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Setting Up a Restaurant: A Pinch of Inspiration and a Pound of Planning

The excitement of shiny new commercial kitchen equipment and a dream list of cookware and cooking utensils can divert a chef’s focus from the boring-but-important ingredients in a new restaurant’s recipe for success. Here, experienced restaurant pros share their tips for cooking up a restaurant plan.

Do Your Homework

“Know exactly what the place is going to cost before undergoing the project,” says Frank Stocco, owner of National Restaurant Design in Forest Lake, MN, and author of How to Open a Restaurant: Due Diligence.

Your kitchen’s requirements are based on your concept types, such as burger joint, French bistro or seafood restaurant. “You’re going to have some commonality in every kitchen, but if you do a lot of fried food, for example, you’ll want to devote more space to fryers,” he says. Your state restaurant association can help you figure this out.

Also contact local building and health inspectors early on. “You need to know how code requirements will impact you, like fire, health and ADA. All of those play into the size and layout of your kitchen,” Stocco notes.

These steps are critical to understanding the largest portion of your kitchen budget and eliminating major surprises.

Consider Layout & Traffic Patterns

Deciding what goes where in the kitchen is like a giant puzzle. Analyze how to arrange the space for prep worktables, cooking, dry and chemical storage, waste and recycling bins, dishwashing, china and cutlery storage, and walk-in and freezer space. When in doubt, ask other restaurateurs and consult the experts at your restaurant association.

“Think not only about how the food is cooked, but how it moves from the kitchen to the dining room and the dishes back to the kitchen,” says Mo Shaw, owner of Mo Shaw Hospitality Consulting in Seattle, WA. She’s overseen the opening of numerous restaurants in her 30-plus years in the industry, including her newest project, Brimmer & Heeltap. “You’ll want to maximize flow between kitchen and front of house.”

Outfit the Kitchen

With the big stuff out of the way, you can turn your attention to restaurant kitchen supplies. In addition to stock pots and heavy braisers, purchase lots of sheet and baking pans and as many speed racks as you can accommodate. “They’re super helpful for storing prepped product and moving product about in the kitchen,” says Andrew Biggs, chef/owner of Hunt & Gather Catering in Portland, OR. Frequently used cooking utensils include whisks, tongs, rubber spatulas and assorted spoons.

Biggs’s go-to appliances include a food processor and tabletop stand mixer, which he uses daily for squeezing juice, making cracker doughs and grinding meats. “You don’t need to go out and buy a $3,000 machine,” he says. “Just make sure what you buy has a really heavy-duty motor so it can stand up to the constant use.”

Buy Smart

Every restaurateur has to make some tough decisions based on finances. If you can’t swing purchasing every item on your restaurant kitchen supplies list, buy critical items first and fill out your inventory as you have money to put back in the business. Emphasize items that can multi-task. “Six-inch plates can be used as bread plates, sauceboat liners and for amuse bouche service,” says Shaw. “Cross-utilize wherever possible.”

Here are more of Shaw’s tips for smart spending:

  • Pay more for china and less on flatware, which gets accidentally thrown away a lot.
  • Order stock items early so you’re not delayed by long lead times.
  • Retro-fit as much equipment as you can on a rebuild, making sure the work — and equipment — meets current codes.
  • Purchase investment pieces like ovens, which are highly durable, and lease more temperamental equipment so you’re not spending repair dollars when they break down, which they will.

Planning carefully up front will save you time and money down the road. “Before you even sign the dotted line on your lease, you should have a clear understanding of every aspect of your operation,” says Stocco. This puts you in a better position to make critical decisions and determine how to maximize every dollar spent. Then you can start using that dreamy equipment in your shiny new kitchen.

Jamie Peha has more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant, beverage and culinary industry and has worn many hats throughout her successful career. She is the energetic personality behind TableTalk Northwest, a radio program and online platform featuring articles, video interviews and a series of tasty consumer events. Jamie lives just north of Seattle with her husband and two beagles. Find Jamie on Google+.

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