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The first decision you’ll have to make when buying one of these units is whether you want a model with a refrigeration system or one without that must be cooled by bulk ice. Each type has its advantages and fits in best in different operations. For instance, refrigerated units can store your most popular beers by the case behind the bar, so they’re cold and easy for your bartenders to access. Meanwhile, ice-cooled systems are great in remote serving areas where electricity may not be available, like outside bars and poolside cabanas. More ▾
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Whether in a self-serve situation or a high-volume bar with a couple bottled drinks that sell like hot cakes, this is the perfect equipment to keep large quantities of cold beverages on hand. Finding the right one means deciding on considerations like whether you need it to have a refrigeration system, if you’d like for it to be mobile, and how much you need it to hold.

Refrigerated or Ice Cooled

Models with refrigeration systems are typically found in restaurants and bars. They can keep large amounts of cans or bottles cool at one time, making your most popular drinks easily accessible by staff. Though some of these units come on casters, they’re generally not considered mobile, since they have to remain connected to a power source and since moving a refrigeration system on a regular basis can cause problems. That’s why most establishments that have one build it into a counter setup, which puts it just a few steps away from bartenders during a rush.

Models without a refrigeration system are found in convenience stores, large venues with multiple serving stations, and poolside bars or other outdoor events where electricity is unavailable. Often called beverage centers, they are generally not found at indoor bars or restaurants. To hold drinks cold for an extended time, ice must be dumped into the unit. Heavy insulation built into the body of the unit holds the cold in, which means the ice melts slowly and your drinks stay cold. Choose a model with a lid if you’re going to be leaving drinks in your cooler for a long period or if you’ll mostly use it outside, as this further prevents ice melt. For operations that will only roll the cooler out for a short time or will be able to replace the ice throughout the day, a bottle cooler without a top provides an enticing display of your drinks.

Capacity

These coolers typically chill only two types of items: bottled and canned beverages. Because of that, the capacity of these coolers is usually given in the amount of cases of bottles or cans they can hold. The smallest models hold four and a half cases of bottles or six cases of cans. The largest models hold around 40 cases of bottles or 55 cases of cans.

The best use of these items is keeping large quantities of your most popular drinks cold and at hand. Your establishment may offer two dozen different drinks, but there are likely to be a very small number of them that sell in such quantities that you need them available in bulk. Many operators will post something about those top sellers or put out a table tent about them, so customers know they’re available. Meanwhile, their more limited sellers and specialty drinks can be put on display in a lighted underbar refrigeration with glass doors.

The capacity you choose doesn’t necessarily need to correlate to how many drinks you serve or think you’ll serve in a given shift. If you oversize your unit, then drinks can stay in it until the next serving period, with no need to load more each night. If it doesn’t hold as many bottles or cans as you sell at a time, more can easily be loaded by the case from your walk-in cooler. Sizing one of these units isn’t so much about getting the number of bottles you sell exactly right, but about having a way to keep a good number of your bulk sellers nearby.

Construction

Most models are available in either stainless steel or laminate. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Stainless steel has a classic look that fits in with any bar decor. It is more resistant to dents and scratches, making it a good choice in busy bar environments. That style and durability comes at a higher price point, though.
  • Laminate is a lower-priced alternative to stainless steel that does not need the frequent cleanings that are needed to keep stainless steel units shining. It also hides damage like scratches better than stainless, though such abrasions can be more problematic on this equipment as it can expose unprotected metal to oxidation.

Specialty Options

If you operate an especially high-volume bar where the door will be opened frequently, you may want to get a low-temp model. These are designed to operate at 30 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the typical 32-38. These keep temperatures low in order to compensate for the door being opened and closed frequently. They’re also great if you plan to store some popular liquors in bulk, since those are typically held and served at lower temperatures. Be aware that very low temperatures can create unsavory ice crystals in beer.