Operators know refrigeration is essential to every restaurant. Yet not everyone knows how best to select coolers that balance price, performance and a restaurant’s long-term cold storage needs.
Industry consultants say those decisions can get even more complicated when operators view refrigeration as a less-than-significant purchase. While many recognize its vital role in preserving valuable, perishable inventory, others view it as a budget line item where cost cutting is possible.
“When we’re designing a foodservice facility, we tell our clients to invest in those areas where you hold and make your money,” says Rob Brown, principal and managing partner at Savoy Brown, a consultancy in Jessup, Md. “Holding food refrigerated until you sell it is like holding onto money. And if you buy equipment that doesn’t work well, you’re going to lose some of that inventory and your money.”
Brown acknowledges that refrigeration seems like a far less exciting investment than sleek and readily visible furnishings customers enjoy in the front-of-the-house. But when he helps operators understand that fresh inventory turned into great food is the reason customers visit the restaurant — as well as how that business makes money — they tend to consider their refrigeration options more carefully.
“Spending too little on [lower-performing] refrigeration or not buying enough to match your restaurant’s volume can be a costly mistake,” says Brown. “It’s not something you want to go back and correct.”
Refrigeration appears fairly straightforward until shoppers get down to performance details, says Devin Kaufman, project manager at C&T Design and Equipment in Indianapolis. He says studying each unit’s features and performance specs requires some homework on his part in order to offer customers a host of options.
“We like to provide them with a lot of information on durability, history of maintenance records and service issues for the units they’re interested in,” Kaufman says. “We also like to go over the specs of each and talk about things, like how much power it’ll use. They need to be fully informed about what they’re buying.”
With the growing array of Energy Star-certified refrigerators, power use is always important since cost savings can be significant. Some municipalities offer rebates and discounts for operators using Energy Star-rated equipment.
“If I can tell an end-user that an Energy Star unit will save money each month on utility expenses — a savings multiplied by all the refrigerators in their building — that’s a lot of cost savings to consider,” he says. “We have a lot more clients these days who are after energy efficiency and want Energy Star equipment.”
Durability is always an issue in high-volume operations, which evokes Brown’s preference for stainless steel’s toughness and easy clean-ability. For budget-conscious operators, he often recommends a combination of stainless exteriors and aluminum interiors.
All HOSHIZAKI upright refrigerators are clad in stainless steel inside and out. Their top-mounted compressor and fan units with specially designed air ducts produce dynamic airflow throughout the chamber to ensure constant, top-to-bottom circulation of chilled air that maintains temperature equilibrium on every shelf, even with full-size tray pans.
Brown and Kaufmann both prefer top-mounted compressor designs due to their ideal vertical heat release away from the cabinet, and for easy cleaning and maintenance. With mechanicals placed atop the unit, evaporator coils attract far less dirt and dust than when positioned near the floor.
“It should be part of someone’s weekly side work to use a vacuum cleaner to get the dust off the evaporator coil and allow to let it breathe better, especially on high heat days,” Brown says. “You don’t want to spend money and not have that refrigerator perform well because it’s dirty. It stays a lot cleaner if it’s up top.”
Once you’ve purchased those refrigerators, here are a few tips for maximizing your investment:
• Consider future needs when assessing refrigeration for your facility. A little added capacity may save you from purchasing larger units to meet future sales volume, and roughing in the electricity and drainage during the construction phase will make adding units easier, if that time arrives, Brown says.
• Keep contents organized and away from airflow ducts within the cabinet. Overloading the unit with food products can block airflow inside the cabinet and create dangerous temperature differentiations.
• Make certain a unit's plugs match the outlets in your kitchen if you're ordering refrigerators online. This mistake is not uncommon, Kaufman says.
• Formulate a well-thought-out plan to get that unit off the truck and into your facility when taking delivery from an online source. Kaufmann says some buyers aren’t prepared to manage the sheer weight of refrigerators or aren't aware that most don’t come mounted on casters. “Honestly, I’d rather receive it and install it myself since we know how to do that,” he says. “But it’s up to each operator to choose.”
• Avoid using smaller refrigerators to cool hot products. Doing so increases the temperature inside a unit designed to maintain the temperature of already chilled products. Adding hot products to the cabinet will raise the temperature inside and threaten the safe storage of foods nearby.
The bottom line, experts say, is not to rush into a purchase simply because it might appear to save you a little money upfront. Invest your time in picking the right refrigeration for your restaurant and be sure to weigh all of the factors. You will find it can pay off in the long run.