Before you start shopping for a refrigerated display case, there are a few things you need to take note of. First, decide exactly what items you'll be storing and how much of each; this will determine the number of sections you need your new box to have. Next, think about where in your building the display cooler will be installed to help you determine the type of door you want and the best compressor location.
Number of Sections
Interior space is sometimes measured in terms of cubic feet, but because you can't typically use up every single cubic foot, it's better to think in terms of how many shelves you need. These units usually include four shelves per section, with the option to buy more if needed. Err on the side of too big if you're unsure of how many sections you need. An overfilled refrigerated display case will be unable to maintain safe temperatures and might even break down. It also won't keep your drinks and other items at temperatures customers expect them to be.
Choosing a Door Type
Display refrigerator doors come in two basic designs: swinging and sliding. Swinging doors are mounted on hinges and swing outward, like on a classic reach-in box. Some models with swinging doors include the option to reverse the doors, so the hinges can be installed on the opposite side if it better suits the box's location. In terms of energy efficiency, swinging doors might be a better choice because they're less likely to be left open to waste energy. Most are self-closing and will form a positive seal every time they close.
Sliding doors, which are available on two section models and larger, are mounted on rails and slide horizontally. Sliding doors can conserve space in narrow aisles, and are somewhat easier to open, providing a more comfortable shopping experience. The rails that sliding doors sit on tend to become worn over time and let cold air escape, decreasing the unit's energy efficiency. Additionally, customers may not tightly close the doors and even units with an automatic closing mechanism can be worn out to the point where they still sit open.
The standard shelving in a refrigerated display case is made of steel and coated in plastic, either PVC or epoxy, to help it resist rusting and make them easier to clean. This type of shelving is durable and will hold up to regular use, but over time the coating can become worn, exposing the metal and leading to rust and unsanitary conditions, so they will periodically need to be replaced.
A longer-lasting alternative to coated shelving is stainless steel. Solid stainless steel comes at a higher price, but will last longer without having to be replaced.
The compressor is a key component in the refrigeration process, and it's critical that it have open space around its louvered air intake and exhaust vents. In a display cooler, the compressor will be located on either the top or the bottom. The location can have some significant implications in terms of cleaning and maintenance, so it's worth your time to be deliberate in choosing which type you want.
- Top-mounted compressors don't gather as much dirt and dust from the floor, so they won't need cleaning as frequently as bottom-mounted ones.
- All components in the box – condenser, compressor, and evaporator - are in the same place, so refrigerant lines don't have to be run through the back. This can simplify maintenance and devote more space in the box to storage.
- Top-mounted compressors are a little harder to get to, so servicing them is a bit more difficult. Maintenance visits may take longer and require more than one technician, increasing the cost of repairs.
- Because heat rises, ambient air temperatures tends to be higher near the tops of these units, so top-mounted models may have to work a little bit harder to stay cooler, potentially decreasing their energy efficiency.
- Bottom-mounted units, because their bases are devoted to the compressor, have higher bottom shelves. That means customers don't have to bend as far to reach the lowest contents.
- Because they're easier to get to, they're often easier to service and clean. Keeping them clean will limit service calls, and those you do have to make will likely take less time and effort. That's because the technicians don't have to do as much lifting and climbing to replace parts.
- Because the compressors are closer to the floor, they tend to get dirtier and trap more dust. This means you'll have to clean them more frequently to keep them running efficiently.
- Bottom-mounted units have lines of refrigerant that run through the back of the cabinet from the bottom to the top. These lines take away usable storage space.
Customizing Your Cooler
Since the purpose of a display cooler is to show off your products to your customers, you'll want yours to match the décor of your business. Most manufacturers offer black, white, and stainless steel finishes. Less commonly, painted sides are an option on some models, which are available in a wider variety of colors. Some also have glass sides, to allow your customers viewing of your products from every side.
Many of these have a lit signage area above the door. That will likely include preinstalled graphics from the manufacturer which are removable so your own custom signage can be used. These can be used to support your marketing or branding efforts, or to simply inform what customers will find in the cooler.
Storing Open Food
While most display merchandisers are designed to store and display packaged food, some are suitable for holding open food. These are sometimes used in restaurants to showcase desserts and salads. Other kitchens may end up using a refrigerated display case back-of-house. For those who do store open food, make sure the unit you choose is rated to do so. Units with drains should not be used for this purpose, as they offer insects, rodents, and germs an easy and always-open entry point.