If, like a lot of people your build out budget is minimal, you need to look for a space that is pretty much “turn key”. This means, most of the major things you need such as hood, grease trap, fire suppression system, air handling, etc. and smaller equipment such as stoves, ovens and refrigeration is already in place. Problem is, most turn key spaces have a premium attached. A premium is the price they want you to pay for what is there, and it can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Usually, the seller is the current tenant who put in the equipment, and they want to re-coup some of their costs. There is some room for negotiation, but if it is a desirable space and location, you WILL have competition so your chances of lowering that premium are minimal.
You will have to be patient. There are spaces that do not charge premiums (or the price is low), but those are few and far between (and again, you WILL have competition). I have seen several spaces over the past few years where the previous tenants are long gone, and the building owners do not feel the need to charge you for it because they did not pay for it to begin with (why I did not choose any of these will be covered later).
Another option is to adjust your equipment and menu so you can get away with fewer and smaller big ticket items (the ones listed above). For example, in Hawaii, if you use electric equipment and you only boil, steam or bake, you can probably slide by without a hood and vent system. If you keep grease and solid waste to a minimum you can get by with a much smaller grease trap. More on this regulation stuff later (I know, it’s a cliff hanger). But it is still best to look for a space that had some food service business before you came along (a juice or ice cream shop for example). It is pretty much a waste of time to look at office or retail spaces – the build out costs just for plumbing, electric, etc. is huge.