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Behind the counter of every neighborhood ice cream parlor is one of these freezers chock full of many favorite flavors of the classic summertime treat. They’re designed to keep their contents safe and frozen while giving operators convenient access and letting the customer get a good look at what’s being offered. Models are available that include container rails for storing solid toppings and syrups. More ▾
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Since these units are just as necessary to an ice cream parlor as a pin-striped apron, they are available in hundreds of different versions to best fit the needs of every establishment. With so many different models available, it can seem a little confusing at first. Below is a buying guide to help you find the model that is right for your business.

Three Different Groups

Overall, you can separate the hundreds of models into three separate groups. Each group is designed to accommodate a specific type of frozen treat:

  • Ice Cream Dipping Cabinet
  • Ice Cream Merchandiser
  • Gelato Display Cabinet

The most popular and familiar cabinet is the dipping cabinet. These are the models found behind the counter at ice cream parlors. Tubs of ice cream are kept frozen and the ice cream is scooped out by a server. As this is the most popular group for ice cream parlors, it also contains the widest selection.

Gelato display cabinets are used to display gelato, a frozen Italian dessert. While ‘gelato’ is Italian for ice cream, the product differs slightly from its American cousin as it contains more milk and has less fat. Gelato is also served at a temperature much warmer than ice cream. If ice cream was to be served at this temperature, it would too soft and almost soupy. Lastly, gelato comes in pans instead of tubs, so serving it requires a specialized cabinet.

Ice cream merchandisers have a different purpose. They’re popular in many dessert parlors and convenience stores for keeping packaged desserts like pints of ice cream, popsicles and ice cream sandwiches at a frosty temperature. These units are part of a larger family of horizontal freezers that can be used in many other settings like convenience stores or delis.

Sizes

When deciding what size ice cream cooler to buy, you need to consider two related items: how many products you need to store in your freezer and how much floor space you have available for it. Ice cream merchandisers have a range of volumes from 5 to 25 cubic feet of interior space. Lower volumes are better suited for establishments that carry only a few varieties.

When you’re trying to find the right size dipping cabinet, instead of relying on cubic feet space, look at tub capacity. A tub, which typically holds three gallons of ice cream, is how ice cream is kept, sold and stored. Most manufacturers list both the number of tubs that can be displayed and stored in their cabinets. The smallest models only have the capacity for one or two tubs at a time. The largest of models can store up to 16. These units can get up to 96 inches wide, so be sure you know how much space you have before buying one of these large-size units.

Similarly, if buying a gelato display cabinet, look at the number of pans it holds. Gelato is typically sold and displayed in five liter pans. The smallest cabinets hold six pans, and the largest units go all the way up to 24 pans.

Design

On merchandisers, you can purchase either a curved glass top or a flat glass top. While one or the other may have looks that fit in better with your décor, neither one offers a significant advantage over the other.

On dipping cabinets, three designs are available: flip-lid, glass, and low-profile glass.

  • Flip-lid models lack the style and glamour of the other two models as you have to actually flip a solid metal lid to get to the containers inside. Also, because customers cannot look inside at the flavors, they may not be a good choice for front-of-house operation at ice cream parlors.
  • Models with glass or low-profile glass are the ones you typically see at ice cream parlors; they allow customers to see what flavors are available. Low-profile models maximize the viewable area and allow younger kids to see the different flavors.

Specialty Options

You may want to equip your ice cream cooler with some specialty options to make your life easier. Listed below are three such options.

  • A dipper well gives you a place to clean and store your ice cream scooping utensils. It also slightly warms the scoop, which allows for easier and quicker scooping of the ice cream.
  • A topping station provides a rail with containers for solid toppings such as nuts, sprinkles or liquid toppings like chocolate sauce.
  • Lighting can enhance the appearance of your frozen treats. Lights help improve the cabinet’s display and make it easier for your staff to seeyour product offering.