Ask a restaurateur how they select display systems for their operations, and they’ll tell you versatility is essential. Whether buying for a high-end or low-end establishment, fast food or pastry service, hot- or cold-food presentations — new display concepts are proving one item can play the part of many.
Convertible heating, refrigeration systems and portable cooking devices make it easier to transition menu items on the fly. Curved glass and stainless-steel trim are adding panache to the decor, and façade designs — ranging from marble to wood grain — are putting a touch of elegance on institutional surroundings.
Optimizing Your Options
For John Lettieri, president and owner of Hero Certified Burgers in Toronto, versatility is about modularity at his café operations. His modular bar system from Italy’s IFI allows him to mix and match station components to meet specific location needs. “We can change the layouts at any time and easily convert and integrate different bases and tops,” he explains. “It’s very efficient engineering for a café, because we don’t need to hire a designer.”
At Creeburn Lake Lodge, located 60 km outside Fort McMurray, Alta., Shawn Black, the lodge manager, oversaw an overhaul of the cafeteria that serves up to 500 Alberta Oil Sands workers daily. Given the volume of foods and the evolving menu, he relies on portable equipment to showcase made-to-order items. These include induction burners, griddles and waffle makers that are brought out to prepare featured foods of the day.
He also switched from a stainless-steel display design to one incorporating Corian countertops, wood-grain façades and three-way adjustable thick-glass food guards from the Denver-based BSI XGuard. “The food guards add a beautiful finish and let you see everything.”
Restaurant owners want simple versatility, says Gary Sanford, principal with Sanford Design Group Ltd., a Calgary-based foodservice consultancy. “Menus change, needs change, and space is costly. Operators want to take advantage of solutions that can serve multiple functions. They’re looking at modular drop-ins, frost tops — anything that makes construction easy.”
These days, new food displays for buffets operate off concealed induction technology. “CookTek has developed a system that you can put a 3/4-inch piece of plywood and granite stone on top,” says Sanford. “You just place a small ring on top, and you have an instant burner for cooking or heating food. At the end of the meal, you turn it off, remove the ring and you have a plain counter.”
Sanford has also been using a similar concept for non-induction applications from Refcon called HotRock. The element can be attached to the underside of a stone top, and it heats the surface directly.
The under-the-counter trend is also being seen in cold displays, Sanford adds. “A lot of manufacturers are making frost tops that you can drop into a display,” he says. “There’s a very interesting concept from Refcon called IceRock that puts refrigeration coils underneath a granite top. Any moisture in the air is frozen on the surface.”
Displays are also getting a touch of class with the help of LED lighting. Sanford recalls one project in which the crushed ice in a tiered seafood display unit was underlit to deliver a dramatic effect.
LED lighting has allowed Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants to showcase the contents of its custom-built refrigerated wine display units at Jump, Auberge de Pommier and its Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., operations. “It’s easy to [add light] with LED [technology], because it gives off next to no heat and the bulbs last for decades,” says Michael Bonacini, co-owner of O&B. “People find it fascinating.” In both locations the compressor is housed in a remote mechanical room to avoid vibration. “Having remote compressors also means you can keep the noise, heat and maintenance work out of the dining area,” Bonacini notes.
The Chill Factor
When it comes to refrigerated displays, you can find everything from traditional rounded front-display cases to upright grab-and-go refrigeration units. “We use a variety of [Brampton, Ont.’s] QBD glass units for food displays,” says Bonacini. “They’re fairly utilitarian, with illumination, shelving and a front glass that tips forward for easy access and cleaning.”
At O&B’s Bannock and Canteen, the custom-designed units are more angular and seamless in design (no stainless-steel joinings), and feature 5/8-inch glass-and-marble cladding. Bonacini recommends gravity feed doors in cases where staff pulls items from the unit for serving. “The door is on an angled track, so it will slowly close on its own.”
At Canteen the reach-in upright unit from Bridgeton, Missouri’s Hussmann — for pre-wrapped sandwiches, salads, wraps and beverages — provides customers with a view of what’s in stock. A blower sends cold air from the top and bottom to maintain a chilled environment. A curtain is pulled down over the open space overnight to act as an insulator and reduce wear on the compressor. The key with these units is having a “significantly oversized” compressor, Bonacini notes. “It’s not like you’re opening and closing a door. These things run constantly to maintain a certain temperature.”
So, whether displaying convenience or comfort food, operators should never underestimate the value of investing in a good display system. And, with what’s available today, the choices are endless.