FIRST IMPRESSIONS. A clean, well lit display case, filled with delicious foods, can help boost sales by appealing to customer's eyes and tastebuds.
ALL ABOUT EYE APPEAL. In the right merchandiser, food looks more attractive to customers.
Almost all operators can agree that merchandising food—in one way or the other—is a primary business focus. Some use an open kitchen to merchandise, others do it with a glass-front display case. It is not just a question of whether to display food, but how to do it most attractively for the particular operation. And that often leads operators on a search for the best display case equipment given a location and its use.
There are many different configurations and styles of merchandisers available. There are also units out there to fit your budget, however large or small it is.
Among the Contenders...
Refrigerated cases for display of multiple layers of product are one of the most popular equipment items for display and service. They are available as freestanding glass front units, smaller countertop models, or open-air screen self-service units.
In some operations, the larger freestanding units are more likely to be appropriate for merchandising a variety of product. The freestanding cases can be a typical reach-in refrigerator with glass doors or a glass back.
You will want to be sure to get interior lighting to effectively merchandise your product. Lighting is especially critical in hot display cases although important in cold units also. 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 are better. How well a product is merchandised will also depend on the type of interior shelving you have.
As an operator, always remember to keep the inside of the refrigerator units clean and neat, since what the customer sees is what they are purchasing. Smaller countertop units may be just what a smaller operation needs to provide an impulse sale for a signature item or a take-out dessert item. The countertop units take up only 18" to 24" of counter space.
The other popular type of case is the "deli" style case. These have full glass fronts or open fronts and can be served or self-service. The 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. The biggest changes manufacturers have emphasized recently are efforts to make merchandisers less institutional looking and more design-oriented. The emphasis on design can enhance an eatery's ambience with functional equipment.
Look for a case that will best merchandise products to be sold. Interior features to choose from include a variety of shelves and tiers for display. Also, consider how many products and how much of each you will want to display.
Some cases are made to be viewed from one side, with food accessed by workers on the other. There are self-service cases and cases meant to be served. Some of the served product cases have a narrow worktop 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.
Countertop models, popularized by fast food 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.
Just the Right Temperature
Besides the closed temperature-controlled cases are the open "air screen" units used in grocery stores and sometimes in cafeterias. These are becoming popular in other areas of self-serve foodservice and even as a display element or working cooler in high volume operations.
There are other types of special cases made for bakery products that control humidity and reduce airflow to help keep refrigerated baked goods from drying out. The refrigerated bakery cases can be mated together with identical looking ambient temperature units to display your full range of baked goods.
At least one manufacturer makes a compact single split case with half ambient temperature merchandising and half refrigerated for bakery products and pre-made sandwiches and salads.
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 are 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 types of deli appliances. The heated cases are wellsuited for holding hot food, because within the enclosed atmosphere humidity as well as temperature can be controlled easily.
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 the air and provide a very even heat. Delicate foods can be held longer with heated displays which offer 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 as well as floormounted merchandisers are available to hold and display a variety of products. These units, like their cold counterparts, can be had with virtually any exterior finish desired to accompany decor. They are also available in many of the sizes and configurations of cold merchandisers.
One of the more interesting new merchandisers uses a plain granite or other 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 signs being visible to the consumer. When there is no need for the hot or cold unit, the function "disappears" and what is left is a plain stone countertop.
When selecting food merchandising equipment, be sure you know your budget before you look because this type of equipment is available in a very broad range of costs. 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 that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.