The Ultimate Guide to Commercial Refrigeration

Bulk food refrigeration ensures the longevity of your produce. And the safety of your most important asset of all: your customers.

Carefully considered, commercial refrigerators are a cost-effective storage solution. But with such a large variety – choosing the right product can be a tricky decision. This guide will talk you through one of the biggest choices you’ll make for your restaurant. 

5 Main Types of Commercial Refrigerator Models

commercial refrigeration

1. Upright refrigerator “Reach-In”

The classic cabinet style – this is what most imagine when picturing refrigerators. Ingredients are moved between upright and walk-in commercial refrigerators to streamline preparation in busy restaurants.

  • Quick access to high-demand ingredients.
  • Best kept from oven/heated prep areas.
  • Adjustable shelves and segmented areas allow modification for different sizes of produce.

Capacity: large – depending on the number of doors.

Best for: smaller restaurants (single-door models), larger restaurants (double/triple door models), cafeterias, casual and fine dining establishments.

2. Walk-in Refrigerator

Walk-in refrigerators allow the user to enter and select their ingredients. They vary from small pantries to large rooms in size. 

  • Easier stock rotation with bulkier stock e.g. produce crates.
  • An energy-efficient option for large inventories – closing the door while in use means fewer temperature changes. 
  • More economical than multiple refrigerators – space permitting.

Capacity: very large – depending on size.

Best for: restaurants with bulky inventories and unloading areas, hotels/hospitality. 

3. Under counter/Bar refrigerator

The smaller sibling of the upright refrigerator, these mini beasts offer discreet cold storage. 

  • Convenient, discreet storage for front of house – allowing for speedy customer service. 
  • Fits under counters – no extra floor space necessary. Ideal for confined spaces. 
  • Keeps chilled foods close to the prep line without compromising food safety. 
  • Ideal for cutting prep time and foot traffic. 

Capacity: Small – suited to pre-packaged items e.g. bottles and snacks.

Best for: smaller restaurants, cafes, bars, delis and concession stands

4. Refrigerated prep table

Centre-stage in any fast-paced kitchen. Considering cubic feet and floor space, a prep table is a larger refrigerator – but it also doubles as a cooking workspace.

  • Very precise temperatures – useful for speciality ingredients.
  • Unprocessed and larger ingredients can be kept close to hand. 
  • Various widths to suit the size of your prep area.
  • Extra storage available underneath – can be customised to meet the demands of your restaurant.

Two main types: 

  • Pizza table – large chopping board for pizza bases.
  • Sandwich table – refrigerated storage wells for sandwich fillings and condiments.

Capacity: large.

Best for: fast food restaurants, delis and cafeterias.

5. Display refrigerator

Show off your goodies! Display commercial refrigerators use glass doors to present their freshly made foods and attract customers. 

  • Useful in grab-and-go settings for identifying when low in stock.
  • Allows more creativity when displaying food.
  • Due to size and glass – easier to clean than other models. 

Capacity: small – food cannot be stored in bulk.

Best for: bakeries, cafes, delis, take-aways.

Commercial Refrigeration: 5 Points To Consider

1. Temperature 

commercial refrigeration

Most commercial refrigerators operate between 36F (2°C) – 45F (7°C). But don’t assume any old refrigerator is cold enough for your food. Some food is more sensitive to colder temperatures – so as well as the type of food being stored, think about which type of commercial refrigeration may be better suited to your restaurant.

2. Space 

As you now know, commercial refrigeration covers a variety of sizes. Commercial refrigerator capacity is measured in litres. The bigger the unit – the more demanding (and costly) the upkeep. But underestimating your needs risks overworking the unit – bringing your restaurant to a standstill. Be mindful of your layout and space. While a key player, your chosen refrigerator should be, well, part of the furniture!

Helpfully, some models come with casters – allowing easy movement when needed.

Standard Upright Refrigerator Sizes

Number of Doors Cubic Feet (ft3) Width in inches (in.)
One 20-30 20-30
Two 30-50 40-60
Three 50-70 70+

3. Budget and price

Unsurprisingly, the larger refrigerators are more expensive than their smaller counterparts. And when budgeting for a refrigerator, bills are an additional cost. Efficiency should be balanced against the cost of keeping the unit (or room) running.

4. Warranty

All good things come to an end – don’t get bitten if this happens a little sooner than expected. It can be costly to replace or repair a refrigerator, especially at short notice. You should check the warranty for your length of cover and what faults or damages you are covered against.

5. Compressor types

The heart of your machine, the compressor is key. It pulls in air from the environment to maintain the refrigerator’s internal temperature. Along with where to place your commercial refrigerator, also consider which compressor is more practical. 

Two main compressor options:

  • Top-mounted: Warm air rises. A top-mounted compressor takes in warmer air to maintain a cooler environment. No valuable storage space used – but more difficult to reach for maintenance.
  • Bottom-mounted: Better for hotter environments – they pull in cool air close to the floor – avoiding the greasy hot air over cookers. Needs more maintenance than top-mounted compressors as it’s more likely to pull in dirt. They do occupy some storage space, but also create a bottom shelf for useful storage.

Maintaining your commercial refrigerator

Like most things, commercial refrigerators need maintenance. Make sure your refrigerator is serviced regularly and consider:

  • Cleaning: your restaurant may be fast-paced and demanding, but factor in some refrigerator down-time for regular cleaning. This not only extends the life of your refrigerator, but also prevents cross-contamination risks.
  • Space: the refrigerator needs enough space to ventilate efficiently. Overheating and food storage don’t mix. Also consider this when stocking your refrigerator – overfilling prevents the cool air circulating effectively.

Ready, set…

You’ve finished this guide which means you’re one step closer to choosing the best refrigerator for your business – good luck!

But refrigeration is only one aspect of your restaurant. Don’t miss anything crucial! Check out our blog for more guides on commercial equipment for your catering business.