Unlike back-of-house equipment, refrigerated display cases are on the front lines, seen day in and day out. Not only do they need to perform efficiently, they have to look attractive. Many models on the market perform as good as they look.
Making the case
The guidelines for buying refrigerated display cabinets are pretty simple. First, determine if you need an open-front or glass-front design.
Open-fronts are made for self-service or cafeteria-style operations, where food is taken directly out of the case by the customer. If the case is going to stand flush against the wall, then rear-loading doors are unnecessary. But for any case that will be located in a freestanding position, rear loading doors will facilitate product rotation.
Glass-fronts are better suited for items that are plated or served by counter staff. These can be large, freestanding units or smaller ones that sit on the countertop; they can also be installed directly into the counter.
Before you buy, go through this checklist:
- Start by taking out the shelves and re-arranging them. How easy are they to reposition and remove? Some shelves can be tilted downward for better product visibility. The shelves on the Delfield Air Screen Merchandiser, for example, can be moved in 1-in. increments and tilted into three positions.
- With glass-front cases, check to see how easily the front panel and back doors can be cleaned. When the inside of the glass-front case gets dirty, will you need to empty it to clean it? Some units have front panels that tilt out and rear doors that slide out for simpler cleaning. Vollrath’s cases feature a “lift and remove” system on the rear doors to facilitate display changes and cleaning.
- The heart of the display case is the temperature control. In most models, mechanical controls have been replaced by microprocessors and digital controls, which allow for more consistent temperature. RPI’s Vienna countertop models have programmable digital controls for precision.
- Cases should also be designed for easy access to the condenser unit. Most repairs center on condenser problems, so a hard-to-reach condenser means longer downtime and higher labor costs.
- If your display case is going to be used only during daytime hours, consider investing in either night curtains or a security cover. The curtain, a standard feature on Master-Bilt’s MDT series of merchandisers, helps with energy efficiency while the security cover discourages theft.
A case study
Some businesses really depend on refrigerated display cases to be successful. One of those is the Newark, NJ-based three-unit The Grain Station, which sells sandwiches, salads and beverages to go. “I like open-air cases,” says owner Stacey Moore. “Good lighting near the shelves and glass side panels allow customers to see from all angles. Depth is also important, to hold as much stock as possible.”
As for dislikes, Moore says, “it would be great if the compressors could vent in front or back. They all need better evaporation systems to get rid of condensation.”