Replace or Refurbish? The Pros and Cons

Content sponsored by: Alto-Shaam

Foster F. Frable, Jr.

By Foster F. Frable, Jr., president, Clevenger Frable LaVallee, White Plains, N.Y.

Renovating a commercial kitchen provides the chance to reduce labor, maximize efficiency, improve operating costs and expand or reduce production areas.

A key point to consider when planning a full-scale kitchen renovation is whether existing equipment should be reused or discarded and replaced with new equipment.

Rather than plan around the size, quantity and functional characteristics of existing equipment, always start with a well-planned design or sketch to illustrate improvements on paper ¾ or at least have a clearly defined scope of the main improvements needed. Thoughtful planning can make or break a design.

Rather than looking at remaining equipment as “born again” assets, these units may instead undermine your intentions by duplicating the very inefficiencies you are trying to eliminate. Chances are equipment and counter design that are too small or poorly designed will still be inefficient in a different location. 

To make a competent decision, you need to take a closer look at what you have to work with.

Here are some important steps to consider when deciding whether to replace or refurbish equipment:

  1. First, start by having a reputable service agency inventory existing equipment and evaluate the condition of each piece. This should include a simple grading system assessing the mechanical and physical condition to determine the potential value for reuse or removal. The evaluation also should provide an estimated cost for refurbishment for those items deemed useful.
  2. A logical rule of thumb in the evaluation is the 50 percent theory. Generally, if the refurbishment cost is near or exceeds 50 percent of the replacement value, replacement is warranted, as you are halfway or closer to the cost of new equipment. Keep in mind, there is a 50/50 chance for breakdown due to component failure with parts not replaced under a refurbishment agreement.
  3. Separate your equipment inventory into primary and secondary categories. Primary equipment like exhaust hoods, dishwashers, walk-in coolers, cooking equipment, and stainless steel fabrication are stationary equipment items, which are difficult to relocate. Secondary equipment like meat slicers, storage shelving and toasters, are easier to move and relocate. Consider upgrading your primary items within the renovation window to take advantage of saving time as well as money.

Often, an operator will need to leave the existing cooking exhaust system intact because of limited funds or the system will not require a new permit, testing and approval process from the local fire inspector if left undisturbed. 

If this decision is made, there are several aspects to consider.

  • Not all cooking hoods are made the same, and these are designed for specific equipment types.
  • The new equipment may produce more heat, grease and smoke, which the existing hood may not have been designed to efficiently handle.
  • Always have the existing hood tested by a qualified licensed HVAC contracting company.
  • Inefficient cooking exhaust systems are a significant contribution to kitchen fires.
  • Certain pieces of equipment may not hold up to relocation, so a contingency plan is needed.

Keep in mind that some equipment wholesale companies specializing in used aftermarket equipment will purchase or negotiate a fee for the removal of unwanted or obsolete equipment. Yet, operators should not anticipate a big return on investment if this is the case, regardless of the equipment’s age.

Bottom line, when evaluating existing equipment, be selective and test the value of the equipment against your overall objectives. Don’t just keep something because it was a big purchase 10 years ago, and confirm that every unit will be useful and contribute to the new layout and menu. 

Finally, protect yourself by thoroughly evaluating what you already own and only reuse equipment that’s in good condition. It will be more affordable and savvy of you to pay for new equipment now rather than later.


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