An Open and Shut Case

An Open and Shut Case

You've heard the saying that we weat with our eyes first. That thinking is what drives the use of display cases. The better you show off your products, the better they will sell.

Effective merchandising with food display cases is easier than ever as manufacturers introduce new display units. Many of these units are sleek, stylish and often customizable. The following is an outline of some newer items and features available on the market today.

Refrigerated cases are available as freestanding glass-front units or smaller countertop models. Countertop models can take up two feet of counter space or slightly less. 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 of these same makers 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 served. In all there is a dizzying array of functional case styles for different uses. You need to determine the specifics of how a case is to be used, and then match your needs to a unit. European styled cases with curved glass fronts are also popular because of their contemporary, clean look and the unobstructed view they offer. On the other hand, some prefer the old-fashioned corner deli look of the tall enameled exterior trim units.

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 to help maintain proper temperatures. Even with oversized systems, you must control temperatures well in the vicinity. New health and sanitation regulations require units in some areas to hold temperatures inside the case at 41°F. If you will have open food product in your case, you should 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. Hot units, like cold ones, are sometimes 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 for many food items. 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, which can be varied depending upon the product within. 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 just as lighting is.

Lighting has a great deal of impact on the appeal of product inside. Reddish items, such as meats, do not look good under some types of light, especially fluorescent bulbs. A unit with special “warm white” fluorescent bulbs or incandescent lights will be needed.

Other specialized hot display case types include rotisseries and pizza cabinets. Some rotisseries actually cook chickens, while others keep cooked items warm and turning on a spit. Pizza cabinets, some featuring turntables, hold several whole pizzas on shelves. The pizza cabinets are generally countertop units, while the rotisseries can be either counter top or full height units.

Remember, display cases only merchandise well and look great when they are packed full of a variety of fresh items and kept organized. Also, be aware that food costs can rise as you keep fresh product on display all day. Don't overestimate the display case size you need.


Dan Bendall ([email protected] [4]) is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International.