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How to Get the Best Result with Custom Commercial Fridges

When it comes to your commercial fridges, does it ever feel like nothing quite fits the bill?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to that question, you’re not alone. Every hospitality fit out usually entails some unique spacial or environmental challenges, that’s just the way it goes. But in recent years, as food and beverage service opportunities have diversified away from the traditional, the flood gates on what constitutes a great hospitality space have been knocked wide open.

Virtually anything goes, with enterprising bar and cafe entrepreneurs setting up shop in spaces with all sorts of unique challenges – from vast re-purposed industrial spaces to literal holes in the wall. But even if that’s not you, you’ve still probably got some questions on how to get the custom fridges you need for your venue at a cost that fits your budget.

Fortunately, we’re in a unique position to help. SKOPE runs one of the most accomplished fridge customization workshops in the entire Southern Hemisphere. With more than 50 years of experience in the industry, if we don’t know an answer to a question, it probably hasn’t been asked yet.

So here’s our quick guide to getting the right customized commercial refrigeration you need.

What is a custom fridge?

A custom fridge can actually be anything from a standard off the shelf fridge from a catalogue with a few unique component changes – like a backbar fridge with pass-through doors at the rear – to a 100% unique fridge designed from the castors-up.

It’s something worth thinking about before you start the process of getting a custom fridge because you might find you can source a solution with a modification that doesn’t offer too many compromises but saves you a lot of money.

Just be aware that bespoke doesn’t always have to be the answer, but modifying an existing fridge can often just be a stop gap or a poor choice in the long-term depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

Refrigerated snow bar and snow cave at The Whet Bar
Refrigerated snow bar and snow cave at The Whet Bar

What can be customized?

Virtually everything is the answer to this question! Depending on what you need, you can customize:

  • Size and shape
  • Shelving and basket design
  • Lighting options (colour changes, dimmable LEDs)
  • Exterior appearance (even if you just want a fridge frontage for your cool room)
  • Lock and security options
  • Maintenance and cleaning requirements
  • Position and number of doors (including end or corner doors for bar fridges)

Temperature variations (to fit the optimum parameters of the food or drink you want to cool)

Extra quiet bar fridges for Gordon River Cruises
Extra quiet bar fridges for Gordon River Cruises

Choosing a Service Provider

Obviously we’re a little biased on this subject, but we advise customers to choose quality and expertise – ideally with a fridge manufacturer. But before you roll your eyes, let us just say that we not only create and modify fridges, we replace them too.

Many customers come to us with spaces already occupied by custom or modified fridges that didn’t meet expectations and didn’t come with much support.

So we’ve seen the evidence for ourselves. While there are plenty of customization options out there, be aware that many will come with limited to zero support and warranties. For example, we always support our custom fridges with a one year warranty.

Experienced hospitality entrepreneurs know the true cost of fridge failure, especially front of house where a fault can stop beverage service in its tracks. That’s why they typically choose a fridge manufacturer to build their fridges.

Custom fridges...
Custom fridges...
...for the Lion New Zealand head office
...for the Lion New Zealand head office

Supplying a Brief

You want to build a short-list of potential partners to work with. Many of you will already be working with fit out consultants who already have their own pre-existing relationships with service providers and preferences of manufacturer.

But even if that’s the case, it’s worth independently checking out some alternatives to give yourself peace of mind and ultimately more leverage for a better deal with the service providers or manufacturer your consultant advocates.

How do you build that short-list? With a killer brief, of course.

In general, the more information you can provide in a brief the better and faster the results.

But at the very least, make sure your brief includes the following:

  1. A summary of the key pain point. Try to keep this as short as possible and focused on the core problem, even if you have many to tackle. This is an overview to keep the most important problem top of mind through the project, so save the detail for later.
  2. An overview of the space and environment. This should include basics like whether the space is indoors or outdoors, and descriptions of the environmental challenges, like challenging heat sources and layouts. Describe the ambient temperature conditions, for example “air conditioned but open doors” or “air conditioned at 25°C”, and if possible provide on-site photos.
  3. An outline of what you plan to cool and any known environmental requirements. Whether you know the optimal temperatures and humidity or need advice, provide a quick list of the food and beverage items you want to cool along with any information you have on the desired cooling environment you want. For food items, also add whether they will be covered or packaged. Different food and beverages often have different optimal temperature zones, such as red wine (18°C) versus white wine (12°C), while humidity also affects flowers as well as food.
  4. Aesthetic and usability must-haves. If you already know you need solid doors rather than glass, doors in a certain position, drawers instead of doors, or you have unique shelving requirements, make sure these must-haves are clearly communicated so no time is wasted investigating alternatives.
  5. A realistic budget. It’s really worth being up-front here because it means you’re much more likely to save time and money. A credible service provider in this field won’t try to up-sell you, in fact you’ll often be talking directly with an experienced refrigeration engineer. So the worst case scenario with being upfront about your budget is that you’ll get accurate, credible advice on your options from an expert. Even if the budget isn’t there for what you want, we may be able to recommend an affordable alternative solution.
  6. A final itemized list of must-have requirements. For clarity, it’s best to end the document with a reaffirmation of what must be met for a proposal to be considered.

Remember to be as clear as possible when describing your pain points. Your brief will be reviewed by experts in the field, but regardless of their years of experience or number of qualifications, you’ll still get a quicker and better response by minimizing any vague or unclear parts.

A brief doesn’t have to be War and Peace, it can be a simple email or single page document if that fits requirements. Once you’ve drafted your brief, go back through it with an eye for cutting any unnecessary or flowery words. Ideally, have a colleague or friend objectively review the brief before you send it out.

From the workshop...
From the workshop...
...to Mr Percival's in Brisbane
...to Mr Percival's in Brisbane

Working with your Chosen Service Provider

The final part of the equation is how you communicate with your designer and engineers. To get the best result to your desired budget, you’ll want to reply to follow-up questions promptly and with clear direction.

You may be faced with choices neither yourself nor the custom team could have anticipated, so it pays to give real thought to the decision and to be decisive in your choice.  The last thing you want is to force the designers and engineers into hedging any bets. A good service-provider will usually put the brakes on to avoid being put in that position, and of course that may add costs or time to the project.

In fact, after choosing a credible customs team to work on your problem, open communication is the defining factor to getting a custom fridge that fits the bill.

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