EASY ACCESS: Reach-in refrigerators like this one make it easy to find product.
VERSATILE: Instead of basic shelves, consider pan slides for sheet pans that serve as shelves.
You can hardly go wrong in selecting a refrigerator that will keep product chilled to a safe temperature. So what is there to consider when purchasing a refrigerator? First, select the optimum size unit with the configuration to meet your needs for easy employee use. The second opportunity is to choose an energy efficient unit. Here are some factors to consider when purchasing either a walkin or reach-in refrigerator that will help you make the most of your purchase.
No fewer than a dozen companies make reach-in refrigerators. There are plenty of products in a variety of price ranges, and most reach-in refrigerator manufacturers offer different finish materials, sizes, mixes of refrigerators and freezers, and door configurations.
Upright or full-height boxes usually come in one-, two-, or three-door models as do under-counter models. Though there may be good operational reasons to have several small coolers, it's always more cost-efficient to use a multiple-door unit than to use several single or two-door models. For example, if you buy two one-door units, the cost is about 40-50% more than the cost of a two-door unit for the same amount of usable refrigerator. A three-door model is proportionately less expensive than a combination of smaller units, as well.
The amount of usable refrigeration space in a reach-in is also worthy of consideration, since every inch of space or wall length is often coveted in a kitchen. Consider the fact that a manufacturer may make a two-door refrigerator in 48", 52", and 58" widths. Costs are all very close, so which do you choose? If you will be using pan slides for kitchen sheet pans, you will want the narrowest unit that
will fit slides, since anything wider is wasting area. If you will be storing large items such as case goods, a larger length may be the best buy. Widths are also sometimes optional, so match your needs to your purchase.
Finish materials can often add to or reduce the cost of a refrigerator, but they also affect durability. The top of the line for most manufacturers is an all-stainless steel cabinet. Many will argue that all stainless is the most durable, longestlasting finish and best-looking. But if you forego stainless inside the box you can save about 10-15 percent.
For about $1,000 less on a two-door refrigerator, you get a very functional aluminum interior lining. If you can accept stainless doors and an aluminum finish on the rest of the refrigerator exterior you could save an additional 20% or more. The tradeoffs are that aluminum is not going to keep its shine and it is a soft metal and may be dented more easily than stainless.
Most standard reach-in refrigerators are furnished with wire shelves in each compartment. If you use a lot of sheet pans or steam table pans you may want to consider pan slides in lieu of shelves in some refrigerators. Universal style slides will allow you to use either sheet pans or steam table pans. A sheet pan on slides can also serve as a shelf when both are needed.
To make the most of your worktable surface consider undercounter refrigerators. Most undercounter refrigerators can be bought with a worktable top as a part of the unit. Garnish pans can even be cut into the tops for an inexpensive, effective means of refrigeration. Additional workspace is not used by an undercounter refrigerator since they usually serve as tabletops for other functions.
As far as energy efficiency, the best thing you can do is select a refrigerator on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR list. A listing can be found on their web site, www.energystar.gov. Units that are listed are significantly more energy efficient than the average reach-in refrigerator. Manufacturers have been working hard to list units by improving various design features and components.
Some of the advancements include improved evaporator and condenser fan motors, hot gas anti-sweat heaters around doors rather than electric, and high-efficiency compressors. All of these and other design improvements will significantly reduce energy consumption and your utility bills. Compared to unlisted models, ENERGY STAR labeled refrigerators and freezers can lead to energy savings of as much as 45%. By purchasing these units you can expect to save about $140 annually per refrigerator and $100 per freezer. There may even be rebates available in your state for purchasing a listed unit. The web site will tell you what is available in your area.
A walk-in refrigerator is the largest piece of equipment in most kitchens and usually a fairly expensive item when you include the refrigeration machinery. Walk-ins probably contain most of the food inventory value in your restaurant, so they are an important item to maintain and keep in good operation. Its operation is critical to the restaurant both in terms of storage capacity and maintaining food safety in keeping products in the temperature safety zone. The purchase of a walk-in is significant since the cooler or freezer, if bought and used wisely, should last 20 years or more.
Most of today's walk-in refrigerators and freezers are made using prefabricated panels with urethane insulation sandwiched between aluminum, stainless steel, or other skin material. These panels are mass-produced in standard one-foot, two-feet and four-feet widths. Typical heights are 7'-6", 8'-6" and 9'-6". When corner panels and floor and ceiling panels are added, manufacturers can produce just about any size walk-in needed in one-foot increments.
The panel approach is good for mass production and excellent for shipping since the units are assembled from a stack of panels at the foodservice location. A panel-style box may also come in handy if someday you want to move the unit or change its configuration. The panels have the ability to be disassembled and reassembled if necessary.
When looking for a walk-in, consider several basic items most manufacturers provide but you want to be sure to get. Look at the warranty on the panels. Don't choose a walk-in with less than a 10-year warranty. It's important to note that this warranty does not cover the refrigeration system. Also, look for codes and standard approvals. The most important are NSF for sanitary construction and UL for safety dealing with flame spread and smoke from fire. Depending on your location, there may also be some local guidelines to follow.
The next important consideration is the finish material, which needs to be tough enough to withstand the abuse if carts and such. Specify wall guards or kick plates where needed. The rest of the finish on the box is most typically aluminum or stainless steel. Aluminum is much less expensive, but also softer and more prone to denting. Both are acceptable to sanitation authorities. It's important to note that galvanized steel, once widely used for durable flooring, has been outlawed as a walk-in material because it corrodes easily.
Most walk-ins last many years, mainly because the only moving part is the door. Therefore, it makes sense to buy the most rugged door you can get. Choose a walk-in manufacturer that provides a reinforced doorframe for rigidity. Next, look at the door hinges and specify three heavy duty hinges. Also, buy a kick plate for the door, since it gets a lot of abuse. The combination of the reinforced doorframe, kick plate and strong hinges will provide a heavyduty installation.
Keep in mind that an overly large refrigeration unit can be as bad as one that is too small. Matching the refrigeration system to your walk-in is often best accomplished with the help of a professional. Choosing the appropriate refrigeration system is more important than choosing a good walk-in box.
Keep in mind that the walk-in compartment and the refrigeration system are two separate items sometimes provided by different suppliers. It's always best to leave the equipment sizing up to a refrigeration professional who will take into account your specific operational needs and stand behind your system.
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. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.