On Display: A Case for Cases

Restaurant equipment cases - bakery, deli, red meat, and fish/poultry cases

One of the most noticed pieces of equipment in your shop is also one of the most confusing products we offer — display cases. It seems like they should be simple — just find one that looks nice — but then you notice all the options. You have bakery, deli, red meat, and fish/poultry cases. There’s single duty and double duty, endless displays, environmental factors, and different evaporators. They all look similar to most people, but they are all indeed different and have good reasons to be. And, of course, you don’t want to forget about delivery. It’s my hope that this guide clears up some of your questions and gives a basic explanation so you can make a wise choice on a case that’s perfect for your store.

Let’s start with some of the general considerations, then I’ll hit the four main kinds of cases.

Single Duty vs Double Duty. You’ll see these phrases thrown around a bit. Basically they’re telling you if there’s refrigerated storage underneath the display area. If you just have the single refrigerated (display) section, it’s a single duty. If there’s two refrigerated areas (display and storage), it’s double duty.

Endless Display Options. Ordering an endless display when you purchase your case allows you to line up case after case without divisions between each one. Most manufacturers offer a special joining kit to combine multiple cases into one display.

Environmental Factors. A case might not work as expected in every environment, this should always be a consideration. You will want to keep a glass refrigerator out of direct sunlight to keep the temperature down. Generally a 75 degree ambient temperature with around 55% humidity is best, otherwise you might deal with some fog and condensation on the glass. Also, when you’re picking a spot for your case, make sure you have a drain nearby.

Cooling. Cases are meant to keep product cold, not bring the temperature down. So make sure whatever you’re displaying is at temperature before putting it in the case. Otherwise, you’ll overwork your case and potentially ruin your product.

Delivery. These cases can have some heft to them, so make sure you think through delivery. The first thing is to measure your door. The second and third steps are the same — measure your door a few more times to make sure it fits. More than just getting it inside, if your case is longer than 6’, you will be required to purchase lift gate delivery AND have a forklift available for unloading. Since the case will be wider than the the width of the truck, you’ll need to lower one end down with the forklift while the truck driver lowers the other with the liftgate.

Evaporators. Untechnically speaking, the evaporator is what gets the cold into your display case. There are two main evaporator set-ups in cases. The first uses fans to blow the cold into the case. The second is a gravity coil, which puts the evaporator coil at the top of the case and lets cold air sink down onto your product to keep it cool. While there is more to say about evaporators (and I’ll say it later), one big thing to know now is that evaporator coils are generally made of copper, and copper is corrosive. Therefore, if you are displaying highly acidic products like tomatoes, onions, citrus, or salads with a vinegar dressing, you may want to get a protective coating on the evaporator.

Lights. Most cases are going to come standard with either fluorescent or LED lights, which are great most of the time. However, they can also bring out the blue and grey tints of red meat. So if you’re wanting to sell some beautiful steaks, it may be worth ordering a case with an upgraded red-meat light, which brings out the red hues more than blue and grey.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s jump into the specific case types.

First up — bakery cases . These are mainly used for displaying cakes, donuts, pies, and other delicious goodies that my doctor doesn’t want me to eat. They are designed to maximize display area to push product quickly. One way bakery cases differ from other cases is their reliance on a vertical display style. As a result, they have more shelves than a deli case — usually 2-4 rows of shelving. If your baked goods don’t need to be refrigerated, bakery cases are available dry (without refrigeration). However, a standard bakery case is going to hold temperature between 38-40 degrees.

Deli Cases are generally used for salads, cheeses, packaged cold cuts, and the like. Unlike bakery cases, they usually only have one interior shelf to give a more horizontal display. I mentioned the two cooling options before — a gravity coil or a fan blowing air into the cabinet. Deli cases can have either, but it seems like it doesn’t make much of a difference overall. They both hold an average temperature of 36-40 degrees. However, if you are selling warm food instead of cold (fried chicken and potato wedges, for the win!), you can also get a heated version of most deli cases. Some common add-ons for deli cases are salad pans and meat platters. These keep whatever you’re selling clean, sanitary, and organized.

But let’s say you want to sell red meat instead — get a red meat case! Apart from being filled with delicious steaks, pork chops, and other carnivorous delights, the red meat case is a lot like a deli case. It’s going to be a horizontal display, but it will not have fans, the red meat case must use a gravity coil. Air blowing across meat will dry it out, and no one wants that — especially when it’s sold by weight. They also have a humidity coil, which pumps humidity back into the case. These two coils work to keep moisture in the meat. Without them you could lose up to 30% of the weight of your product. So, if you’re thinking about using a deli case for red meat, you’re going to miss out on these features and some profit.

Finally, you have your fish/poultry cases. These stand apart from the other three categories because they’re designed to hold ice in the display. Like the red meat case, these are not going to have fans, and the melting ice also helps to keep the product hydrated. Part of the reason for ice in the case is marketing — everyone expects fresh fish to be sold on ice, and it reinforces the idea of freshness in customer’s minds. But it also plays a practical role. It keeps the temperature low at 32 degrees, and as it melts, it both hydrates and washes surface bacteria off the fish to prevent it from smelling.

Since display cases are such a large investment and an integral part of your business, be sure to do your homework before buying. Ask what options are available, and research for your particular use.

Display cases are a big investment that can take a lot of your time and money. Be sure to ask what options are available when shopping for your case and do some research before finally deciding on what is best for you. Unlike most commercial equipment, most cases are built to order, so plan ahead and anticipate anywhere from 4-6 weeks before delivery. As you investigate and have questions, reach out to us for help. We’ll guide you through the process every step of the way.