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The Fundamentals for Diners, Truck Stop Cafes, Fast Food and More

Diners are a classic American eatery.  There are diners in every town and city in the U.S., as well as along all the major interstates and roadways, and many are open 24 hours a day.  You can easily classify truck stop cafes & certain fast food establishments with diners because they share some of the same challenges.

Though these restaurants may appear to be simple from the outside, it can be a rather intense undertaking to open one.  Here are some tips to remember when shopping for your 24 hour diner, as well as a few necessary pieces of equipment for both the FOH and BOH.

Things To Remember Before Shopping

The needs of a 24 hour operation are going to be different than standard businesses.  Here are a few things to bear in mind when shopping for equipment.

  • Hours Of Operation – Your business is going to be open for 24 hours a day, which means your equipment will be on 24 hours a day.  When shopping for equipment, it is important that you purchase heavy duty pieces that won’t break down after a few months.  Economy equipment is not intended to run 24/7, and will definitely need to be replaced much sooner than a piece that is built to last.
  • Volume – For obvious reasons, it is important to know what kind of volume your equipment will be used to cook during rush periods.  Owners of 24 hour establishments need to remember that (odds are) overnight shifts will not be as busy as during peak hours.  Some all-night restaurants, however, see increased volume during late night hours (depending on location), so it is important to know which category your establishment will fall into.
  • Menu – Because they are open all day, 24 hour operations often times have some of the most extensive menus.  These establishments tend to have offerings for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, and even though they may not offer every menu item overnight, there is a pressing need to have the proper equipment to cook varying meals during different parts of the day.
  • Energy – Since your equipment will be running constantly, energy costs will be of utmost importance.  When shopping make sure that your equipment is efficient as possible (while still addressing your volume needs), and try to find equipment that can be partially shutdown.  For instance, it is appropriate to purchase a griddle that first and foremost address your volume needs because when a portion of a griddle is not needed, burners can be shut off.  However, should you buy a smaller griddle to conserve on energy, there may not be enough grill space during rush periods.
  • Standard Restaurant Needs – Remember that a diner is, above all, a restaurant.  All of the standard pieces needed in every food service establishment, such as refrigeration, dishwashers, storage, smallwares, etc. will be necessary.  Don’t get so distracted thinking about the big pieces of equipment that you forget about the essentials.

Important Back-Of-The-House Equipment

Though the BOH should be stocked in accordance with a business’s menu, there are a number of pieces of equipment that are used quite heavily in the kitchen of an all night diner.

  • Griddle – The most frequently used piece in a 24 hour diner is the griddle.  Used for all meals of the day (especially when breakfast is available), the griddle is the centerpiece of every diner kitchen.  Make sure your establishment has a hard working, heavy duty griddle that can accommodate the workload that will no doubt be rested upon its shoulders.
  • Fryer – Commercial deep fryers have their place in every diner kitchen.  Used for French fries, and a number of other items (depending on the diner menu), a hardworking deep fryer is essential in your kitchen.  Multiple fryers or a fryer with a built-in filter may be necessary, as there may not be much down time in a 24 hour diner to change / clean fryer oil.
  • Toaster – A commercial toaster is an important piece of equipment in any establishment that offers breakfast.  Toast and bagels appear on nearly breakfast menu in the country, and depending on rush sizes, a conveyor toaster may be the best way to go.
  • Charbroiler – Depending on how your cooks will be preparing their meat, a charbroiler may be necessary.  Steaks for menu items like steak & eggs, or burgers can be cooked on a griddle as well, but many business owners opt to cook their proteins on a charbroiler for taste / quality.

Important Front-Of-The-House Equipment

The BOH of a 24 hour diner is not the only area that requires some special equipment.  Let’s take a look at the FOH and the “must have” items for every diner.

  • Coffee Equipment – People drink excessive amounts of coffee in diners, it is a known fact.  The “bottomless cup of coffee” is a staple of diners across the country, and your business must be adequately outfitted to supply customers with fresh hot coffee at a moment’s notice.  Most diners opt for automatic brewers with several burner plates or satellite brewers to keep a steady supply of coffee on hand for customers.
  • Bakery Case – Traditionally diners offer up a number of desserts for customers, such as pies, cheesecake, etc.  A bakery case is the best way to keep these desserts on display to entice customers while simultaneously keeping them fresh.  Many of these cases make great FOH centerpieces.
  • Milkshake Mixer – Many diners offer customers a delicious piece of Americana, the milkshake.  Milkshakes are becoming more and more common, and a milkshake mixer / blender is the best way to give your customers a consistent product.  It may be necessary to have a freezer nearby your milkshake station to keep FOH (who will most likely be making the milkshakes) from having to travel to the BOH.
  • Booths – Most restaurateurs invest in booths, but it is worth listing.  Many consumers expect booths when they eat at a diner, so it may not be a bad idea to give them what they want.