Merchandising your food is a smart way to increase profits. There are plenty of cold merchandising units to help you do just that.
Here's what you should be looking for when buying merchandising and display refrigeration equipment. The most popular are refrigerated cases, which are capable of holding cold food at the generally required 41°F or colder holding temperature. They are available as freestanding glass front units, smaller countertop models or open-air screen self-service units.
For restaurants, the larger freestanding units are more likely to be appropriate for merchandising. The freestanding cases can be a typical reach-in refrigerator with glass doors or a glass back. Look for interior lighting to effectively merchandise your product. A unit with special “warm white” fluorescent bulbs or incandescent lights is best.
Countertop units may suit many needs to provide an impulse sale for a signature item or a take-out dessert item. The countertop units take up only 18" to 24" of counter space.
Also consider the deli-style case. They have full glass fronts or open fronts. Deli cases are usually three- to five-feet high so products can be passed over them or the top can be used for additional display. The most popular lengths are four-, six- and eight-feet long. Some manufacturers can piece together these sizes to make seemingly continuous cases or even add customized angles to make a serpentine length of cases.
European-styled cases with curved glass fronts are popular because of their clean, contemporary look and the unobstructed view they offer. The industry is moving toward a less institutional look.
Another style to consider is the open-air screen unit often found in grocery stores, cafeterias and a growing number of restaurants. Also worth looking at are special cases made for bakery products that control humidity and reduce airflow to keep baked goods from drying out. The refrigerated bakery cases can be mated together with identical looking ambient temperature units to display your full range of baked goods. At least one manufacturer makes a compact single split case with half ambient temperature merchandising and half refrigerated for bakery, pre-made sandwiches and salads.
Refrigerated display cases are typically built with oversized refrigeration systems. These systems maintain temperature and humidity while compensating for constant opening of doors. Even with the oversized systems, you need to control temperatures well in the nearby serving area to ensure proper operating temperatures will be maintained. Health and sanitation regulations require units in most areas to hold temperatures inside the case at 41°F. Select a model with a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) listing that will ensure compliance.
The newer forced cold-air units offer a more upscale look for self-serve. Food can be displayed in the open because air is gently blown across the product to maintain temperature. These units can be designed with little stainless steel visible for a less institutional look.
Consider also the frost top. It involves a counter top surface chilled from below to create a frosty surface for platters, bowls or crocks of foods. The frost surface is usually raised an inch or two above the counter and has a gully around the perimeter to catch condensate. The frost top is great for displays and foods that don't spoil. Real stone frost tops are now available. These units can be built using a single solid slab of granite that can have a portion heated and another cooled for buffet purposes. These units are able to solve the age-old challenge of what to do with a buffet counter when not in use as a buffet. The manufacturer can also remote all the controls so they are not visible.
Another innovation is the hot and cold combination unit. This unit can be changed back and forth from a cold pan to a hot food server depending upon the service needs of the moment. Costs for all the units discussed above can vary widely. But there are some affordable, attractive and well-designed display units and merchandisers that can enhance the food you are trying to sell.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-233-5226.