Libations are key profitability drivers for bars and restaurants, often the most high-margin items on the menu. While many cost just pennies on the dollar to create, customers are willing to pay upwards of $10 to $15 for the experience. Therefore, good bar refrigeration is critical to operational success.
Main Types of Bar Refrigeration
Capitalizing on your drink menu’s profit potential begins with an understanding of the back bar refrigeration solutions you have at your disposal. Most units are available in your choice of black vinyl-coated steel or stainless steel exteriors. Black is a great choice for restaurants and bars that want a unified look that blends well in the back bar space. Stainless steel, on the other hand, offers a more upscale, modern, and sleek feel to the service area.
A good back bar refrigerated storage solution will offer maximum performance in even the hottest, most humid environments. These allow you to store wine and beer by the bottle, as well as cocktail ingredients, drink garnishes, and non-alcoholic options like juice, milk, or bottled water.
In addition to selecting the type of exterior (see above), you’ll want to consider whether you want a unit with glass or solid doors. Glass door back bar coolers are popular because they provide visibility to your guests to readily view your selection (and possibly encourage impulse ordering), and to staff who can quickly see when inventory is low and a restock is in order. Solid door back bar units don’t provide the same luxury, but are ideal if you don’t want your guests to view its contents. Solid doors help hide clutter or under-stocked areas.
Door configurations also include a choice between swinging and sliding. Opting for sliding doors is ideal for space savings, since you won’t need to factor in additional space to accommodate the door opening. However, swing doors provide easy access for loading and unloading, and many models can lock in place at a 90° opening so you can use both hands to focus on a fast restock.
You also get an option when it comes to the tops of these units. The two most common top options are galvanized or stainless steel. A galvanized top is usually less expensive and great for sliding under cabinetry for a “built-in” look. Stainless steel tops are more durable and can be used for additional workspace, which can be ideal in a bar since space limitations are already a factor.
Draft beer dispensers, often referred to as direct draw dispensers, are a great long-term investment that provide a fresher, better-tasting brew than their bottle or can counterpart. Many bars opt to keep their most popular beers on draft while stocking up a back bar storage unit with additional options in can or bottle form. You get more bang for your buck when purchasing by a keg instead of by a case, so the profit potential can outweigh the initial commitment when opting to install a direct draw unit.
In addition to a hefty upfront investment, another drawback is lower energy efficiency. We encourage you to go with a unit with an Energy Star certification that may qualify for additional rebates and save you money on utility costs.
Draft beer dispensers house the kegs and equipment completely beneath the work surface. Therefore, these units usually only come in solid door configurations in order to hide it. When choosing a direct draw system, you’ll want an idea of how many beers you want to offer on tap, and how much storage space underneath you’ll need to house the kegs. Units are available in stainless steel or black vinyl; come with either one, two, or three doors; have one or two draft towers; and can house up to four beers on tap. Custom units are also available, and one of our product experts can help guide you through the process of getting the best solution for your needs.
Bottle coolers serve a similar function to back bar storage units; however, they are better equipped just for storing beer bottles. They offer less storage, but also take up less space. They feature top-mounted sliding doors for easy access to contents with less physical strain as the front-mounted doors on traditional back bar storage units. You can install a bottle cooler unit anywhere a standard 120 voltage outlet is available and no plumbing is required.
Most units also include a front-mounted bottle opener and catcher for convenience and reduced clutter in walkways.
Glass and plate chillers are styled similarly to bottle coolers, and help enhance the flavor profile and customer experience of your drinks without risking dilution from melting ice. The refrigeration system holds glasses at 0°F for the optimal drinking experience. This helps prevent the unsafe practice of chilling glasses in tubs of cold water, which may lead to thermal shock that makes glassware more prone to breakage, or dangerously stacking them in freezers.
Krowne Metal, a top manufacturer of customized bar equipment, offers a line of glass frosters that use CO2 to instantly chill glasses to an ideal serving temperature, greatly enhancing cocktail service and taste profile. An added bonus: this process also quickly eliminates any bacteria, lingering odors, and residue for fast, efficient sanitizing.
These glass frosters are available in a space-saving tabletop configuration, with an option for a 10’ CO2 line length or an extended C02 line length; a drop-in version with the same options (10’ CO2 line length and extended 40’ CO2 line length); a glass froster with a drainboard cabinet; and a glass froster cabinet with hinged doors (available in black or stainless steel).
Wine merchandisers are ideal for taking your wine service to the next level. Of all the profitability drink service offers a restaurant or bar, wine is arguably the drink with the highest markup (cha-ching, cha-ching). Did you know that on average, restaurants charge up to three times for a bottle of wine than what they originally paid for it? And often, the cost of a glass of wine equates to the same they paid for the bottle. If you monitor your pours, you can easily get four to five glasses out of a single bottle. That’s some serious profit potential.
Though serving temperatures for the best wine drinking experience can vary depending on the type of wine (generally speaking, most reds should be served at around 65°F for the optimal experience, while most whites taste better when chilled to around 50°F), having a wine merchandiser on hand can greatly assist with this. Many units even include dual temperature zones to chill reds and whites separately.
These models include glass doors for easy view of the contents, and they’re versatile enough to place side-by-side or standalone. Not only are they great for bars and restaurants looking to up their wine game, but they’re also great additions for liquor, grocery, and convenience stores to encourage those impulse sales.
Equipping the Bar: Related Resources
- The Deal About Draft Beer Dispensers & Solutions to Enhance Beer Service
- The Right Equipment to Build a Better Bar
- Underbar Equipment Solutions for Better Bar Efficiency
- Types of Beer Glasses
- Craft Beer & the Best Beer Glass for the Right Type of Beer
- Wine Glass Types
- Types of Bar Glasses
- The Definitive Guide to Wine Service
Related Commercial Refrigeration Buying Guides
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.