Operators are bringing their most attractive refrigeration front of house, drawing customers in with tempting displays and innovative design to incite them to buy. Ian Boughton reports
There is more to refrigeration than meets the eye. There is refrigeration that is efficient but not visually appealing, usefully tucked away back of house where nobody will see it, and there are also extremely attractive cooling systems that are more than simply functional. They display and they promote, and their value is being more widely appreciated.
John Whitehouse, chair of the Foodservice Equipment Association, says the combination of display and refrigeration has now become a noticeable trend through the industry.
"Foodservice operators have been after ever-more eye-catching equipment for front of house. The refrigeration manufacturers have responded with chic designs and some downright quirky concepts, from models that ape classic 1950s looks to vinyl wraps that can turn a fridge into a work of art. Catering refrigeration now gives you every kind of idiosyncratic idea an interior designer could wish for."
Williams has won a lot of attention with its Chameleon idea, which involves covering refrigeration in a decorative vinyl wrap. For front-of-house use, says the company, this can turn a practical cabinet into an attention-grabber and conversation-starter. Various design ideas have already been tried, from brick walls to great works of art and a phone box.
The Chameleon vinyl can be applied to a wide range of products, including counters, prep stations and cabinets; it meets food hygiene requirements, is heat resistant from -40°C up to 140°C and has a fire-retardant rating. Williams says it is tough enough to cope with the most hectic working kitchen environments.
Williams also says that it has taken inspiration from high-end jewellery shops and fashion boutiques in designing its Jewellery Box display fridge (below). The idea is that techniques used to display high-end products can also be used to present cakes, so the unit features under-shelf lighting to create an inviting ambience, ultra-clear glass and an invisible drawer handle.
See the light
This question of lighting choice is just as important as the outer colours, says Helen Applewhite, group marketing manager at IMC: "Operators look for refrigeration that complements their interior style as well as showcases products. Ventus bottle coolers offer a range of custom exterior options, allowing operators to choose doors that blend with their bar's interior design. Interior customisation is the key focus; lighting can be tailored, and we offer coloured LED, which can complement the style of the establishment. Tailored display lighting can add ambience in a very subtle way; in a bar intended to be low-lit, a bright white light may upset the balance of what they are trying to achieve."
Ventus bottle coolers feature an EcoSmart mode, which is said to reduce the amount of electricity used by up to 23%, through a combination of increased thermal insulation and sensors that control the internal temperature. An electronic temperature controller and auto-defrost function ensure drinks are stored at the right temperature, and the company says that this enables operators to save on energy usage and costs. The bottle cooler does not need to be switched off at the end of a shift and then on again in the morning, which requires a lot of power to bring the temperature down.
It is certainly worth giving lighting thought, says Gareth Hunt, senior product manager for sister companies Foster and Gamko. Foster sells refrigeration for food and Gamko sells back-bar refrigeration for drinks. Not all lighting is the same, and clear white light is not necessarily the right option, for more reasons than just appearance.
"LEDs are energy-saving and don't give off as much heat as traditional lighting, meaning the refrigeration system doesn't have to compensate. The beauty of coloured LED lighting in your back-bar refrigeration is that you can add to the ambience of your venue – if you've organised a St Patrick's Day special, you can carry the theme through to your bottle coolers!"
Tailored display lighting can add ambience in a very subtle way" –Helen Applewhite, IMC
Piece of the action
Refrigeration cabinets can double as display and promotional points.
"Theatre cooking stations and open kitchen designs have exploded in popularity over the past decade – people enjoy the entertainment of watching a chef in action and being the immediate receivers of their work," explains Hunt. "Not only do they enjoy watching things being created, they're much more interested in what goes into their dishes and drinks, so it's increasingly important to show what you have to offer.
"To place key products at the most visible point is to engage customers and encourage them to ask questions. Getting this wrong can mean placing a barrier between your customer and your products.
Foster's Multideck display chillers allow easy access to products and maximise lighting. Computational fluid dynamic technology allows temperature retention, as Hunt explains: "We can map the air circulation within the product space to ensure uniform cooling, and we are able to improve the overall efficiency of the stream of cool air that is developed at the front of the display to retain cold air on the inside and avoiding warmer air entering."
That is an important point, says Caroline Parker, head of marketing at Adande. There is always a problem when a cabinet is opened.
"Our patented ‘hold the cold' technology functions like no other fridge or freezer in the commercial refrigeration industry. Totally unique to Adande is an insulated drawer that ensures cold air is retained each time the drawer is opened. Conventional refrigeration units use fans to blow cold air around the cabinet, but with Adande, cold air gently cascades down onto and around the food – we call this ‘low-velocity cooling'."
This type of cooling protects the shelf life of products by preventing food dehydration and providing a cool microclimate for the storage of food. Fish and seafood can be stored without ice, which is used in conventional refrigeration to keep the product moist.
To place key products at the most visible point is to engage customers and encourage them to ask questions" – Gareth Hunt, Foster and Gamko
The saying that we eat with our eyes has never rung more true than in this visually geared day and age, remarks Roz Scourfield, national sales manager at Hoshizaki UK.
"It is vitally important that operators look to prioritise appearance," she explains. "Operators are now able to purchase refrigeration units that aesthetically match the kitchen or bar's interior design, a factor which is particularly important when purchasing for customer-facing, open-plan kitchens. With Hoshizaki's latest innovation, the Eco Plus glass door, caterers are able to provide customers with a clear overview of the contents."
This development, Hoshizaki claims, is notable in that it achieves what was said to be impossible – a glass display storage door that offers both the best refrigeration qualities with no loss of energy efficiency.
"To enhance the appeal of niche food items such as sushi, Hoshizaki offers a speciality range of display cases with an elegant curved glass design for optimal visibility of displayed items, and configured to highlight and preserve the freshness of even the most delicate sushi rolls and fish."
The right choice
At its best, front-of-house refrigeration can be a powerful promotional tool, says Sally Bentley, director of sales and service at Husky. The primary sales hotspot may well be the centre, so use this space for promoted focus products. And people's eyes naturally glance to the top-right corner, so that is also a place for premium products. This, says Bentley, is why craft beers and premium soft drinks are now seen on the top shelf, because there has been an upsurge in interest in these products.
She adds, don't just fill the cooler and leave it: "If your customer profile changes between lunchtime and evening, then be prepared to restock with more suitable items in the hotspot places."
To decide which unit you need, think about your product. "Too often we receive enquiries from buyers concentrating on what new features a unit has," explains Bentley. "This can lead to unnecessary investment on a product that is over-specified for your needs. Instead, define your needs and then look for the product features that will do the job you want."
Generally, drinks and cakes take all the attention in display refrigeration, but with a little lateral thinking, there is a lot of creative promotion than can be done with high- visibility chillers. Recently, operators have started taking functional meat-ageing fridges and cheese-maturing cabinets and making a display feature of them in front-of-house areas, says Christine Hartshorne, marketing manager at Precision.
Chef Shaun Rankin endorsed this when talking about Precision products, saying: "Personally, I think there is nothing better than entering a restaurant and seeing beautiful cuts of meat hanging in a dry-ageing cabinet. They are fabulous sales tools, resulting in the customer already knowing what they want before they even sit down at the table."
Hartshorn adds: "Pasture restaurant in Bristol has adapted our Retro HRU2 into a meat-ager, and this is sited in full view of customers on the second floor of the restaurant.
"Freemasons at Wiswell, included in the 2019 Michelin Guide, has adapted two wall cabinets, one into a meat-ager, and the other into a cheese-maturing cabinet. And Gordon's wine bar in London has also placed its cheese-maturing cabinet front of house."
Chef-owner at Freemasons Steven Smith is a firm believer in the value of visibility: "The meat-ager houses lamb and beef, which is aged for 100 days, and using the wall space for a cheese fridge means the cheeses are ripened in a convenient, controlled temperature environment.
"Both units make a great part of the customer journey – they ask us why they are there and they're a great talking point."
The problem with a chilled display of bottles, says Gavin Lillington, head of Polar Refrigeration, is that some products can be stored upright and some on their sides, which potentially takes up a vast amount of space. Polar's solution is the C-Series wine cooler, which is offered as a compact solution for countertop or back bar wine storage.
There are two sizes, and although the majority of the space is given over to wine bottles stored cork-first, there is a place for two bottles to be stored on their sides, laterally, allowing for the labels to be visible. Being able to store wines and other premium drinks side-on as well as end-on is a simple but extremely effective solution to both chill and retain maximum visibility, says Lillington.
The Polar Refrigeration Series is a range offering choice between ‘good, better and best'. The C series is for everyday commercial use in less demanding catering environments and general cold storage where opening frequencies are lower; the G series category is for long-lasting and robust units for recurring use; and the U series is for the most demanding commercial kitchen environments.
Foodservice Equipment Association www.cesa.org.uk
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