Any restaurateur who has dealt with equipment parts has heard of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and generic parts. If you haven’t, here’s a quick rundown:
OEM parts are produced by the manufacturer of the piece of equipment or a subcontractor commissioned to make parts for the original manufacturer. OEM parts are distributed by the manufacturer of your restaurant equipment. If your equipment is under warranty, the manufacturer will replace broken parts using an OEM part and a certified service technician.
Generic parts are not made or distributed by the manufacturer of the restaurant equipment. These parts are made using the same specifications as the original part and are equal or better in quality to the equivalent OEM part.
And this is where the whole thing gets a little complicated. Restaurant equipment manufacturers have spent a lot of time and energy telling the entire food service industry that generic parts are inferior in quality and perhaps even dangerous to use. There is an obvious economic incentive for them to say this: if you buy an OEM part from them, they make a lot of money. Ironically, many “generic” parts are made in the same factory, and by the same company, that makes the OEM part (Robertshaw parts being the most common example of this). The only difference between the two is the box the part comes in. If it’s in a Southbend box, it’ll cost you as much as 50% more than the identical part in another parts distributor’s box.
I will say this again because the myth out there is a powerful one: generic parts are equal to or better in quality than the OEM part. Really, there are only a few reasons why you would ever want to buy an OEM part over a generic part:
Warranty. Your equipment is still under warranty and using anything besides an OEM part installed by a certified service technician will void the warranty.
Availability. Sometimes, due to the geographic location of your business in relation to parts distributors, you can get an OEM part faster than a generic. And sometimes speed really matters, like when your fryer thermostat goes down the Friday before the Super Bowl. In those situations you might be willing to pay more for the same part just so you can get it right away.
Generic availability. Some parts, especially rare parts, are not manufactured generically and can only be purchased from the original equipment manufacturer. That’s when you just have to grin and bear it.
Otherwise, there’s really no reason to not buy generic (and remember that in many cases “generic” means the same exact part from the same place in a different box). Of course, always buy from a reputable restaurant equipment parts distributor no matter what kind of part you’re looking for.
There are many very common parts that go out all the time in the most common types of restaurant equipment. These parts are easy to buy generically and easy to install.