Question: I’m opening a small, midscale full-service restaurant. Can I save on my start-up costs by buying used restaurant equipment?

Answer: Equipping your kitchen can make up a significant chunk of your initial costs when opening a restaurant. It’s tempting to try and cut costs by buying used restaurant equipment—but before you do, make sure you understand the pros and cons of buying used. You may find buying used equipment may save you money in the short term—but costs you more in the long term with increased repair costs, higher energy bills and little recourse if something goes wrong.

So what should you consider when you’re deciding between new and used restaurant equipment?

  • How hard has the equipment been working? Some restaurant equipment—like ice machines and coolers, dishwashers, and coffee makers—have relatively short lives because of the amount of work they do on a daily basis. For these types of appliances, consider leasing. Yes, you’ll pay to use the equipment as long as you own it—but you won’t be responsible for repair costs. Plus, many companies will lease equipment for free in exchange for your buying their product, like coffee. Generally, electrical cooking equipment, deep fat fryers and  appliances that have been used for more than three years are poor risks to buy used.
  • Is the equipment energy efficient? Sturdier equipment, like gas ranges, ovens, fryers and grills, can be good choices to buy used—but do your homework first. Older equipment may be much less energy efficient than newer models: you’ll save money in the short term, but pay for it with higher energy costs over time. A high efficiency unit can pay for itself within a few months (for an ENERGY STAR qualified steam cooker) to a couple of years (fryers). Depending on the size of your business, you may qualify for government- or utility-sponsored rebates and incentives for new, energy-efficient products. (Take a look at our list of energy rebates, as well as our list of energy efficiency incentives available across Canada, for more information.)
  • What does the equipment look like? Sounds like a small concern, but if you have an open or exhibition kitchen , your restaurant equipment is an essential part of your decor.
  • If you buy used, can you get it repaired quickly and easily? You don’t want to have shut down your kitchen while you wait for a hard-to-find part for a used appliance. And remember—most used equipment doesn’t come with a warranty, so any repairs will come out of your pocket.

If you are going to buy used restaurant equipment…

If you are going to buy used appliances, take it as an opportunity to buy top-of-the-line brands you may not be able to afford new. High-quality equipment will usually work better and have a longer lifespan.

As well, look for equipment that’s only “gently used”—that is, less than three years old. Since 30% of restaurants fail within their first year, and an additional 30% will fail within two years, gently-used equipment is often easy to find.

Have you bought used restaurant equipment? What was your experience? Share your story in the comments.

Image credit: Tracy Hunter