Refrigerated display cases are prevalent in the cafe segment due to the continued popularity of grab-and-go items. This equipment category includes pass-thrus, roll-ins and undercounter units.

istock 910619092Enclosed and open displays are suitable for bakery, deli and packaged food applications. Units are designed to keep food between 33 degrees F and 41 degrees F but not to pull down warm food to safe holding temperatures.

The majority of cases for commercial use have stainless-steel exteriors, with interior finishes of either stainless or ABS material. Aluminum and painted exteriors are also available. Shelves can be stainless, epoxy-coated, chrome-plated or glass. From a visibility standpoint, the more glass on the unit, the better its merchandising ability.

Open air, glass door, countertop bakery and deli merchandisers are available with either remote or self-contained refrigeration systems, depending on the unit. Configurations include a top-mounted condensing unit and evaporator coil; top-mounted condensing unit with interior evaporator coil; bottom-mounted condensing unit with interior evaporator coil; and remote and self-contained refrigeration systems.

This equipment can range from small refrigerated pie cases that mount to a wall to grab-and-go merchandisers and curved glass display cases. Sizes vary, but typically glass door cases are 27, 30, 52 or 78 inches wide; open air cases are 27, 30, 52 or 78 inches wide; bakery/deli cases are 50, 59 or 77 inches wide; and counter-top displays are 24 inches wide.

Utility requirements range from 115 V, 1 Phase, 15 amp to 208-230 V, 3-phase, 30 amp. Temperature monitoring choices include standard electronic controllers for reliability, defrost timers, thermometers and alarms for high-temperature alerts.

Assessing the location where units will be utilized is key since there is a tendency for open displays to condensate in warmer environments.

Self-service displays have been shown to increase sales by at least 50 percent because they provide quick and easy access to food, which stimulates the impulse to buy. For optimum accessibility and viewing, product should be displayed at eye level whenever possible. For this reason, the length of the display and number of shelves should be evaluated to determine how much product can be displayed and how fast that product is expected to sell.

Display case features include rear-loading doors and shelf lights, and the latter is often an overlooked element. Because the environment in which the menu items get displayed can significantly impact food quality perception, added visibility from lights can provide enhanced value. LED lighting also is available, which lasts longer and throws off less heat, increasing energy efficiency. Shelf adjustability can provide added flexibility for operators with changing menus and different-size products.

What to Consider

Operators need to consider the menu to ensure the display case will support its needs. This will also determine whether a full- or self-service unit best suits their businesses.

Cafe operators should ensure the refrigeration system is adequately sized for the amount and type of product as well as usage. Refrigerated display case sizes range from small counter-top units that measure 3 feet long and 3 feet high all the way up to 6- to 8-foot-long deli or airstream cases. The anticipated sales, storage volume and length of time that product will stay in the case will help determine the unit size needed.

For merchandising product, glass door or open-air models are best, but users need to weigh energy usage versus the convenience. If the operator plans to showcase items considered impulse purchases and wants to place the unit near the front of the store, then a lower-profile glass door or open display unit will be more suitable.

Cafe operators will want to consider the ambient conditions the case will be in as well as how heavily used the case will be to see if expansion valve systems or remote applications are warranted.

Those storing product in these units should consider models with vertical folding doors that slide into pockets at the end of the case. These close and lock at night while also eliminating removable front panels.

Operators should consider the case’s environment since temperature and humidity need to be taken into account. If the environment is warmer or more humid, condensation or sweating inside the case will become a problem. This happens mainly with open cases and can impact energy efficiency. Most case manufacturers offer high-humidity cases for these situations, which will operate better but are still not always 100 percent effective in high-humidity environments.

Combination cases that have one refrigerated and one non-refrigerated section in the same unit without a physical divider are becoming more common. This is accomplished by placement of the refrigeration coils inside the case, which can be divided either vertically or horizontally. These units work well with grab-and-go applications since operations can offer wrapped sandwiches on one side and chips on the other, for example. Combination displays can be space savers as well.

Refrigerated display cases generally require an electrical supply and drain within 6 feet of the unit. With open-air merchandisers, the availability of a floor drain is important. Humidity in the air will result in a certain amount of condensation within the unit that can drip down the inside of the case, resulting in the need for a floor drain. If a floor drain is not available, then it is important to specify a unit with an electric condensate evaporator.

Manufacturers will customize display cases to a large extent in terms of finishes and features.

Although both fluorescent and LED lighting are available, the latter is more popular since it is more energy efficient.

Vertical airstream cases with doors in the back provide easier access for restocking and won’t interfere with service from the front.

Ventilation is necessary to adequately exhaust heat away from the refrigeration system.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Keeping key refrigeration components clean plays a critical role in ensuring reliable refrigeration performance 24-7. Some manufacturers offer slide-out refrigeration systems designed for easy cleaning and service access.

Refrigerated display case maintenance needs will depend on the type of unit and where it resides in the operation, but it is similar to a residential refrigerator.

The cleaning requirements will depend on whether there is an excessive amount of dirt and dust in the environment. Also, a remote condenser on a roof with trees shedding leaves nearby will need more attention. Manufacturers will generally recommend cleaners or chemicals for their units. Operators can hose down and clean rooftop refrigeration units with a brush. Most important, operators should make sure the evaporator and condenser coils remain clean. That’s because clogged condenser coils are the main cause of compressor failure. In addition, fan motors, gaskets and condensers should be checked at least twice a year. The door gaskets should be washed with warm and soapy water and left to dry before being closed.

Check the unit’s temperature daily to confirm it’s in the proper range. If not, contact a service agent. Temperature woes may indicate a bad thermostat, or the unit may need calibration. Temperature issues could simply be a sign that someone left the door open for an extended period of time. A display case that is constantly opened all day will have more difficulty recovering temperatures.

The signs that a display case has reached the end of its service life can be obvious or subtle. The unit should be replaced if there are sounds or rattling coming from the compressor or if the motor is running very loudly, if there are inside temperature fluctuations or excessive condensation on the door interiors, or if there is evidence of extensive wear and tear on an older unit.

The typical service life for these units is about 7 years, but display cases can last as long as 10 to 12 years.