While you may decide to save money on used equipment in the kitchen, it’s worthwhile to spend your money on new, sharp merchandising and display pieces. On a strict budget, that may mean making sacrifices elsewhere, but they’re well worth it. Used display cases make the department look outdated, and if they go down, you’re in a much bigger bind than if something in the kitchen goes down—plus, you’ve given your customers a negative impression.

Make sure your grab-and-go coolers fit your space. If they’re going next to a wall or other tall equipment, choose multi-deck dairy-style cases with a deep well. Most come with four shelves, so order a fifth. If it’s standing alone (an “island” unit), expect to pay more per linear foot of refrigerated space. Here’s one place where too much space isn’t a bad thing—you’ll have room for future growth and can use it in the meantime for things like single-serving beverages.

Make your packaged deli foods look best. Coolers with the following specifications will help:

  • Black shelves, at least 20 inches deep (It’s OK to paint shelves black, but don’t skimp with black shelf matting—you’ll lose out on the gravity-feed attribute of the slanted shelves.)
  • Adjustable, slanting brackets
  • Shelf gates
  • Under-shelf lighting
  • Mirrored interior ends

Deli display cases. Again, make sure you get the right size for your needs. Choose cases that hold an appropriate amount of product for the menu, customer count and financial plan. With few exceptions, a store serving 500 customers a day probably won’t have enough food to fill even an 8-foot case—it will end up looking empty. To allow for growth, consider a unit with a mezzanine shelf to provide added space when you have a small footprint.

Many top-of-the-line cases feature platforms, internal lighting and anti-glare angled or domed glass. Don't settle for a case without removable, mirrored rear doors and front-glass panels that lift open.

Our editors’ picks
Tyler Refrigeration: Tyler’s meat, dairy, produce and frozen foods display-case merchandisers use secondary air-band technology to maintain food temps using the most cost-effective and efficient methods. Look for products with the high-performance label, “HP,” to get top-of-the-line energy efficiency.

Barker: Barker sells sharp-looking, tailored-to-your-style display cases for both hot and cold merchandise. Through “parametric modeling” software, Barker will take your specifications and modify one of its 1,500 pieces to suit your needs perfectly. Design your display cases to match your brand and give your store a cohesive look.

Hussmann: Hussmann offers a variety of reach-in and multi-deck refrigerated cases, outfitted with the latest in low-cost LED lighting. Look for Always Green products, Hussmann’s most environmentally friendly and energy-efficient pieces. You can even retrofit your current refrigerated cases—even if they’re not Hussmann brand—with its LED systems.

Hill-Phoenix: From refrigerated display cases to walk-in coolers to entire refrigeration systems, Hill-Phoenix is pioneering a secondary refrigerant system that pumps a non-toxic cooling agent through your store’s pipes instead of refrigerant. Its new Coolgenix cases have also been designed with the environment in mind, including a reduced-steel frame, more HCFC-free foam insulation, bumpers made from recycled materials, and LED lighting options.

Some of the information in this article was adapted from a 2002 NFM article.