You've heard the saying that we eat with our eyes first. That thinking is what drives the use of display cases. The better you show off your products, the better they'll sell. Here's what you need to know.
Effective merchandising with food display cases is easier than ever as manufacturers introduce new display units that are sleeker and often customizable. What can you expect to find in a newer unit?
Refrigerated cases are available as freestanding glass-front units or smaller countertop models. Countertop models can be very small, taking up two feet or less of counter space. The larger, freestanding units come in a variety of lengths, but the most popular are four, six and eight feet long. Some manufacturers can piece together these sizes to make seemingly continuous cases. Many can add customized angles to make integral corners or serpentine arrangements of cases.
Some cases display product at counter height, while others stand six feet tall and higher. Other cases are made to be viewed from one side and accessed by workers on the other. There are self-service cases and cases meant to be staff-served. In all there is a dizzying array of functional case styles for different uses. European-styled cases with curved glass fronts are also popular because of their contemporary, clean look and the unobstructed view they offer. You need to determine the specifics of how a case is to be used, and then match your needs to a unit.
In addition to closed temperature-controlled cases, there are open air-screen units used in self-serve settings. There are other types of special cases made for bakery products that control humidity and reduce air flow to keep refrigerated baked goods from drying out. Refrigerated bakery cases can be mated together with identical-looking ambient and even frozen temperature units to display your full range of goods. A few manufacturers make split-case units that are half ambient and half refrigerated for beverages, cold foods or bakery products.
Refrigerated display cases are typically built with oversized refrigeration systems. Even with oversized systems, you must control temperatures well in the vicinity to ensure proper operating temperatures will be maintained. New health and sanitation regulations require units in some areas to hold temperatures inside the case at 41°F. Select a model with an National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) listing.
Full-size hot cases are available in lengths similar to the cold models. They typically have a built-in steam table for 12" × 20" pans or an equivalent-sized heated area for china or metal serving containers. Some units are available with “steps” inside the case to effectively merchandise product and maximize display area. Just as it's important in the cold cases to maintain temperature, the same is true of hot cases. Hot foods generally need to be held at 140°F or above to be sanitary. Generally, maintaining the proper temperature requires bottom heat as well as top heat to surround the product.
Using heated display cases that offer moisturized heat in a humidity-controlled cabinet should be considered. Delicate foods will keep longer and will not dry out as rapidly. Some manufacturers offer sophisticated humidity controls to maintain a precise amount of moisture in the case. Along with humidity control some cases have the option of a forced air glass defogger to prevent condensation build-up. The defogger is an important aid to merchandising.
Lighting has a great deal of impact on the appeal of product inside. Reddish items, such as meats, do not look good under fluorescent bulbs. A unit with special “warm white” fluorescent bulbs or incandescent lights will be needed.
Other specialized hot display cases include rotisseries and pizza cabinets. Some rotisseries actually cook chickens, while others keep cooked items warm on a spit. Pizza cabinets, some featuring turntables, hold several whole pizzas. Pizza cabinets are generally countertop units, while rotisseries can be either countertop or full-height units.
Display cases only merchandise well and look great when they are packed full of fresh items. And be aware that food costs could rise as you keep fresh product on display all day. Don't overestimate the display case size needed.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.