Coffee shops and fast-casual restaurants put a premium on space, meaning that refrigeration needs to take up less room both front and back of house. Kathy Bowry takes a look at how manufacturers are redesigning their appliances to fit into today's compact kitchens
footprint. And some manufacturers have responded to this challenge by adapting their standard models to make them suitable.
"The casual, fast-casual and coffee shop sectors are pushed for kitchen space as they strive to fit in more customer seating," says Malcolm Harling, sales director of Williams Refrigeration.
"When it comes to refrigeration, one way to optimise space in the kitchen is to look at more flexible equipment that can adapt to changes in the menu, speed-up service and offer freshly prepared food," he adds.
He points to the Williams compact wheeled refrigerated prep well, which, he says, is useful for establishments that need to vary their menu frequently, but don't have much space to do so.
He says: "Williams Jade Slimline counters have all the features of the standard range, but with a reduced depth of just 500mm, making them ideal for smaller sites."
Harling also lauds the benefits of a cook-chill system, saying: "It adds flexibility and profitability, while helping maintain food quality. It is a common misconception that cook-chill is only suitable for larger catering operations. In fact, the latest compact blast chillers and freezers bring the benefits of cook-chill to smaller café and coffee shop kitchens. The smallest Williams blast chiller is an undercounter unit that chills up to 10kg at a time."
Lec Commercial's brand new range of European-manufactured appliances is available in nine separate categories, featuring appliances of varying
sizes, styles and designs.
These include extended upright refrigeration, refrigerated prep counters, pizza prep counters, pizza prep toppers, salad counters, saladettes, serve-over counters, bottle well coolers and glass frosters. They offer the perfect combination of refrigerated storage space, dedicated work areas and designs suitable for both back and front of house.
"The extended upright refrigeration series is a great addition to any set-up," says Diane Ho, commercial brand manager for Lec Commercial. "The stainless steel double-door refrigerator or freezer units offer low energy consumption and self-closing doors as standard. Compact dimensions of just 1,250mm (w) x 665mm (d) x 2075mm (h) make the units ideal for when access or space may be limited, while an impressive 750-litre capacity can accommodate stock for even the busiest of shifts."
"Both ranges have been designed to suit the needs of almost every kitchen. Available in a range of sizes, designed to be energy efficient and user friendly, the equipment is ideal for those lacking in space, but looking for something that can withstand the demands of a busy kitchen."
More energy efficient
For Gram, energy efficiencies and new slimline looks are important factors of its fifth-generation refrigeration units, the Superior-Plus 72 and EcoPlus 70.
"The improvements in technology in the SuperiorPlus 72 mean it is 35% more energy efficient than the previous 'best in class' Generation 4 model (Plus 600). The energy use of the cabinet, and therefore the running costs, have decreased massively from 509kW per year to 329kW per year," says Glenn Roberts, managing director of Gram UK.
The SuperiorPlus72 is a quadruple award winner since its launch in 2014, including the FCSI Sustainable Catering Equipment Award 2014.
At True, managing director Chris Cope says: "Our TSSU prep table units are particularly well-suited where access to a range of different ingredients is required at the point of creation and quick turnover is key.
"These products combine accessible and customisable refrigerated food pans on top of the unit, with a cutting board or prep surface and large-capacity refrigerated storage below for efficient restocking of the pans."
For this application especially, where food product in the pans is open during service, maintaining safe temperatures is imperative.
Cope warns operators: "We have encountered a number of horror stories over the years of dangerously high temperatures recorded in pans of these type of unit; so, as ever, we urge anyone with a requirement to buy from a quality manufacturer.
"True's design focus on quick temperature recovery sets our product apart, maintaining a food safe 0Â°C-3Â°C, not just in the storage area, but equally across every pan in the cabinet, using a patented air-flow system. True manufactures 36 different TSSU prep tables to suit any requirement, from smaller sites, where space is restricted, to the largest. True also offers a full five years' parts-and-labour warranty on all its products as standard."
Stuart Flint, business and training development manager at Electrolux Professional, says: "In any casual or fast-casual dining outlet, demand ebbs and flows, so it is crucial to look for refrigeration equipment which will offer consistent performance amid strict constraints on space."
Operators in casual dining environments should look for features such as pre-set categories that can fix the perfect temperature and humidity according to the food being stored, meaning food will stay fresher and more visually appealing for longer.
He believes Electrolux ecostore cabinet refrigerators can fit into every type of casual or fast-casual dining arrangement by offering a wide choice in capacity depending on the outlet's specific needs.
"With 50 litres more available space on average than equivalent cabinets in the market, the range provides maximum capacity for smaller outlets. The range has a 670-litre variant to cater for greater volume needs, while our undercounter models provide the same fantastic performance
for those who are even more limited on space."
Mark Alexander, managing director of Alexanders Appliances Direct, moves the debate front of house, saying: "As far as our sales are concerned, coffee shopstyle pÁ¢tisserie counters - usually 900mm or 1,200mm long - have experienced the largest growth over the last 12 months. The most
popular finishes/styles have been wood or black, but any finish that is readily available, good looking and modern will be popular.
"Displaying the wide range of on-the-go product now available means organising it in a logical fashion. Consumers need to see at a glance which area of the display has their preferred type of food. Self-serve units score highly here as they reduce barriers, increase the impact of the display
and with it the likelihood of an 'impulse' purchase."
Alexander also says energy efficiency remains very important, and with LED lights now cheaper than ever, the cost of buying good-quality energy-efficient equipment is coming down all the time.
"The imminent advent of energy labelling legislation will put the onus on manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient products and is likely to increase the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in order to achieve the high-efficiency levels required," he says. Meanwhile, Lincat has redesigned its Seal range of refrigerated food display merchandisers, display showcases and pizza preparation stations to boost performance, improve energy efficiency and make them easier to service.
"Lincat has an in-house team of product designers, whose focus is not just to develop new products, but to look carefully at how we can improve the performance of old favourites," says Nick McDonald, managing director of Lincat. "And if we can find ways to improve them, we introduce
those changes quickly and offer them to our customers at no extra charge."
He explains that many of the changes are designed to improve energy efficiency and thereby reduce running costs. "These include the introduction of higher-specification lighting which, in addition to reducing heat input into the cabinet and power consumption, improves the presentation of food."
He adds: "Other changes include design adaptations to make the units even more robust, as well as to facilitate service and repair. The latter will help to cut costs by ensuring that all serviceable parts can be replaced quickly and, wherever possible, without having to lift the unit."
Refrigeration tips: Simon Frost, chair of CESA
In terms of refrigeration design, the two key factors in this sector are flexibility and the ability to keep food fresh. Manufacturers are coming up
with a vast choice of refrigeration models, allowing operators to tailor equipment to their individual needs. So they can have cabinets with drawers or doors, wall-mounted refrigeration, undercounter blast chillers, mobile prep stations and so on.
Space is often an issue, and to solve it there are a variety of slimline versions of standard fridges, freezers and prep stations, which can be fitted into compact areas. Many manufacturers can also adapt individual models.
There is considerable R&D going into the development of refrigeration that extends the shelf life of fresh food, maintaining quality by carefully controlling the humidity of the cabinet to avoid drying food out.
Seedroom at the Wakefield Horticentre When garden centre catering consultants Horticatering were given the brief to design the new Seedroom coffee shop and bistro at Wakefield's Horticentre site, making food highly visible while serving it at the correct temperature was key to the enterprise.
Seedroom provides delicious food and drink served in a homely environment at a fair price. Family favourites and more unusual choices are
served alongside top-quality, barista-style coffee. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and a children's menu are offered every day, along with a range
of sweet treats including cakes, scones and tray bakes.
For Horticatering, the redesign was always about creating a light, open space to offer customers a place to relax and add to their retail experience. To achieve the look they wanted, Seedroom has been designed with a single length of serving counter incorporating a combination of self-service and assisted service refrigerators, all of which blend together seamlessly.
This isn't a feature one would normally associate with display chillers, but Horticulture already had their eye on the new Foster range, which includes a grab and go model and an assisted service unit, designed to be housed side-by-side no matter whether closed or open-fronted models
Alexanders, 01264 333388, www.alexanders-direct.co.uk.
Electrolux Professional, 0844 375 3444, www.electrolux.com/professional
Foster Refrigerator, 0843 216 8800, www.fosterrefrigerator.co.uk
Lec, 0844 815 3742, www.gdpacatering.com
True Food International, 01709 888888, www.truemfg.com
Williams Refrigeration, 01553 817 000, www.williams-refrigeration.co.uk