The days of clunky silver cabinets are over, with refrigeration specialists offering myriad ways to customise your cooling solutions. Ian Boughton reports
The age of creative front-of-house refrigeration is upon us. Catering refrigeration is no longer a standard square box that you just have to put up with, but something you can make work for you in unexpected ways.
The twin trends, says Williams Refrigeration, are for imaginative front-of-house display refrigeration and for better use of space in smaller kitchens. The company’s first ‘show-off’ refrigeration was installed at Sophie’s Steakhouse in Covent Garden, London, where the bold idea was to save backroom coldroom space by storing the meat out front and making a display of it.
The steakhouse ages fore-ribs of beef for 28 days in-house and realised that the ageing process could be turned into theatre, by displaying its aged fore-ribs in a ‘designer coldroom’. “We want to shout about the quality of our meat,” says restaurant owner Sophie Bathgate. “And the coldroom certainly shows this off for us.”
This kind of thinking means that the look of cabinets has changed. The front of house ‘explosion’ of theatre-style cooking, with kitchens that the customers can see into, or even kitchens that are right out in front by the customers, has meant that appliances need no longer be made of utilitarian stainless steel – they can now be any colour you want. And the Williams Chameleon service offers designs in anything from industrial bricks to leopard-skin, printed on a vinyl wrap that encases the cabinet.
Big ideas, small spaces
Creative refrigeration is not just new colours or shapes, says Glenn Roberts, global head of Polar Refrigeration. “It includes clever variants, such the latest stable-door designs on Polar fridges that help the product return to the set temperature more quickly after a door has been opened, and the latest dual-temperature counters that can instantly switch from being a fridge to a freezer.”
Such new ideas may not be immediately apparent, says Steve Bowler, category manager for refrigeration at Electrolux Professional. “Most kitchens are tight on footprint, yet there needs to be sufficient capacity within the unit for the desired volume of produce, and sufficient airflow around the product to maintain the temperature.
“When developing our new range of EcostoreHP refrigerated counters, we looked at ways we could make the most of limited space without compromising on capacity. By moving the ventilation system to the front of the cabinet, we have been able to remove the need for any clearance at the back and sides. This means they have greater storage capacity than the industry average – effectively, four of these fridges match five competitor models.”
Husky has also been conscious of space with its PRO glass-door fridges. By changing a previously integrated canopy to a detachable canopy that sits on top of the units, the brand has allowed for more interior storage room.
Many caterers are trying to fit as many tables as possible into a small restaurant area, so refrigeration manufacturers have had to develop smaller footprints. One of the biggest advances in creative refrigeration has been the refrigerated drawer – a pull-out storage compartment that can be sited under a prep worktop.
The claim is that there is less wastage of cold air by opening a door, and that they are easier to organise. The downside is that individual drawers may be more expensive, but the makers say they are much more usable by volume, and it is easier to include more separate units into a cramped kitchen area.
Precision’s new Variable Temperature Drawer is both a fridge and freezer, and it can switch at the push of a button. This, the maker says, is a huge bonus in a kitchen where storage requirements change; a drawer may be needed as a chiller today and a freezer tomorrow.
The Foster Flexdrawer has the same ability, says Stuart Grieves at Foster Refrigerator and Gamko: “Refrigeration has evolved to offer tangible benefits in terms of ergonomics, performance and environmental factors. The Foster Flexdrawer can alternate temperatures from fridge to freezer, creating more options with just one equipment investment.”
Message in a bottle
The same, he says, goes for Gamko bottle coolers. It may sound obvious, but glass-fronted coolers should be seen as a means of sales promotion, not just a storage cabinet. As we are currently seeing a revival of retro branding and labelling on bottled drinks, use this to your advantage – let your bottles do the talking.
This is a sector which deserves some thought, says Scott Jones, sales and key account director at True: “Glass-door fridges have a two-fold benefit – they chill the products and allow you to show them off. You may think that these units should be set up to give your staff easy access to your most popular products, but the space may be better used to showcase your premium products.
“The majority of purchases are either speciality, impulse or demand. If the demand is always there for your regular products, you won’t be adding any further value by prioritising them in the cabinet. The speciality items, the unique, exclusive or unusual brands, should be placed in the high-visibility ‘hot spots’, and so should limited-edition flavours, which may lead to impulse sales.”
The ideal strategy, he says, is to let the appearance and branding of the display cabinet match the content of your specials boards.
This creative use of display now extends to different product sectors, says Simon Frost, director of sales at Hoshizaki UK: “Caterers are realising their ideas for open-plan kitchens, where the diner is immersed in the process of preparing, cooking and enjoying their meal. For example, for front of house creative display, our sushi cases are designed specifically to sit on a counter-top and showcase freshly made sushi.
“A stable humidity and temperature control system prevents the product from drying out, and a curved glass display stops condensation from forming, which can either obscure the customer’s view, or worse, drip onto the product.”
Bespoke branding of a refrigeration unit does not always mean vinyl wrapping, says Gary Barnabas, commercial manager at IMC: “A lot is being said about wrapped and customised refrigerators, but we have seen a significant increase in demand for more substantial cladding of bottle coolers,” he says. “Wood and bespoke material doors that complement the bar area are seen as a more integrated solution.”
And there are ideas to offer useful appeal to other types of chiller cabinets, says Counterline, which has come up with customised branding on night blinds and lockable roller shutters. The units also have new colour ranges in a subtle textured finish.
Those blinds and shutters have a further benefit. During a recent three-week in-store trial at a food hall, energy consumption of a prototype Counterline grab-and-go cabinet was measured as 53.6% less than the store’s existing open-front multi-deck display; had a night blind been deployed, the energy consumption reduction would have been 57.9%.
Energy efficiency in refrigeration has been a fraught topic for some time, and although a new report suggests that some aspects are improving, certain manufacturers are being unhelpful by not making their energy efficiency clear enough.
The research body Topten.eu is an online system that seeks to present the best models in various product categories, while monitoring the implementation of relevant EU regulations.
Recently Topten.eu published an overview of the professional refrigerated storage cabinets market, which is the sector covered by the Energy Labelling and Ecodesign Directives. Since the directives were introduced in July 2016, there has been a significant shift in energy efficiency, with the average model’s energy index improving.
However, Topten.eu found that too many manufacturers are falling behind in their energy labelling product declaration – it found over half of nearly 2,000 models checked were not compliant because the energy label was not clearly displayed.
The Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) has complained that manufacturers who have invested in developing energy-efficient models and paying for the tests that are required to qualify for an energy label rating are now at an unfair disadvantage.
“Those manufacturers who are ignoring the regulations are saving a fortune and giving themselves a totally unfair competitive advantage. They are also in breach of the law,” said a CESA spokesperson.
020 7793 3030
0151 548 2211
0843 216 8800
0843 216 4665
0845 260 1411