When a bar needs quick and easy access to beverages, bottle coolers become part of the equipment package to help ensure efficient service. These deep well coolers that come in horizontal and box models chill and store bottled and canned beverages.

istock 831622886Bottle coolers typically feature stainless-steel exteriors, which give these units an industrial appearance and provide added durability. Operators can also opt for a black vinyl exterior.

Bottle coolers can horizontally store and organize a large number of beverage containers. These units provide top, as opposed to front, access, and dividers take the place of wire shelves. Most also have built-in bottle openers and catchers.

Bottle coolers typically don’t provide specific capacities due to the differences in bottle sizes. Units generally measure 24 or 27 inches deep, with lengths in the 4-, 5- or 6-foot range, depending on the model.

The majority of these units utilize forced-air refrigeration, which chills product on the top first and works its way down. The self-contained refrigeration system includes an evaporator coil, fan motor and condensing unit with compressor. Bottle coolers run on 115-volt units. Temperatures on most units are not adjustable, remaining between 33 degrees F and 38 degrees F. Although these front-breathing units are not designed for merchandising, the horizontal cabinets hold a greater capacity and are easy to load.

Features differ per model but may include LED lighting and optional casters. Thermostats vary as well, with some models holding at warmer temperatures for wine cooling/storage. Slide-out condensing units provide easy access for cleaning and maintenance.

Bottle coolers come with either a standard or galvanized countertop. There’s a drain in the stainless-steel floor of each model for easy cleaning of the interior. Adjustable dividers inside some units make it easy to stack, organize and store bottles. The tops, lids and floors are constructed of stainless steel for long-term use.

Choosing Bottle Coolers

Considerations for choosing a bottle cooler are similar to that of backbar refrigeration. According to Rick Sevieri, president of RJS & Associates, based in Old Lyme, Conn., it’s important to identify space requirements behind the bar along with accessibility around a unit.

Bar operators should determine if they will use the cooler for bottles or cans of beer, bottles of wine and/or mixer juices. It also helps to know if the unit will be a replacement or part of a new build-out. “Choosing the correct temperature for products is key,” says Sevieri. “Newer units provide specific temperatures for red, white and sparkling wine.”

Bar operators also need to decide on door types: solid, which typically cost less, or glass for added visibility. Interior lighting also can illuminate products for bartenders.

Exterior finishes are another consideration. Bottle coolers offer either stainless steel, which is the most common due to its bright, clean finish and durability, or vinyl laminate, which provides customization options to coordinate with interior designs.

Cleaning and Maintenance

istock 139589812Although bottle coolers are around that have been in service as long as 30 years, the service life of these units depends largely on how well an operator maintains them. Fortunately, this is a resilient equipment type as there are fewer moving parts compared with reach-ins and other refrigeration units.

“Most bottle coolers have static evaporators,” says Adam Armistead, service technician at Baltimore-based EMR. “These can last for years, although the industry standard is between 12 and 15 years.”

The biggest thing bar operators need to keep in mind with maintaining bottle coolers is keeping the interior clean and wiping up any spills immediately. “With those models that have evaporator fans, the alcohol spills inside can cause bacteria to grow, coat evaporators and reduce airflow. This also will stop up drain lines,” says Armistead. “Keeping the lid’s slide tracks on top cleaned out will ensure they are working properly. In addition, air filters on condensing units need to be kept clean to ensure adequate airflow, which helps bottle coolers last longer.”

Bar operators also should ensure there are no obstructions in the back of these units. “Bottles, plates, napkins and coasters are at risk of dropping behind bottle coolers, and this can impede or stop airflow, which can lead to premature failure,” says Armistead. He recommends cleaning the cooler’s exterior with soap and water and interior with a bleach-based cleaner to kill bacteria. “It’s important to keep bacteria growth to a minimum. Alcohol tends to accelerate fungus growth on evaporator coils and in the bottom or sides of the unit. This should be done at least weekly, but spills need to be cleaned up daily.”

Bar operators also can check for air restrictions weekly and wipe down door gaskets at least once a month to make sure cold air isn’t escaping and that doors are sealing properly.

Bottle coolers will exhibit a few telltale signs they require service. This includes doors not sliding or misaligned, which can indicate a big problem.“Bar operators don’t want to lose cold air in the box,” says Armistead.

If the air filter is clean but the temperature is not getting down where it needs to be — 35 degrees is ideal — that’s a sign a unit needs service. Also, if the compressor makes louder-than-normal sounds, a service agent should look at the bar cooler. “For units with static evaporators that have no fans, if they’re not getting a frost pattern around the wall, temperature will be impacted,” says Armistead. “And if water is accumulating on the cooler’s bottom, the drain line may be stopped up. There’s no way for the evaporator water to get out. This can accelerate bacteria growth, so it needs attention.”

One of the big signs that a unit is failing is when the seams on the cooler’s interior or molding on the exterior begin separating.“When door handles start pulling off or lifting away where the foam insulation becomes visible, moisture can accumulate and bacteria becomes a risk,” says Armistead. “When the insulation breaks down, it also creates the loss of efficiency.”

Because bars tend to get busy, sometimes messes are unavoidable. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep trash and broken bottles away from these coolers as debris can make its way inside the unit and hinder its operation. “Bar operators need to make a special effort to keep the area around these units clean,” says Armistead. “They should not prep on top of the coolers because if there’s a spill, it can migrate into the door gasket or inside the unit. These are not made for these tasks.”