Feature: Counter culture

Feature: Counter culture

In today’s foodie world, the appearance of your outlet is arguably as important as the quality of the fare that you actually serve up. Competition, as we all know, is fierce on the high street, meaning counter display equipment that promotes a positive image of your business, while also showcasing your wares attractively, is truly essential. So, from the vast array on offer, what should you opt for? “There are many different types and variations of counter display equipment,” says Mark Sharland of Willis Jenkins. “You can choose from free standing, counter top or inset, with a variety of different finishes to suit any particular environment. Whether it’s replicating the high street with a high gloss tile, a decorative laminate or an easy cladding, counter display equipment can be heated, ambient or chilled, depending on the product being served. Self-serve, assisted-serve or full counter service can be mixed if required.”

“There are numerous varieties of counter display equipment available,” adds Paul Curran, estimating manager for Proline. “Heated displays traditionally are ceramic glass hot plates, or there are dry or wet well bain-marie, which both have bottom heat and quartz heat above. The recent introduction of induction cooking into the market has seen chefs wanting to showcase their cooking in a theatre-style environment. Contact cooled and frost top displays are also used for visual impact and theatre. “Chilled displays tend to be fan blown for the display of salad, pizza, sandwich toppings, cakes and other items like this. Multi-tiered displays are for perfect for pre-packed sandwiches, cakes and drinks.”

Display dilemmas
There is clearly much to consider and a vast array of equipment to choose from, so what should you consider before purchasing? “When it comes to the purchase of new display equipment, operators should consider capacity, location and reliability,” says Ian Harbinson, head of marketing for Lec Commercial. “Required on a daily basis and to maintain the exact storage temperature for the food held within, an unreliable, undersized appliance can have a significant effect on the operator.”

“As with investment in any new equipment, before buying counters and food display units you need to consider criteria such as how much space it will take up and how it will perform in terms of energy use,” advises Chris Rouine, director of Vision Commercial Kitchens. “In the long run, you want the investment to be worthwhile and for the equipment to save you money, not cost you. “Another thing you might want to ask is: do you need it to be mobile? Instead of a counter top, perhaps a unit on wheels is more appropriate as they are very flexible and adaptable alongside your menu.”

“Look for food display equipment that draws customers in and makes the most of the space available,” says Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager for Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM). “Equipment that can be adapted to suit changes in menu, settings and demand will be most useful to caterers. Modular display systems, such as FEM’s Pujadas CUBIC range, allow operators to purchase components over time and build the display up and change it as the venue, menu or budget dictates.”

And anyone in doubt should consider that this type of equipment can make “a vast difference” to your sales, according to John Nelson, MD of Nelson Catering Equipment. “Displaying the food available is far more meaningful to customers than just a menu. Decisions are usually made quickly – unlike in a restaurant environment – so seeing what is available helps them make a choice immediately.

“Nelson has seen evidence that food sales increase by around 20% to 30% once food is displayed in an attractive way. A further benefit is that queuing is reduced as less questions need to be asked of serving staff.”

“Seeing the food helps customers choose what they want and is a far stronger draw than a printed menu,” adds David Barton, sales director for Pantheon Catering Equipment. “A good display also helps with upselling. Customers are tempted to buy more as it enables customers to actually see and smell the food they’re about to purchase. And it also keeps the food in peak condition.”

After thoughts
Looking to the future, our experts advise that you invent in an aftersales package. “Regular servicing is extremely important in order to protect the investment and prolong the life of the catering equipment,” says John Wannan, sales and marketing manager for Moffat Catering Equipment. “Check with your supplier what aftersales and maintenance programme they have on offer. If you choose a British brand you can be sure of ready availability of spares and service personnel.”

“Buy from a reputable British manufacturer and check the aftersales service and the availability of spare parts,” adds Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director for Williams Refrigeration. “The supply of spare parts, service and aftersales support should be critical factors in any catering equipment-buying decision.”

The best advice, however, is to ensure you tailor your choices to complement your outlet, as Tina Carter, marketing manager for Brakes Catering Equipment, concludes: “What needs to be done will depend on the requirements of each individual site based on the number of customers that need to be served and over what time. It may well be that the existing layout is completely at odds with what would work best now – perhaps the way the kitchen currently operates is much different to how it did when it was first installed.

“Unless there has been a significant increase in the number of customers, it is probably unlikely that a site will require a completely new servery counter. However, the importance of good counter and/or servery design cannot be overestimated.”