DISPLAY: Incremental sales are a sure thing when you display food properly.
APPEALING: From fruits and vegetables to bakery, a smart display unit will attract hungry customers.
As I speak to restaurateurs, almost all say merchandising food is one of their main areas of focus. Some use an open kitchen to merchandise, others do it with a glass-front display case. It's not just a question of whether to display food, but how to do it most attractively for the particular operation that has restaurant operators searching for the best equipment. There are many units out there to fit your budget, however large or small it is.
Refrigerated cases to display multiple layers of product are among the most popular equipment. They are available as freestanding glass-front units, smaller countertop models or open-air screen self-service units. The larger freestanding units are more likely to be appropriate for merchandising a variety of product.
Freestanding cases can be a typical reach-in refrigerator with glass doors or a glass back. Be sure to get interior lighting to effectively merchandise your product. Lighting is especially critical in hot display cases, although important in cold units as well. Lighting has a great deal of impact on the appeal of product inside. Reddish items, such as meats, often do not look good under some types of light, especially fluorescent bulbs. A unit with special "warm white" fluorescent bulbs or incandescent lights will be needed.
The deli case
The other popular type of case is the deli-style case. These have full glass fronts or open fronts and can be self-service. Deli cases are usually three to five feet high so product can be passed over them, or the top used for additional display. A variety of lengths are available but the most popular are nominally four, six and eight feet long. Some manufacturers can piece together these sizes to make seemingly continuous cases. Many of these same makers can add customized angles to make integral corners or serpentine arrangements of cases.
Exterior finish materials and colors vary by manufacturer, but a wide variety of looks are available to complement many interior decors. When a special finish is needed, it can usually be added "in the field" when the case is installed. European-styled cases with curved glass fronts are popular because of their contemporary, clean look and the unobstructed view of food product they offer. This style of case reflects a growing trend to make merchandisers less institutional looking and more design oriented. The emphasis on design can help restaurant owners enhance their store's ambiance with functional equipment.
Inside the case may be even more important than the exterior, since what you really want to sell is the product within, not a fancy case. Besides the right interior lighting, look for a variety of shelves and tiers for display. Consider how many products and how much of each you will want to display.
Some cases are made to be viewed from one side and food accessed by workers on the other. Some of the cases for worker access only have a narrow work-top shelf on the operator side where a sandwich can be prepared or a platter assembled. In all there is a dizzying array of functional case styles for different uses. You need to determine the specifics of how a case is to be used, then your needs can be matched to a unit.
Countertop models, popularized by quick-service operators looking to add salads or cold desserts to their menus, can be very small, taking up two feet of counter space or slightly less.
At least one manufacturer makes a compact, single split case with half ambient temperature merchandising and half refrigerated for bakery products and premade sandwiches and salads. This unit was developed by a major coffee shop chain and has spread to other types of foodservice operations.
Refrigerated display cases are typically built with oversized refrigeration systems. These systems maintain temperature and humidity while compensating for constant opening of doors and reduced insulation because of the large amount of exposed glass. Even with the oversized systems, you need to control temperatures well in the nearby serving area to ensure that proper operating temperatures will be maintained.
Health and sanitation regulations require units in most areas to hold temperatures inside the case at 41°F. If you will have perishable food product in your case, you should select a model with a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) listing that will ensure compliance with the holding temperatures required.
In addition to the refrigerated cases, there are matching heated cases for many styles of deli cases. These units can be used to display and hold many types of hot foods. Hot cases can be warmed from below like a steamtable, heated from above with a heat lamp or a combination of the two. Some cases are also fan-heated to circulate air and provide a very even heat.
Delicate foods can be held longer in heated displays, that provide moisturized heat in a humidity controlled cabinet. These units have a water reservoir to create steam in the holding compartment. A variety of shelving arrangements are available to suit your product needs.
Heated countertop units, like their cold counterparts, can be had with virtually any exterior finish desired to accompany your décor. They are also available in many of the sizes and configurations of cold merchandisers.
One of the more interesting new merchandisers is made by a only a few companies. They use a plain granite or other similar material countertop with no cold pan or hot food wells–just a flat stone top. Under the countertop are coils that heat or chill the top surface. The stone is actually heated or cooled to a frost without any telltale visible signs. When there is no need for the hot or cold unit, the function "disappears" and what is left is a plain stone counter that could be used for something else besides food merchandising.
When selecting food merchandising equipment, be sure you know your budget because some can be quite pricey. However, even if your budget is small, there are some attractive, well-designed merchandisers that can enhance the food you are trying to sell.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.