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Buying a Kitchen for your Restaurant, The Complexity of the Sales and Distribution System

You have this great idea for a restaurant, you can visualize how it will look and the great food that it will serve. How do you make it a reality?

Supposing that financing has been secured (that’s a whole different subject), that a site has been located (another whole different subject which is the dealing with real estate agents and landlords), and the actual design and development stage starts, to be followed by the build out, hiring and training a crew, and finally the grand opening.

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Three critical players in this process are the architect, the kitchen designer and the general contractor. Some times the architect will assume the role of kitchen designer,but anyway, these are the three key functions to getting the restaurant built. The architect will be critical to get the layout of the overall restaurant done, fitting in the kitchen to these plans. The layout has to be compliant for safety, fire, sanitary, handicapped accessible, etc.. The plans are completed and signed, and sent out for approval by the local authorities. Here a good knowledgeable  can save time and money by getting it right the first time.

The kitchen layout has been done, the kitchen designer has worked with the owner/investor/chef/restauranteur, going over the menu, the cooking processes, capacity analysis, ticket time calculations, and how the kitchen is going to work as a complete system, that covers the smallest area possible, and is cost effective (not necessarily the lowest cost).  Kitchen packet is sent out for pricing. Now the stage is set for where the problems can be.

Ideally the walk-in refrigerator, the extraction hoods and any large piece of equipment goes in when construction starts. If the kitchen designer works for an equipment distributor, he will want it in the kitchen packet. if the architect does the kitchen design, he would delegate this to the kitchen contractor. If the kitchen designer is independent, he will find the best supplier for these items, and set-up the purchase directly from the manufacturer, and these items can be then installed by the kitchen contractor, with the exact equipment that is best for that restaurant, at the best price.

Meanwhile the rest of the restaurant build continues. Now we have a smaller kitchen equipment packet with specific pieces of equipment that are critical, and then others that are generic and could be supplied by many equipment companies.

In the US the kitchen equipment distribution system is multi-tiered, with equipment factories that mostly work through independent sales representatives/agents, then the equipment is sold through distributors and dealers (if that factory doesn’t sell direct). The distributors and dealers have formed buying groups which include preferred manufacturers that give them better prices/discounts, loyalty rebates, etc..

Here everything falls apart, the sales reps. are regional, and in theory split their sales commission between where the equipment is installed, where it is specified and where the pament comes out of. The sales rep., as an independent contractor is going to try to maximize their income. In some cases when working on overseas projects, they will give no support. A few of these sales reps know their equipment and have test kitchens where one can try them. Others just have an office and will depend on a dealer to do the equipment demos. Also the equipment factories will change sales reps, and a sales rep that was telling you that combi oven R was the best in the world, will come back a month later and tell you this is not so, but combi oven B is better…. and so on…

The equipment distributor dealer (who belongs to a buying group) will push the equipment that gives him the best margin, so if combi oven R was specified (and they aren’t in the buying club) they will change it out for combi B, and in many cases justify this by saying it is lower priced but as good or better, but in truth, at a lower price they still get a better margin. If the kitchen designer works for one of the equipment dealers/distributors, then the equipment specified is automatically the one that is in their buying group.

Ideally in the process of building the restaurant, these critical pieces of equipment are taken out of the kitchen packet and negotiated and purchased separately.  These are usually the big ticket items, and ones that are critical for the production, quality, consistency and reliability  of the kitchen.

The remaining kitchen packet, can be bid out to the dealers and they will sell, install, and hopefully with the sales reps help start up the equipment.

A restaurant is a system, and the kitchen is a subsystem that produces the food, it has to be designed and developed as such, and using a designer that is working for you will give you the best kitchen and at the lowest cost.

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