When launching a new business, caterers must consider all aspects of setting up a commercial kitchen. Whether you are working out of a home kitchen or a modestly sized rented space, some pieces of equipment cannot be overlooked, and chief among them are refrigeration units. Regardless of space and budget limitations, there are refrigerators and freezers that fit every space and serve any purpose. In today’s market, the large array of commercial refrigeration units can be mind boggling, so here are some important ideas to help you find the one that fits your specific needs.
Refrigeration is Key
Simply put, without proper refrigeration, you can’t have good food. A caterer’s kitchen should resemble a well-oiled piece of machinery – finely tuned and smooth-moving – and the refrigeration units are the wheels that keep things moving along safely and speedily. When it comes to protecting yourself and your customers from foodborne illness, one of your most effective tools is the refrigerator. At room temperature, the numbers of bacteria that cause foodborne sickness can double every 20 minutes. Chilling foods to proper temperatures is one of the best ways to slow the growth of these bacteria.
Do Your Refrigeration Homework
When searching for commercial refrigerators, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure that you buy a unit that will suit your needs, and that will give you the best value for your money.
Choose a Size
Space may be the most crucial factor when considering refrigeration; every kitchen has limited space, which precludes, in many cases the ability to use, say, a walk-in refrigerator –- or even a large reach-in unit. Refrigerators and freezers come in all shapes and sizes, so, before you go out and buy the fridge or freezer of your dreams, grab a tape measure and start calculating the height, width, and depth of your space. Make sure to leave sufficient room at the back for airflow, and don’t forget about the doorways that your fridge or freezer will need to fit through.
Next, look at the interior dimensions. How much storage space will you need? Some units have the same exterior dimensions but differ in available interior cubic feet. Consider your regular stock purchases and how many customers you serve daily to help you choose a unit that will accommodate your food storage needs. Depending on the size of your operation, and the number of meals you churn out daily, this will all have a huge impact on the size of the unit you will require.
The condensing unit is the part of your refrigerator that does most of the hard work of keeping its contents cold. Reach-in refrigerators come with two types of condensers: top-mount and bottom-mount. Each configuration is applicable in different settings. Bottom-mount units are often chosen for their greater ease of cleaning and maintenance, better accessibility to food, and lower strain on the unit in hotter conditions. Top-mount units, on the other hand, are often preferred because they don’t trap as much dust and debris, and they don’t blow hot air below (into cabinets) when the doors are opened. There are pros and cons to both setups, so you should weigh the options and decide which is better for your business.
- The condenser operates near the floor, where temperatures are as much as 15 degrees cooler than at the top of the commercial refrigerator.
- With no ladders or supports required, servicing and cleaning the compressor is easier.
- The operating components of your unit are below and away from greasy steam that can gum up the compressor, making it less efficient.
- Because the condenser is near the floor it can pull in dust, debris, and spilled ingredients, which can get trapped in the coils.
- Heat from the condenser can rise into the body of the refrigerator (the cabinet), making it potentially less efficient.
- This type of bottom-mount unit requires that lines and tubes run through the back of the cabinet, which takes up some storage space.
- These units are more expensive, due to added insulation (to keep heat from the condenser from rising into the cabinet), longer lines for refrigerant, and a larger motor to move the refrigerant through those lines.
- No chance of the condenser fan pulling in dust or debris from the floor and clogging the coils.
- Heat from the system doesn’t rise right into the cabinet, making this a more efficient system.
- The condenser, compressor, and evaporator are all at the top, which precludes the need for refrigerant lines to be built into the back of the box, which maximizes the space inside. Also, a top-mount refrigerator has lower top shelves, which means they’re easier to reach and use.
- Can draw in rising greasy steam, which can clog condenser coils.
- Similarly, since heat rises, a top-mount condenser is located in the warmest part of the kitchen, causing it to have to work harder.
- With the compressor high up, it’s harder to access for servicing and cleaning.
Energy Saving Options: Another Factor
Since every business should be on the lookout to cut unnecessary costs and wastage of energy, efficiency is another key factor when choosing refrigeration. Because refrigerators and freezers are arguably the most used pieces of equipment in a commercial kitchen, you want to ensure that they are energy-efficient. Purchasing an Energy Star certified refrigerator ensures that you will be getting the most energy-efficient refrigeration unit on the market that will have both a significant impact on your electricity bill, and protect the environment at the same time.
Like most commercial kitchen equipment you buy, your commercial refrigerator’s brand matters. There are a lot of manufacturers out there, so it’s important to zero in on a manufacturer you know you can trust. Some brands are going to focus on producing the highest quality units; while other brands will aim to provide uncompromised value at the best possible price. Do your research and see which brand will cater to your needs.
Maintenance: An Ongoing Mission
Maintaining your refrigeration units is a must, as neglected refrigeration equipment can be a catastrophe for your business. Check temperatures often. If the temperature is set too high, your food will spoil, and you could have a public health risk on your hands. If the temperature is set lower than necessary, the unit will need to work too hard, which can shorten the life of your system. Clear space around the equipment; airflow blocked by debris or boxes can put a strain on the unit, causing it to run inefficiently (as reduced airflow increases power consumption) or overheat.
To ensure that your refrigerator is doing its job, it’s important to keep its temperature at 40 °F or below; and the freezer at 0 °F. Since few refrigerator controls show actual temperatures, using a refrigerator/freezer thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature and adjust the settings of the refrigerator and, or freezer accordingly. Buy one for the fridge, one for the freezer, and check them often.
So Many Refrigerators to Choose From
There are many commercial refrigerators and freezers on the market. These range from refrigerator/freezer combo units; reach-in fridges, undercounter units and refrigerator/prep table combinations (and beyond). Owning the right size and style commercial refrigerator/freezer is a crucial element to a properly functioning commercial kitchen.
Below we will explore several refrigeration options commonly used in catering kitchens.
Worktop Refrigerators: Refrigeration & Prep Table in One
A typical kitchen needs prep tables for various dishes being made and served. A stainless steel prep table that is also refrigerated, known as a worktop refrigerator, is about as efficient as you can get. Worktop refrigerators allow you to prepare food, while also storing the products that are necessary for the dishes you are making, underneath. This type of refrigeration unit comes in a variety of heights and sizes, making it highly versatile and efficient. Smaller versions of this great space saver are meant for simpler tasks, like preparing sandwiches and salads, while larger worktop refrigerators have a much bigger work area for preparing larger amounts.
In addition to the prep table space itself, these commercial units may also feature large refrigeration areas, with one, two or three sections and, or refrigerated drawers. Many worktop refrigerators come equipped with casters for easy maneuverability and space management. You can also add a worktop freezer to your kitchen, which offers the freezer space you need plus additional work space.
Reach-in Refrigeration: A Classic Catering Option
A reach-in refrigerator is the ideal way to keep your items cold and easily accessible. These are among the most common types of commercial refrigerators available and they range in size from just 27 inches wide to a mammoth 87 inches wide. All caterers dream of outfitting their commercial kitchen with a large, reach-in fridge, but when space is an issue, concessions are inevitable. This doesn’t mean however, that a caterer must compromise on quality, as many high-quality, smaller-capacity reach-in refrigerators are available on the market.
Commercial reach-in refrigerators come with a wide range of options. From one to three sections, to top and bottom sections, to glass door models that allow staff to monitor and view the refrigerated items – a wide variety exists to suite any caterers need. There are also dual temperature reach-in refrigerators which contain both a refrigerator and a freezer for added convenience and space-saving cooling options.
Undercounter refrigerators have the same purpose as reach-in refrigerators; however, their advantage is that they can fit into smaller areas while holding a smaller amount of food product. Undercounter refrigeration not only allows storage of products in tight spots around the kitchen, it is also easily accessible for staff. While the surface of most undercounter refrigerators cannot be used as a prep table (it is generally placed under a countertop… hence the name), with proper planning, undercounter units can add productivity to a caterer’s kitchen. A good undercounter refrigeration unit, although small and compact, will still provide you with intense, commercial-grade refrigeration power. Some caterers may choose to purchase undercounter freezers that can be used to compliment larger reach-in fridges or have side-by-side undercounter fridges and freezers for the ultimate in space saving efficiency.
Before You Buy: Check Out the Warranty
Nothing lasts forever, and even the best refrigerators eventually need service. When that happens, you want your unit fixed quickly. The commercial refrigeration segment has some of the most extensive warranties available in the restaurant equipment industry, with some brands offering up to three years parts and labor coverage. These warranties are often backed by a large service network of certified technicians that can help get your unit back up and running quickly should any mishaps occur. Knowing what each brand offers for warranty and service will help you choose the refrigerator that’s right for you.
Knowing how much cold food products you require, how you want your products stored and organized – and understanding your space limitations – will help you select the right refrigeration equipment. The important thing is that you give refrigeration the bulk of your attention when setting up your kitchen. Although this is only a partial list of commercial refrigeration units available to professional caterers, it is a good jumping-off point for deciding what your kitchen requires. Stay tuned for Part II of our refrigeration guide, where we will discuss more refrigeration options and point you in the direction of what’s right for you and your kitchen.