restaurant knife sharpening business

Anyone here run, know anyone who runs, or use a restaurant knife sharpening business?

I have worked as a cook for many years, but never really spent much time dealing with the people who sharpened our knives. Recently, a manager of a restaurant I formerly worked at contacted me about sharpening their knives. It would be a mid scale operation (the business is a small local chain, with about 10 stores) and I'd like to do it to have some income for something I'm fairly good at doing. So...

I'm just not sure what sort of price to bid to him. I see knife sharpeners quoting various prices online, and have heard people talk about pricing at farmers markets, but want some info from people who might do this professionally.

Thanks much!

Well, I don't own a sharpening business, but I know plenty of people who own restaurants, and still do a few sharpening sessions as time permits.

Pricing for sharpening services can be all over the place, so you have to really decide for yourself.
Personally, I would not try to be the "low bidder".
Anyone who is running business at low prices is most likely doing high volume; that also means they might have an equipment setup to suit that volume, which you may or may not have.
Or maybe their work is low-quality (you'd be surprised).
Or perhaps they're simply not charging enough to turn reasonable profit, in which case they won't be around very long.

Keep in mind that you're local, thereby eliminating shipping costs/hassles. This would also allow you to have quicker turnaround as a selling point. Anything that reassures the customer that your services are a good value.

As far as pricing goes, your real concern is anyone local.
I would worry more about their pricing than I would online services, simply due to the realization that quick turnaround is an absolute must in this area.

Remember, nothing provides more reassurance to a customer than an actual physical transaction between you and them.
You picking the order up rather than them packaging/shipping it.
You delivering it back to them personally, and taking the time to explain what you did, and why you did it.
This opens the door to effective communication and education between you and your customer. Use that to your advantage.

Good Luck,
Rob makes a lot of sense. I've looked into the sharpening thing and frankly it's just not worth my time. Whether it's chainsaws, kitchen knives or woodworking tools, the average joe would rather throw away a blade than pay my shop rate to have it properly maintained.

Most of the restaurants in my small town use cheap, basically disposable knives. There are still a couple old-school butcher shops here, but they do their own sharpening. In fact, one of them offers sharpening for his customers... charges $5 a knife... he won't tell me how he does it but I think I can guess. I've seen a couple knives he's done and I'm not impressed at all. But hey, what do you expect for $5?

Point is, if you're looking to make a little money by doing high-end sharpening on high-end knives, I think you have to look for high-end restaurants. If you live in/near a city that has a bunch of them, it might be worthwhile. In my area, bleh, forget it.

EDIT: of course I do offer free re-sharps on any knife I make, that's different.
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Yeah, I agree about not wanting to be the low bidder. I'm mainly struggling with a balance between keeping my price accessible to the customer, and still making enough money for this not to be a waste of my time. So far I'm not sure how I can find that balance. I think I need to propose that they get an extra set of knives (so, 11 sets) and I drop off a sharp one as I'm picking up the dull one. Then I would sharpen in my shop and move to the next place. Having trouble conceptualizing travel time and costs, and how to make any money figuring those in.

Right now the managers are fairly determined to get a good sharpener, even though the knives are pretty generic. They have been having the guys at the central commissary sharpen them, but it looks like they completely destroyed the current knives - I took a look, and it looks like a bench grinder and a really wide sanding belt was used, and some of the knives had oxidation colors creeping up from the edges. Maybe I can push them towards getting some higher end knives to start out with...
You have a great idea for extra income and rob45 hit the nail on the head. I worked for about 7 years for Beltram Edge Tool Supply, in Tampa. Beltrams' sons were top dogs at Intedge. He himself was a "grinder" starting in NJ almost 100 years ago. I ran a knife route for Mr. Beltram and we charged depending on the size and sometimes how badly the knife needed work, but usually prices were around $1.50 per knife (that was 20 years ago). Most customers were serviced weekly, and all of them at least every two weeks. We had hundreds of customers in Tampa and the surrounding bay area. I also would take in the meat grinder blades for sharpening, sell saw blades and anything else the customer needed. That is one advantage of delivering to them in person. Once the customer realizes what day you will be coming in, you will start getting calls to bring other items the store or restaurant needs. You have a potential to make quite a lot of money. Mr. Beltrams' youngest son took the business over and started a complete food service supply. He is now a multi-millionaire and has a large ranch in Wyoming. Good luck!! dodgeguy
Oh yes, we did exchange the knives for the customer, so your right on about the customers getting an extra set of knives. Eventually, the knives will be useless and need replacing, after many sharpenings. After the initial set, we built in replacements into the price, but we did not put new knives in service until absolutely necessary. Many professionals obviously know how to use their knives, but many do not know how to sharpen them properly. It is a service you can provide and it becomes a business write off for them. -dodgeguy
Oh, hey there. So, I guess first, what sort of price range should I be pitching to them? (about 10 locations, lets say about 10 knives per location, sharpened once per week.) I do not have a mobile setup, so I'd need to go and pick up the knives, trading them a sharp set (they will have an extra set.)
Well there are many different variables. I compete against Co**ini which is a huge company here and they probably have 95% of the commercial accounts in my area. I used to try to be the cheaper guy to attract the typical restaurant customer but ultimately I make my money on volume. for the typical restaurant with typical crappy house knives or rental knives I charge $2.00 per knife. The key for me is a weekly or bi-weekly schedule and you try to run a route to keep your cost in line. The only problem I see is 10 locations with 10 knives each is about $200.00. That for me is about $150.00 profit for the day. By far my largest expense is the fuel that is why I try to group restaurants together on a route. The only part I really like about the commercial sharpening is the weekly/bi-weekly income. My standard procedure would be to pick up their knives, leaving them a set of rental/loaner knives and taking their knives back to the shop to sharpen, returning their knives the next week or two weeks later picking up the knives I left and repeating the process.

Lets say I do about 500 rental knives per week.

500 knives @ $2 per knife= $1000.00 per week

Profit about $800 @ 52 weeks = $41,600 per year. We haven't even touched the residential market.
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For a few years one of my sidelines was sharpening restaurant knives. I've not done it for over 10 years, but back then the cost was $3 per blade, up to 10". 10" or more was $5 per blade, and serrated blades $8-10 each.

I would take off early on a Saturday morning, on my "route" picking up knives, get home within a couple of hours, sharpen, make/print out invoices, then return the knives.

Here are a few pitfalls that I ran into:
1. Cleaning the knives. Many of the knives I would pick up were so gummy, nasty, greasy, dirty that I would have to clean/scrub them before every sharpening...that eats up a lot of time.

2. Liability! EVERY invoice needs to have in big bold letters "USE CAUTION, KNIVES ARE VERY SHARP! NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS!" The very first time I returned knives to one place, one of the servers slashed his thumb and required stitches. I won't even go into that fiasco.

3. Here's what drove me out of doing this....GETTING PAID. To explain...Most restaurants, whether locally or corporate owned, generally have a "headquarters". My invoices where always "Due upon receipt", but IF the restaurant manager was good, it still took 3-5 days minimum to get the bill sent in, then the "home office" has to look it over, write the check, and mail it out. Generally it would be 2-3 weeks before I got paid, and since I was doing it on a weekly basis, I was always on the phone trying to get them to catch up on what they owed me, invoice were always overlapping, and just keeping track was a lot of effort.

Long story short, payments started getting further and further out...and at times there were 2-3 invoices for the same restaurant outstanding. Finally at 45 days past due, I started refusing to sharpen their knives until previous invoices were settled. Chasing down late payments became a full time job, eating up all of my time. It finally got to the point where all I was doing was being a collections clerk. At that time I just threw up my hands and said "no more", I had a total of 21 restaurants that I was sharpening for once a week, averaging 10-15 knives per, so yes, it was decent money, but only IF you can get your money. I still have a couple of locally owned restaurants that I sharpen for, but I personally know the owners, and it is with the understanding that everything is paid in full upon delivery....something you just can't do with chain or corporate.

I thought it would be "easy money" too, but in reality it was more frustration than anything. Maybe you can learn from my story and prevent those things for happening to you.
Echoing what Ed said on the warning! It is AMAZING to me that somone who works with knives on a full time basis will be so careless!! Please make the effort (it may seem silly) to educate your customer on just how sharp these knives can be. Ive had 3 diffrent places have folks cut to the point of medical attention. All 3 said they had never used knives that sharp. And oddly enough, they almost sounded like I had done something bad!

I get $5 min for a 8" - 10" chef, and boning knives, over 10" is $8 and I dont do serated blades. I do sharpen the large scalloped slicer knives for $8.

God Bless
When we return a sharpened knife to our customers, we include
a Band-Aid to remind them that their knives are now SHARP!
Several folks have come back with more knives and mentioned that
they did indeed cut themselves and never felt the cut and were sorry
they were so careless because "you did tell me that I've never had a
knife this sharp". But they keep bringing in more knives and tools.

I agree with Ed I make a sheath on my printer that says [sharp knife please be careful]. I had one guy I sharpen for stabbed hiumself in the leg with a skinning blade I hone hair popping scary sharp . He didnt know how bad it was until he got home 15 minutes after stabbing himself in the main artery in the leg. He near bleed to death with 4 hours of micro surgery to save the artery in case he ever needed it for heart surgery . So yup tell me about letting your customers know about sharp knives. I agree with Ed if you cant get cash in hand its not worth doing them no matter what the price is its a pain in the butt. I feel that pricing all depends on your area and what you do to get them sharp. Straight razors are the biggest pain that ive sharpened and can take up to 1 hour to resharpen depending on how bad it is and if your doing them by hand on a stone. Dont under sell your time. Kellyw
good topic
i have been asked by daughter-in-law to sharpen knives for her restaurant. have looked around on line and $1 to $2 dollar an inch seems to be the going rate. did a 3 knife sample for them, am still waiting for feedback. as others have brought up, one factor is no name and/or poor quality blades. one knife i did is made by a company that only sells door-to-door or parties. double checked this part, blade was 410 stainless, Rc 45(from website "Finest cutlery steel available") another knife was sooo dull, it was like a freshly tempered unground blank.
bottom line: is $1 to $2 dollars an inch(depending on condition) a fair price? the only cutlery sharpening service that advertises in the area is 30+ miles from restaurant and only open 4 days a week.
thanks laurence. got email from them last night. agreed to all my suggestions and pricing, they just want some sharp knives. am going to restaurant tomorrow to meet with owner. i also want to look and see what they are using for cutting boards and how they clean knives at end of day. would it be bad form to try and sell them some of my knives? this is my first client. hoping if they are happy with my work, i can get referrals. as i said earlier, many small independent restaurants,(imagine northern california hippy in rural north carolina) no one that i know of sharpening knives.
thanks laurence. got email from them last night. agreed to all my suggestions and pricing, they just want some sharp knives. am going to restaurant tomorrow to meet with owner. i also want to look and see what they are using for cutting boards and how they clean knives at end of day. would it be bad form to try and sell them some of my knives? this is my first client. hoping if they are happy with my work, i can get referrals. as i said earlier, many small independent restaurants,(imagine northern california hippy in rural north carolina) no one that i know of sharpening knives.

I give Loaner knives to my customers that bring theirs to my shop if I have to keep them overnight. These are mostly just Henkels or others that are inexpensive, I would wait on showing them or maybe loaning one of your knives until you get a re-pore with the people.

Most restaurant "Cooks" can't afford and don't want the cost and responsibility of have anything that expensive.

Professional Chef's and well heeled home cooks are my custom Knife buyers.

I do have a question on "polished" vs "Grippy" edges.
I sharpened a set of knives for a Restaurant owner/Chef as a favor. No charge. While he liked the fact that the knives were sharper than he had ever had them. He did complain that his medium chef (8" Shun) had trouble biting the skin on a tomato and bell peppers.

I sharpened them all on the series of belts ending with a 5 micron, then to a strop to .5 micron diamond paste. these knives cut like lasers, but would slide on a tomato. What is the issue, is too fine a polish a bad thing?

Thanks and God Bless