d like to broaden your search options, many restaurant supply stores have online shops that feature used equipment, like ACityDiscount and Dubick. Many of these stores offer free shipping, financing, or both.
Looking online is convenient when you know exactly what you want. When looking for a specific type of pizza oven, griddle, or ice machine, for example, you may spend a lot of time trying to find the model in a physical store.
For items you’re less picky about, online shops can be a huge timesaver. For example, if you know the dimensions of the shelving units, food storage, or the type of under-counter storage you’re looking for, you can simply look for models that fit those dimensions.
There are generally two downsides of online stores compared to brick-and-mortar stores:
- You won’t be able to haggle a price.
- You won’t be able to inspect the item for wear and tear.
If the dealer offers a return policy or a limited warranty, problem two is mitigated. However, you’ll still be missing out on the ability to haggle.
Used Restaurant Equipment Auctions
When a restaurant goes out of business, they’ll often put their equipment up for consignment, which can lead to an auction. These restaurant equipment auctions can be a huge time-saver, especially for those just starting up a kitchen. They can be a convenient and inexpensive way to get high-end, matching equipment. If you get really lucky, you may be the only person bidding on an item and you can walk away with a steal.
These auction services occur all across the country in both small towns and big cities. You may save a bundle if you decide to purchase all the used cooking equipment on the floor in one go. This can lead to net positives like having a large matching set of cutlery or flatware.
If you do a bit of sleuthing you can get a good general idea of how much use the equipment was put through. How long had the restaurant been in business? How much business did they do?
You’ll likely be much better off purchasing expensive equipment from a restaurant that’s only been open a short time. Additionally, a restaurant that didn’t do much business likely has equipment in better shape than one that was busy.
One downside to restaurant auctions is that the equipment is almost always sold as is, with no warranty from the dealer and no option for return, as auctioneers will make clear. If you get a deli slicer or meat grinder that soon breaks, you’re responsible to repair or replace it.
Sometimes, however, you’ll get lucky and get a piece of equipment new enough that it’s still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. If so, you’ve just struck gold.
When attending an auction, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Don’t rush: Give yourself plenty of time to inspect the items before the auction begins. Look for signs of wear like rust, discoloration, or odors.
- Set a budget: Come up with a budget and stick to it. It’s easy to spend more than you expect on unnecessary purchases just because they seem affordable.
- Avoid crowds: The smaller the crowd, the better the deals. Generally, smaller crowds will have fewer people bidding, so prices will stay low.
- Listen to the details: Do your research and know where the equipment comes from. The best case scenario is the equipment came from a relatively new restaurant that failed. Another good scenario is the equipment came from a suddenly successful restaurant that had to upgrade their equipment quickly.
- Know your measurements: Make sure you have your kitchen measurements handy. It’d be heartbreaking to buy a gas range at an auction and find out it doesn’t fit in your kitchen.
- Don’t get attached: Be prepared to back out. If an item goes above your budget, if the item looks unreliable, or if too many people are bidding, you’re under no obligation to bid. Save your money for another day.
What to buy at auctions
Look for equipment that’s unlikely to break down due to wear and tear. Some examples of items that are safe to buy at auctions include:
- Stainless steel work tables
- Commercial sinks or faucets
- Equipment stands
- Smallwares like cooking utensils
- Furniture like dining chairs and barstools
- Storage units and shelving
- Dishes and flatware
- Gas ranges
What to be careful with at auctions
Approach more sensitive and expensive items with caution (like anything that has moving parts or uses electricity), since these suffer greater wear and tear. Some examples include:
- Commercial ovens
- Ice cream makers
- Commercial ice machines
- Drink dispensers
- Deli slicers
- Meat grinders
- Commercial refrigeration units
- Convection ovens
- Steam tables
While you shouldn’t exclude these items from consideration, you should make sure you get an opportunity to carefully inspect them before bidding on them. So if you’re concerned about the state of that Hobart deep fryer or Vulcan charbroiler you see, remember that there won’t be a dealer warranty and it’s up to your judgment to determine their long-term viability.
Auctions to try
Auctions moved online decades ago with companies like eBay, and the restaurant supply world is no different. Online restaurant equipment auctions take place all the time and often include more items than a local auction.
Of course, there are both benefits and drawbacks to online auctions.
You won’t be able to see a piece of equipment in person, which can complicate matters if you’re unsure of what you want or how to anticipate the nuances of a piece of equipment. Additionally, you won’t be able to inspect an item for bits of wear and tear (like rust) not shown in the photos.
On the other hand, if you know specifically what you’re looking for or aren’t particularly picky, buying equipment at an online auction can greatly simplify your life while saving you money. Don’t care what kind of toaster or ice maker you have? An online auction may be the way to go.
In general, online auctions are best reserved for items that aren’t the cornerstone of your kitchen. You can’t guarantee what shape they’re in, but you may get some interesting finds or fill some gaps through online auctions.
Here are some things to think about when participating in an online auction:
- Don’t go too low: Bidding low isn’t always best. Instead, try bidding close to what you’re willing to pay for an item. Doing so can discourage other bidders from jumping in on your bid and may increase your odds of winning.
- Use the “maximum bid” function: Most sites offer an automatic function that allows you to enter the most you’re willing to pay for an item. If you win, great. If it’s above your budget, forget it.
- Stay active: If you’re deeply interested in winning an item, pay close attention to the auction. Often, bids incrementally higher than the previous one can win the auction if you enter them at the last moment.
- Play mind games if needed: Save this option for items you really want. Bidding immediately after another bidder can frustrate them and make them give up.
- Be prepared to walk away: If an item goes out of your budget or is attracting too many bidders, throw in the towel. There will be more auctions in the future.
Auctions to try
Your Local Online Community
Facebook and Craigslist can be a treasure trove for used items of all kinds, including used restaurant equipment. Facebook Marketplace hosts countless kitchen items for sale, so search in your area to see what you find.
Craigslist almost always has used kitchen equipment for sale in its buy/sell sections. You can often find some fantastically cheap fire sales on there if you get lucky.
The downside to both of these options is that you’ll be relying more on luck of the draw than necessarily finding exactly what you need. Local online communities are best used by checking them regularly to see if anything interesting pops up. They’re not a first-line choice for supplying your entire restaurant, but they may turn up something interesting every once in a while.
Get Prepped to Prep
Getting the right kitchen supplies is no small task, as any restaurant owner or operator would tell you. Buying quality equipment is one of the most crucial parts of running a restaurant since it will let your chefs do the best work they can. Ideally, the equipment you buy will be a solid investment that will make you good returns for years to come.
When it comes to running a restaurant, there are always unforeseen events and obstacles. A consistent problem for many restaurant owners is being understaffed: staff may get sick, quit, or be unavailable.
Pared is looking to make that problem a thing of the past. Sign up with Pared and see what it’s like to never be short-staffed again.