Buying a good refrigerator that will keep product cold is not difficult; the challenge is identifying the proper model for your operational needs.
Upright or full-height boxes usually come in one-, two-, or three- door versions, as do under-counter models. There can be good operational reasons to have several small coolers but it is always more cost effective to use a multiple door unit than to use several single or two door models. Just remember — if you go with a three door, be sure it can fit through your doorway.
The amount of usable refrigeration space in a reach-in is an important consideration. Consider that a manufacturer may make a two-door refrigerator in 48”, 52”, and 58” widths. Costs are not much different, so which do you choose? If you will be using pan slides for kitchen sheet pans, you can use the narrowest unit that will fit slides, since anything wider is wasting area in the kitchen and giving you no additional usable refrigeration volume. If you will be storing large items such as case goods, a larger length may be the best buy.
Many manufacturers now have two or more lines of varying quality and levels of features. Top line models generally use more stainless steel and offer more shelving configurations. Sometimes upgraded models also have larger evaporator and compressor units for quick recovery to compensate for constant door openings.
Often, there is a top line with stainless steel inside and out, a mid-line with a stainless exterior and aluminum interior, and an economy line with aluminum finish in and out.
Many will argue that all stainless is the most durable long lasting finish and the best looking. Most operators will opt for at least a stainless exterior because of its durability; interiors generally can be aluminum since they don't get the same abuse. And, if you forego stainless inside the box, you can save about 10-15% of the overall cost of the unit. If you can accept aluminum finish on the refrigerator exterior with the exception of doors, an additional 20% or more in savings may be realized.
Most standard reach-in refrigerators are furnished with wire shelves in each compartment. If you use a lot of sheet or steam table pans you may want to consider universal style pan slides in lieu of shelves. This lets you use either sheet or steam table pans, and a sheet pan on slides can also serve as a shelf when needed.
One new innovation that may be of interest is a “knock-down” reach-in that can be assembled in small, cramped spaces that were previously impossible to move a refrigerator into.
In recent years, manufacturers have also made their products more maintenance friendly. Some have switched to “finless” evaporator coils that are said to require less frequent cleaning. Other maintenance improvements include door gaskets that can be changed quickly and without tools, easy-to-adjust door leveling devices, and compressor units that can be serviced from the front of the units.
Energy efficiency is at the top of everyone's list of concerns these days, and you should consider more efficient Energy Star models. These offer energy savings of as much as 35% — up to $170 annually per refrigerator. Some states may also have rebate programs available.
Make your choices carefully and economically based on your needs and resources. Get everything you need, but don't overspend.
Dan Bendall, FCSI, is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.