Commercial Refrigerator Buyer's Guide 2021

article

When you operate a hospitality venue, your refrigerators are perhaps the hardest working members of your crew.

Tucked in a corner or under a bench, commercial refrigerators operate 24/7 and play an integral role in not only the success of your venue but the health and safety of your customers.

As with many other pieces of kitchen equipment, there is a wide range of options when it comes to buying a commercial refrigerator. You do need to shop carefully to make sure you choose the best fridge brand for the job and there are a number of things to consider.

With this in mind, we have created a refrigerator buying guide to help you decide which commercial fridge is right for your kitchen.

While this fridge buying guide is detailed and extensive, once you’re familiar with the different commercial refrigerator options, it is still helpful to get advice from a professional who understands the hospitality industry and can assess your needs based on your venue size and customer numbers. This could be a commercial kitchen consultant or someone who has supported other businesses to choose the model of commercial fridge that’s most suitable. They will help you choose the best fridge brand and model, based on what’s available in Australia.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at SilverChef if you have any questions about how to buy a commercial fridge for your cafe, restaurant, hotel, club, hospital, school or other venue. 

 

Here’s what our commercial refrigerator buyer's guide covers

  • Types of commercial refrigerators
  • Buying a commercial refrigerator: what to consider
    • Size
    • Capacity
    • Door alarms
    • Energy efficiency
    • Mobility
    • Ventilation
    • Doors
    • Security
    • Regularity of use
    • Food to store
    • Temperature control and display
    • Commercial refrigerator placement
    • Installation
    • Warranty and guarantees
    • Cleaning and maintenance
  • Second hand commercial fridge vs new
  • Best commercial fridge brands
    • Premium commercial refrigerators
    • Mid range commercial refrigerators
    • Budget friendly commercial refrigerators
  • Commercial refrigerator FAQ

 

Types of commercial refrigerators 

Many hospitality veterans and experts will tell you that you can never have too much refrigeration in your kitchen. Here are some of the models you will come across when you are shopping around for the best fridge brand for your venue.

 

Commercial bar fridge

A commercial bar fridge, or commercial upright fridge has customers in mind, with special lighting and glass fronts so customers can quickly get an idea of the drinks you have on offer.

These commercial undercounter refrigerators are compact fridges that keep alcoholic and other beverages cold and ready to serve. They are sometimes referred to as back-bar coolers.

The best commercial bar fridges or commercial upright fridges are quiet and cost-effective to run. Models are generally available in black, white and silver finishes. You may be interested in finding a model with a customisable finish, however smooth and efficient operation should be a priority over looks.

 drinks fridge

Merchandiser/commercial display fridge

Similar to a commercial bar fridge, a commercial display fridge has a glass front so your customers can make a choice without opening the door and causing the machine to lose cool air. These models tend to come with lots of shelves and have ventilation at the front.

Choose a single or double-door commercial display fridge depending on the number of beverages or food items your commercial display fridge will be stocked with. You could even decide you need an entire wall of commercial drinks fridges if you have a service station or cafeteria.

Your merchandise/display fridges don’t have to be limited to bottles of water, milk or soft drink. When you’re setting up your venue, you may need to display cakes, sandwiches or pastries in cooled cabinets.

Some refrigerated display cases don’t have doors, making access even easier for customers. These are ideal for service stations, cafes, supermarkets and sandwich bars.

With a commercial display fridge, you’ll have to ensure your products are neatly stocked and presented so they are appealing to your customers.

You may also find a commercial display fridge referred to as a refrigerated display cabinet (RDC).

 display fridge

Reach in fridge

Similar to the type of fridge you have at home, a reach in fridge stores the foods and liquids you need to keep your kitchen running.

Like home fridges, there are many models available. You can choose glass doors for visibility reasons, go for a double door commercial refrigerator or opt for a stainless steel front. The placement of the ventilation will vary, depending on the model. Advanced models may even have specific ways to control temperature, which will help keep food fresher for longer.

Shelving in your reach-in fridge is adjustable. You can add or remove shelves to accommodate larger items.

You may also find a reach in fridge referred to as a refrigerated storage cabinet (RSC).

 

Fridge and prep table combo

For easy access to cold ingredients, it makes sense to have a fridge set underneath your prep tables in the kitchen. Cold larder chefs will appreciate being able to get what they need without continually walking across the kitchen. With stainless steel countertops, these models are ideal for pizza-making, salad preparation and chilled desserts.

A fridge like this would come in handy as a commercial bar fridge, for storing fruit and other cocktail garnishes. You can also speak with your dealer about the options for fridge drawers instead of the traditional door and shelf set up. This is increasingly becoming a trend as it can offer more convenience and minimise the need to constantly lean over and reach into the back of the undercounter refrigerator.

 

Walk-in fridge

Also known as a coolroom, your walk-in fridge gives you ample space and easy access for storing several days’ worth of ingredients. When you receive your food deliveries, you can store in bulk in this appliance. Prior to service, your team can select ingredients, do their prep then move the food they need to a commercial undercounter refrigerator or reach-in fridge.

Walk-in fridges come in a range of sizes, with or without floors and usually have ventilation set at the top of the unit.

 

Chest fridge

Chest freezers with a heavy, flat lid are best suited to long term food storage. Having a glass, sliding lid makes access easier but your chefs will still find themselves digging around for what they need so relying on these during service may be frustrating.

In a customer-facing area, this is where you will stock your ice cream and frozen vegetables. They tend to include baskets that can be lifted out for cleaning and easy access to products.

 

Pass through fridge

A pass through or roll in fridge can be accessed from the back as well as the front. For example, your team may stock drinks fridges from the back, or you may find it makes sense to have a pass through fridge for a busy venue. You’ll find glass door, solid door and half door models available in a range of sizes.

 

Common refrigerator terms

You don’t have to be an expert in the inner workings of your fridge but it helps to have an idea of the parts that make the magic happen and the accessories you may come across when you have a commercial fridge on site.

 

Condenser coil

The condenser coil is the metal part at the back of the fridge or across the bottom of it. Its job is to cool and condense your refrigerant. Over time, these coils get covered in dust and dirt, which makes it harder for them to function correctly as they can’t release heat.

 

Fan

The fans in your fridge cool the compressor and force air through the coils. They help prevent your fridge and freezer from frosting over and causing food to spoil. If your fans aren’t functioning, the temperature in your fridge will start to rise.

 

Gastronorm compatible 

You might hear this term come up when you are shopping for kitchen equipment. If a commercial fridge is ‘gastronorm compatible’ (or GN compatible), it can accommodate the most commonly used sizes of pans and storage containers. This makes life easier as you won’t find yourself with pans and trays that don’t quite fit inside your fridge.

 

Low E Glass

Low E glass refers to a very thin coating that reflects heat by minimising the amount of UV and infrared light that can pass into the fridge. Choosing a glass door fridge with Low E glass will be more energy efficient so you can save on the cost of running it.

 

Refrigerant

Wikipedia says, 'A refrigerant is a substance or mixture, usually a fluid, used in a heat pump and refrigeration cycle. In most cycles, it undergoes phase transitions from a liquid to a gas and back again.'

In liquid form, refrigerant travels around your fridge, absorbing the heat and cooling the air temperature.

Some refrigerants have been found harmful to the environment. Before you decide on the best fridge brand for you, check the environmental impact of the refrigerant that is used.

 

Seal/gasket

The seal on your fridge ensures it closes without letting cold air out. If your fridge door won’t stay closed, the flexible strip that forms the seal may be past its use-by date or even in desperate need of a good clean.

You might notice your fridge seems to be ‘working extra hard’ and the fan is making a lot more noise than usual. This could be because the seal isn’t working properly or has started to decay. The fridge will try to accommodate the extra intake of warm air and your energy bill will increase as a result.

 

Ventilation

Your fridge has vents for warm air to escape. This ventilation requires a few centimetres of ‘breathing room’ so it doesn’t become blocked. Your fridge generates heat as it cools its contents and this needs somewhere to travel to.

 

Buying a commercial refrigerator: what to consider

 fridge barman

Size

You definitely need refrigeration that matches your needs in terms of size. Order a unit that’s too large and you have wasted space, not to mention you will be paying to operate fridge space you don’t need. It’s actually harder for a fridge to stay cool when it is empty because it has a greater volume of air to work on (this will make you feel better if you always have a fridge that is stuffed full of food and never gets cleaned out!)

Go too small and your staff will be frustrated. Everything will constantly be squashed onto the shelves and stacked awkwardly, which wastes people’s time.

The other issue with size is the way your fridge will fit into your kitchen. Before you place an order, take some measurements to ensure the appliance won’t block thoroughfares, that it can be delivered and installed without too much difficulty and that it isn’t too tall to fit in your kitchen. For commercial undercounter refrigerators, double-check they are the right height and will sit under your countertops.

 

Capacity

Capacity is similar to size and refers to how much food your fridge can hold. Commercial refrigerator capacity is referred to in litres. Take a look at capacity when you’re deciding between models; you may find a few litres of difference, which could be helpful for your venue.

Look at shelf capacity and flexibility as well - will your chefs need lots of narrow shelves or just a few with room between them?

 

Door alarms

The ‘beep beep beep’ of an open fridge door is irritating but it can help your venue save money. You don’t want a fridge worth of food being thrown out because a door was left ajar overnight or the shock of an extra expensive electricity bill.

 

Energy efficiency

Energy is important for two reasons. First, it is expensive. Your fridge operates 24/7 so the less energy it uses, the better.

Then there is the environment. Commercial refrigeration in Australia causes 4% of the global warming emissions released into the atmosphere.

When it comes to energy efficiency, your commercial refrigerator has to meet certain requirements. These have recently been revised by the Australian government.

Here is some quick information from energyrating.gov.au about the latest updates to energy requirements:

The MEPS requirements included in the 2012 Determination are replaced by the Energy Efficiency Index (EEI) in the 2019 Determination.

Each refrigerated cabinet is assessed against a maximum level on the EEI scale. If it exceeds the maximum level, it will not be able to be supplied in Australia or New Zealand.

When you buy a commercial fridge, you will have to make sure it meets EEI requirements. The benefit of an energy-efficient fridge is that it reduces damaging greenhouse gas emissions and it is also cost-effective for your venue.

Energy-efficient fridges use less power because they have good insulation panels, energy-efficient LED lighting, doors that seal tightly and features that minimise temperature fluctuation.

 

Mobility

When you are looking to buy a commercial fridge, consider if you will need to move it around. Some models come with wheels/castors which can be locked in place when you need them to stay still.

 

Ventilation

Consider the placement of the ventilation on your fridge. Ideally it shouldn’t be butted up too closely to the wall. Speak to the vendor about the gaps you will need and check you can accommodate them before you install your fridge.

For an under bench fridge, check where the ventilation is and make sure you allow room for it.

Finally, think about how easy it will be to access the ventilation system so you can wipe it down regularly.

 

Doors

Like ventilation, the placement of your fridge doors needs to be considered. Will the right or left-hand opening make things inconvenient for your chefs? Is a double door commercial refrigerator the best option or do you have a narrow space that will only fit a single door?

Test the seal as well and talk to your vendor about the models that swing shut with the least amount of pressure. Sometimes you end up with a fridge which never quite closes unless you apply firm pressure (although this will happen to most fridges over time as the seals wear out). For a double door commercial fridge, check that you don’t get the problem of one door forcing the other open when it closes.

 

Security

Do you need to lock your fridge when everyone is leaving for the night? It’s a question worth asking before you decide on the best fridge brand; you may want a model that can have a lock installed or comes with locks and keys included.

 

Regularity of use

The model of commercial refrigerator you choose may depend on how often you need to access it. You don’t want your staff to encounter big, heavy lids with great regularity during their shift. If a fridge is being visited repeatedly, a glass door might be a good option as it will reduce the time chefs spend with the door wide open while they search for the food they need (just keep in mind that glass door fridges do cost more to run, so the savings may rule themselves out).

 

Food to store

deli fridge

Some sources say you should always store raw food in a stainless steel door fridge rather than a glass door fridge. Speak to your vendor about their recommendations.

You’ll also need to consider the size of the food you are storing. Will large pots be placed in the fridge between shifts? Are you working with big cuts of meat or grand-sized desserts and will you have the flexibility to remove shelves or baskets (in a chest fridge) so you can make room for them?

 

Temperature control and display

Temperature

If you’re storing beer in your commercial bar fridge and have a reputation for serving them cold, you may wish to set the temperature closer to 1.5-2 degrees celsius.

According to Choice magazine, the Australian Standard for fridges uses a fresh food compartment average temperature of 3°C. However, you may want to vary this for a vegetable fridge to save vegetables from rapid deterioration.

A thermometer should give you an easy reference of the current temperature. Look for a digital display that has good visibility and which can be controlled from outside the fridge so you don’t have to open the door and reach in.

Also take note of the maximum ambient temperature your fridge can withstand. For example, a Polar 3-door counter fridge can still operate in outside temperatures of up to 43 degrees Celsius.

 

Commercial refrigerator placement

Aim to keep your fridges away from direct sunlight so the ambient temperature doesn’t climb too high and force them to work too hard.

If it is a customer-facing fridge, check there will be room to open doors without hitting other cabinetry.

Power points are another issue worth considering. If the power point is directly behind the fridge you will have to pull the machine out to get to it. Hopefully you can place your commercial fridge with the power point to the side of or above the fridge for easier access.

 

Installation

Before you buy a commercial fridge, check about the installation process and how it will be handled.

Your fridge should be installed professionally to ensure it operates at its best. Double check the voltage with our electrician to make sure you can supply enough power for the appliance.

 

Warranty and guarantees

Like with all appliances, it is important to check the warranty and parts guarantees before you buy a commercial refrigerator or freezer.

The standard warranty is 12 months for parts and labour and you may be able to purchase an extension. Read the terms and conditions and check if there are clauses about the machine being professionally serviced in order for the warranty to apply.

 

Cleaning and maintenance

Cleaning your condenser coil and making sure the ventilation areas are dust free will extend the lifespan and cooling abilities of your fridge. Wipe the seals down and keep the fridge clean inside yourself but also chat with your vendor about their recommendations when it comes to having your fridge professionally cleaned and serviced to ensure it is in good working order.

When choosing a model, speak with your dealer about how easy it is to repair if a part stops working. Sometimes you may come across a cheap fridge brand that looks like a good deal, only to realise there is very little availability should you need spare parts.

 

Second hand commercial fridge vs new

A second-hand commercial fridge is always an option if you are expanding or establishing a hospitality venue. However, be wary of buying from auction sites or platforms like Gumtree, which will sell you a used commercial refrigerator with no assurance of quality.

It is possible to access used commercial refrigerator models which have been professionally serviced and come with a warranty. This is a great way to save money on your second hand commercial fridge purchase.

Another option if you’re trying to decide between purchasing a second hand commercial fridge and buying new is to lease-to-buy. This gives you the flexibility to test a fridge without paying for it in full. If the fridge doesn’t meet your needs, you can upgrade or downgrade to a different model. You can also opt for an upgrade to a newer model that is more economical to run at the end of your lease contract.

 

Best commercial fridge brands 

The answer to the question of which is the best fridge in Australia and which is the best fridge brand depends on your needs and your venue. Fortunately, there are many outstanding models to choose from. Take a look at some of the most recommended models and some details about each.

 

Premium commercial refrigerator brands

These brands are recommended as some of the best fridge brands by Australian industry experts.

Williams commercial refrigerator pros and cons 

Williams Refrigeration has delivered professional refrigeration solutions to restaurants, pubs, schools and hospitals since 1980.

This fridge brand is 'committed to developing the most energy efficient cabinets possible, using the latest components and manufacturing techniques.' The brand also promises food safety, reliability and tough construction that is able to handle being knocked about in the kitchen. They have kept looks in mind for front of house / commercial display fridges, and also offer slimline models as well as undercounter cabinets.

Made in Victoria, a big ‘pro’ for a Williams fridge is the short lead time. They are considered a premium model of fridge.

 

Skope commercial refrigerator pros and cons

New Zealand fridge brand Skope is highly recognised and viewed as a dependable commercial fridge brand in Australia. The range includes commercial fridges, bench fridges, chillers, freezers, and commercial displays. You can choose from a single-door fridge, double-door, or even a fridge with triple doors.

Skope is praised for being durable, energy-efficient and eco-friendly. These fridges are CFC free, which minimises environmental impact. You can find models which are customisable for refrigeration and food display, plus when you buy a Skope fridge you can access their warranty and after-care service.

Skope is recommended for being dependable and built to last. When you pay for these premium fridge models, you are helping protect the food you serve against temperature fluctuations.

 

Polaris

Polaris is a 30-year-old brand that offers a range of commercial refrigeration equipment.

This brand protects the environment by adopting building solutions that ensure eco-sustainable products. According to its website: 

  • the insulators are CFC-free and use a water-based blowing agent;
  • the thick insulation reduces cold dispersion and allows for the use of compressors with a smaller capacity, thereby ensuring lower consumption and less noise;
  • 98% of the materials used in the equipment is recyclable;
  • a large part of the equipment can be requested in the propane R290 version, which allows for substantially lower emissions (GWP) due to the coolant.

Polaris is recommended as another premium brand of commercial refrigerator.

 

Mid range commercial refrigerators

Turbo Air

Turbo Air has been producing commercial fridges for over 20 years, and offers a variety of efficient, high quality fridges to over 70 countries worldwide.

Reviewers praise the digital control system, which provides constant and precise temperatures, door pressure release device for easy opening, and the high tech monitoring system, which can be controlled without opening the fridge and steady temperatures. Models feature energy saving fan controllers, efficient lighting and door locks.

This fridge brand is recommended for “smart consumers who need high quality products with a limited budget.”

Turbo Air Group manufactures a variety of products with a high level of efficiency and quality and exports its products to more than 70 countries. Turbo Air Group is a good choice for smart consumers who need high-quality products with a limited budget.

 

Skipio

Skipio commercial refrigerators have a range of features including self-diagnosis when things go wrong, smart defrost systems and energy efficient lights. Their models have thick walls, anti-corrosion pipes and digital temperature control.

A global brand based in South Korea, Skipio offers upright fridges, undercounter fridges, salad prep fridges, split door fridges, glass door models and more.

 

Bromic

With a base in Australia, Bromic Refrigeration supplies quality, reliable products that are engineered for a wide range of tasks and customer requirements.

The Bromic refrigeration product range is extensive and includes glass door display merchandisers, display freezers, ice machines, modular coolroom systems and much more.

Bromic is known for providing high-value, reliable refrigeration products and scrutinises its commercial fridges with a ‘100 point check’ to prove quality, value and reliability.

 

Budget friendly commercial refrigerators

Polar

Polar Refrigeration has been producing commercial fridges for over 15 years. This fridge brand offers a diverse range at a competitive price point.

The range includes most types of commercial fridges, from display fridges to sliding door undercounter bar fridge models, and has lockable options.

This is a global brand that operates in over 100 countries and has sold over 500,000 products. Reviews describe Polar fridges as meeting expectations, “well made” and spacious.

 

Questions to ask before you buy a commercial refrigerator

fridge

This fridge buying guide will help you understand the different types of commercial fridges, which brands are recommended as best and what terminology is involved but it always helps to have advice from your peers in the industry.

Before you purchase a second hand commercial fridge or new model, talk to people who run similar venues and ask them some of the following questions:

  • Which commercial refrigerator model do you use and why?
  • How often does your commercial refrigerator break down or need repairs?
  • What do you find are the best commercial refrigerator brands?
  • How easy is it to clean and maintain your commercial refrigerator?
  • Is the provider of your second hand commercial refrigerator or new model of fridge reliable when you need their help?
  • Do your chefs/cooks/staff find your commercial refrigerator easy to use? 
  • What was your experience buying a used or second-hand commercial refrigerator?
  • Would say the model you use is the best commercial fridge?
  • What is the best bar fridge?
  • What do you think is the best fridge brand?
  • What is the best commercial double door fridge?
  • What is the best commercial drinks fridge?
  • What commercial fridge price would you recommend paying?

 

Here are questions to ask your dealer or supplier about the best commercial refrigerator or best bar fridge for your business:

  • Will this machine suit the needs of my venue?
  • What warranty is included?
  • How easy is it to get parts from the factory if they are needed?
  • What happens if I need an urgent commercial fridge repair?
  • How much are hourly callout fees? What about on weekends?
  • Why do you recommend this commercial fridge?
  • Is this commercial fridge worth the price?


Commercial refrigerator FAQ

Why is it suddenly warmer than usual inside my commercial fridge?

A change in temperature could be due to a faulty seal, a lack of ventilation, a rise in ambient temperature or a dirty condenser coil. Check the condition and cleanliness of these features and call your technician for more information.

Your fridge should be able to tell you at a glance what the temperature is, so you know if there is a problem.

 

How much does a commercial refrigerator cost?

The cost of a commercial fridge depends on the model you need. Large-scale walk-in refrigerators can reach prices exceeding $20,000. Remember to consider the cost of operation as well as the purchase price.

 

What is the lifespan of a commercial refrigerator? 

The general life expectancy of a commercial refrigerator is ten years. You may find you need to replace gaskets/seals within this time or that you can extend the life of the equipment if you stick to a maintenance schedule.

 

Why is my fridge making a lot more noise than usual?

There are a few things which cause your fridge to make noise.

It could just be a loose drain pan that is making a rattling noise. Get close to the bottom of the fridge to check if this is where the sound is coming from.

Your fan could be starting to wear out, causing it to make more noise than usual.

Another issue could be the fan working overtime, either because the fridge is in too warm a spot, the seal has worn out or the condenser coil needs cleaning.

 

What is the best fridge brand?

The best fridge brand depends on the needs of your venue, where the fridge will be placed and what it will be used for. Ideally, you should look for a reliable, energy efficient model which will save you on running costs for the long term. For more information, ask a commercial refrigerator expert.

 

Thanks for reading this Commercial Refrigerator Buying Guide

This guide has hopefully helped you understand what to look for, so you can narrow down your decision about what really is the best commercial fridge for your venue.

If you’d like the advice and guidance of a professional, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at SilverChef – we have dedicated restaurant and cafe industry experts available to support you.

Prefer to dive straight in and start looking at the commercial fridges available from our Certified Used team? Shop the range.

Want to know about finance options and what your rental payments on a commercial fridge could be? Use our Rent-Try-Buy calculator to run the numbers.