No matter how large or small your bar is, a back bar cooler is a necessity. Because no two bars will have the same needs, many different options are available. Below is a brief guide to some of the features you will have to decide upon when purchasing one.
Width and Number of Sections
The biggest decision you'll make is what size to get. Since all models except special “shallow depth” models have similar heights and depths, the most important size difference is width. First, be sure you know how wide a space you have for a unit. After that, figure out how many bottles or cans you will serve on an average day. Most of these units are sized in increments of 24 inches, and you can store about (24) 6-packs, or 144 bottles per 24-inch section.
Doors are available in either solid or glass. Each has its respective benefits and drawbacks.
A solid door model typically costs less than a similarly-sized glass door model. They are also more energy efficient, since the doors are insulated with the same material as the rest of the cabinet. These allow quick access to bulk storage of some of your most popular beers and other drinks right under the bar area. If you're storing nothing but bottles, and displaying the contents to your customers isn't a concern, you might find a bottle cooler to be more useful.
A glass door model offers visibility to the interior of the cooler. This allows customers to see what beverages you have available without even picking up a menu, a merchandising tool that might help boost your drink sales. It also makes it easier for bartenders, as they can quickly locate the drink they need before they open the door. However, choosing this door option means you will have to make another choice involving doors: swing-open or slide-open.
Door Design: Swinging or Sliding
- Swinging doors are mounted on hinges and open to one side. They're simple and easy to operate, but because they swing out into the aisle, they may be a hassle to use if space behind your bar is limited.
- A sliding door slides along a track horizontally. These are ideal for use in close quarters where space is limited. The drawback is that these doors, which don't have an auto-closing feature, can be inadvertently left open, wasting energy.
There are two different types of exterior finish available for a back bar refrigerator: stainless steel or black laminate. Most models are available with either.
- Black laminate offers a modern look, a lower price, and is easier to keep clean. Keep in mind that the baked-on laminate can become scratched or chip, which can cause it to peel and may allow for rust that compromises the structural strength of the unit.
- Stainless steel has a classic look and is less likely to dent or be damaged, but it is more expensive and must be cleaned more often.
One easy-to-overlook but important detail to consider when selecting a back bar cooler is the location of the compressor, because the compressor must be free to breathe, its location can determine where you can install your unit.
- Side-mounted compressors will have louvered air intake and exhaust vents on either the left or right side of the cooler. These are ideal if your equipment will be installed on the end of a lineup of equipment or by itself. The side with the vent must be situated away from walls and other equipment
- Remote compressors are located outside of the unit, typically outside the building and often on the roof. This keeps the heat and noise of the refrigeration system out of the service area, but installation can be costly since refrigerant lines have to be run between the unit and the compressor. Still, these can be the best choice if your bar area is small and constantly hot.
There are plenty of specialty options to accessorize your model. LED Lighting is brighter and more energy efficient than fluorescent lights. Many models also have door locks to prevent theft during busy times and after hours. Shallow depth models don't stick out as far, which means they fit better under smaller counters. However, they cannot hold as many beverages. Pass-thru models have doors that open on both the front and the back, allowing access from both sides. Mounting one of these in a wall with one side opening into the cold storage area and the other in the bar area allows for quick loading of drinks without taking up space in the bar. They can also be used in larger bars with a center island, allowing bartenders on both sides access to the contents.