When looking at traditional bar operations, meaning those that primarily serve liquor to customers, refrigeration generally comes in three basic forms: back bar, bottle coolers and mug chillers.
Probably the most prevalent of the three is back bar refrigeration. Because this piece of equipment is easily seen by customers, it tends to be a little more dressed up than bottle coolers or mug chillers.
And because of its appearance, a growing variety of foodservice operators, including many limited service segments, such as coffee houses and sandwich shops, are turning to back bar refrigeration to help dress up their facilities.
Because back bar refrigeration is applicable in a number of operations, the first questions operators should ask include: How will this be used? Will the unit store only packaged goods, meaning bottles or cans of beverages? Or will it store open packaged goods or ingredients, such as cream and juices for mixed drinks, or garnishes such as olives and cherries? Along those lines, some coffee houses will use back bar refrigeration to store coffees, creamers and flavorings. Also, sandwich shops will store ingredients such as pickles, condiments and the like.
Three Design Considerations for Back Bar Refrigeration
Appearance: Back bar refrigeration can help operators make a better impression on customers and better merchandise product. Years ago, operators really had no color options as units primarily came in black and black only. Over the years, manufacturers started giving customers color and other design options. Black remains an option but it tends to be the cheapest one an operator can select. For example, some units come with wood trim that operators can stain in the field to match the bar’s design motif. That allows the refrigeration unit to look more like a piece of furniture than an appliance. If the operator wants a more rugged look, then choosing a unit with an all stainless steel exterior may be the right call. This is very common among brew pubs these days.
Configuration: Operators can choose to configure their back bar refrigeration as an island. This allows bartenders to work on both sides and access products from each side. Most of these are sold with glass to help merchandise the product.
Doors: Back bar refrigeration units come in lengths of two, three, four, six and eight feet and they are generally 24 to 32 inches deep. The doors tend to be two feet wide, which is important to take into consideration when designing the bar area to make sure staff have enough room to navigate these spaces while retrieving product from the refrigerator. If space is too tight, it is possible to specify a unit with sliding doors instead of those that open out. If the operator wants help merchandising product, glass door units can be a suitable choice as they allow customers to see what’s inside. In those instances, look for units that have lights positioned above the doors as they will best showcase the product.
Most back bars are NSF 7 certified but if the operation plans to store open packaged goods and ingredients it needs a unit that is approved to store these kinds of items. In fact, one of the most common mistakes foodservice operators make is not asking if their back bar refrigeration is approved for open packaged goods. In contrast, if the operation plans just to house beer or soft drinks in the back bar unit, then it does not need a unit that's NSF 7 approved for open packages.
Wine represents a growing application when it comes to back bar refrigeration. As operators' wine programs continue to evolve, they are turning to dedicated back bar refrigeration units that allow them to control humidity and hold red or white wine at the desired temperature.
Some back bar refrigerators can be configured to dispense draft beer, including the 1/6 sized kegs that many craft brewers offer today. When going this route, it is important to make sure that unit can withstand the heavier weight and general wear and tear that comes with this. These kegs will weigh 170 pounds and staff often drop them into place, which eventually results in the bottom of the unit starting to sag and can lead to other structural challenges.
How much back bar refrigeration an operation requires depends on the anticipated drink volume. A general rule of thumb says a customer will consume two drinks per hour. From there the operator needs to anticipate what percentage of drinks will be pre-packaged beer or soda compared to mixed drinks and calculate the amount of storage space from there.
Identifying the proper storage options depends largely on what the operator plans to keep in the unit. For example, dividers might be appropriate if the plan is to store different sized bottles and cans. This will allow for better display of the product. If the plan is to store mainly staple items, like cream, juices, or fruits for garnish, then standard wire shelves would be most appropriate.
Another common mistake operators make is not taking into consideration how the cabinet is vented. Because most operators place their back bar refrigeration against a wall, they require front vented units. If a rear vented unit is used, they require at least six inches of space to allow the condenser to blow out the warm air or some other type of ventilation to help keep the unit cool.