Like blenders, ice machines and glass washers, the beverage cooler is a definite must when it comes to equipping your bar. Actually, it may actually be even more important than these since it is vital to so many functions. A bar may be able to do without a blender or use the triple sink for washing glasses (which I would not recommend), but without a cooler, you might as well shut down for the night.
Bar Cooler Types
Let’s begin with an overview of bar cooler types by size:
Walk-In Coolers: Walk-in coolers are room-sized coolers used for storage. These large coolers are typical for restaurant bars and are ideal places to store kegs, food and all the extra perishables that you have in back-up. These rooms are also a great benefit because they allow you the peace of mind to have enough extras that you don’t have to fear running out. They have their drawbacks however, in that they increase the chances that things will go to waste, they add extra maintenance, and they also drive up your energy bills.
Commercial Refrigerator: This is basically the same kind of refrigerators most people have in their homes but made to withstand the extra wear and tear of restaurant and bar use. If you don’t have a walk-in, you should probably have one of these in the back somewhere to keep your stock of perishables.
Beer Cooler: A beer cooler, or a beer fridge, is a low lying refrigerator with a sliding top that is usually used to house beers. They look somewhat similar to the kinds of refrigerators used at an ice cream parlor.
Reach-In Beverage Cooler: A reach-in beverage cooler is a half sized refrigerator, usually slightly lower than the typical counter height (about 28’ perhaps), that can be placed either beneath the bar or on top of it. (These are called “low boys” and “high boys” respectively in the bar world.)
Considerations for Choosing a Beverage Cooler
So how should you go about choosing a beverage cooler for your back bar?
Space Requirements: Before all other questions, the question of space must always be answered first. What do you have the space for and what does the size of your bar disallow. Typically you will want to have at least two coolers—a larger cooler for your storage area and a reach-in bottle cooler at your bar. The larger cooler can store all the kinds of things that you don’t need during a particular service period while the bar cooler should have enough to cover your average night.
If you have a tiny bar, with no back area for storage, then you must have the reach-in cooler at least. Otherwise, you run into a series of problems with logistics.
In most cases placing you reach-in beneath the bar is the best way to go. It allows you to keep it out of the way, so that you are not banging into it as you walk by, but close enough so that you can reach into it without any difficulty.
In part, the reach-in can work as a bottle cooler, if you don’t have a dedicated beer cooler. If you serve a lot of bottled beers, however, you may want a beer fridge just for those bottles. Similarly, if you are a wine bar, you will need a dedicated bottle cooler for the whites.
Tip From the Pros: When given a choice, always get a bar fridge with sliding glass doors. The glass makes it easier to quickly see what is and isn’t inside so that you are not spending your time letting the cool air escape, while the sliding door saves space.
Cost: Of course, cost is always a consideration on items like this that cost a grand in themselves. You would like to have a reach-in cooler that is fitted to your bar space, but if this is not possible, you should make sure that you measure carefully so that you are sure your cooler will fit beneath the counter and not stick out.
You may be tempted to buy a used bottle cooler, but I would recommend against it. You don’t want a cooler you can’t depend on. It is simply too important a part of you business to take chances on. In addition, you should try buying one of the better models. A cheaper bottle cooler such as those with plastic interiors will keep less even temperatures and in some cases, when the cooling system kicks on, the units vibrate creating extra noise and shifting. The stainless cooler tends to be best for cooling since metals convey temperature more quickly and more evenly and since the better materials tend to imply more stability as well.
Tip from the Pros: If it is within your budget, you should consider getting a display bottle cooler that you keep up against your back bar along with the many spirits customers may choose from. This kind of a bottle cooler is especially lit so that they draw attention to your high-end bottles or your featured drink mix. Make sure to place it in a location where your customers can see it and this will help with drink promotion.
Where to Buy your Bar Fridge
Look to buy your bar fridge from a local restaurant supplier. You should make sure to get a commercial quality bar cooler and not just a home bar fridge, since commercial brands are designed to withstand greater wear than home brands.
You should also ask your supplier about warranties and about their recommendations. Restaurant suppliers are often the first to notice when a particular brand is a lemon as they are always dealing with customers who have a reason to buy a new bar fridge.
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