Bar Refrigeration Guide


Refrigeration is the key to keeping your bar running and your customers happy. Beer, white wine and most cocktails are best when served cold. In order to decide what type of bar refrigeration is needed, first determine what types of beverages you wish to serve.

Before purchasing any refrigeration equipment, check the location of the compressor. Then look at your bar layout and make sure that this compressor will not be covered, as it will need room to breathe.

Beer Service

For bars that serve beer, be sure to have the right refrigeration for proper service. You may need all of the refrigeration units below, or just one or two depending on your operation. Determine whether or not you want to have all of your beer options on tap, all in bottles, or a combination of both.

Glass Back Bar Coolers
glass back bar cooler

If you want your bottled beer selection to be on display, choose a glass door cooler. These units allow you to both display and store your bottled and canned beer choices. The adjustable shelves allow for maximum use of space.

The only downside to this unit is that it must be neat and organized at all times. The glass must also be cleaned daily so that the unit is presentable.

Once you decide that the glass door cooler is for you, be sure to purchase a unit with thermal doors, or units that have triple pane glass to ensure that the cold air produced by your refrigerator stays inside where it belongs. Triple pane doors are durable and resist breaking when it is bumped into during a rush.

Solid Back Bar Coolers

If you plan to use your back bar for beer as well as cocktail mixers, consider a solid door back bar cooler. If your bar serves well known domestic beers, then a glass door model is not necessary. These units can be disorganized inside, and can have other bottled items stored along side your beer.

These units are better at keeping cold air in than glass door units of the same size and capacity.

Horizontal Bottle Coolers
horizontal bottle cooler

For bars that serve large volumes of bottled or canned beer, horizontal bottle coolers are necessary. They have sliding doors on top for easy access to bottled beer. The doors slide back underneath a stainless steel counter area that can be used as a work surface or as a place to stack clean glasses.

Most units have forced air cooling that chills the bottles on top first. If you stock a cooler all at once, the top bottles that are served first will be cold.
Choose between one and two door models. Each unit has the ability to hold both cans and bottles. Pick a unit that holds the maximum number of bottles for the space you have, whether that is a one or two door model.

Bottle openers and cap catchers are included on most units. They are helpful for opening bottles that come straight from the cooler. However, if you plan on putting this unit in a place where it would be difficult to open bottles on the front, pick a unit that has a removable bottle opener and cap catcher so that you can take it off easily.

Direct Draw Beer Dispensers
direct draw beer dispenser

If your bar serves a handful of beers of tap, choose between direct draw beer dispensers that hold from one to four kegs. These units can only be used in small operations that do not have large selections on tap. Bars with several beers on tap use a walk in refrigerator, and then run the lines from the unit to the bar area.

Glass and Plate Chillers

glass and plate chiller
To serve beer in a chilled glass, you will need a glass chiller, especially when serving in high volumes. These chilled glasses can be used for beers on tap, and can also be used for holding beer from bottles. These units are especially useful for outdoor bar areas in the summer as it will keep your customer’s beer cooler for much longer than if the glass came off the glass rack.

The forced air in these units allows for quick cooling and frosting of your glasses. Be sure that the glasses are dry when placed inside the unit. Each chiller comes with adjustable shelving so that you can maximize the space within the freezer. These units are great for holding pint glasses, beer steins, beer mugs and other glasses that are used to serve beer.

Liquor and Cocktail Service

Many cocktails are better when served cold. Keeping both the glasses and the mixers cold is helpful when making the proper drink.

Back Bar Coolers
back bar cooler

Certain cocktail mixers, including tomato and orange juices, require refrigeration. Also toppings, like whipped cream, need to be refrigerated. For these items that are used in your bar, buy a solid door cooler. The solid door models hide the contents inside that are not meant to be displayed the way an imported beer bottle would be.

Glass and Plate Chillers

For chilling martini, cocktail, margarita, hurricane and rocks glasses, purchase a glass chiller. These drinks are best served cold. By frosting the glasses, the cocktail will stay cold longer. This is especially necessary for bars that serve extra large cocktails as it will take longer for the customer to drink the beverage. Glass chillers are also great for outdoor bars, especially in the summer. The racks are adjustable so that the maximum number of glasses can be held in this space, regardless of what type of glasses you choose to chill.

Wine Service

When serving white wine, it is important to serve it chilled. The flavor of white wine is very delicate and is best accented when served cold.

Wine Merchandisers and Coolers

wine merchandiser and coolers
For wine bars that serve wine exclusively, or for bars that have a large wine selection, consider a wine merchandiser. These units are designed to hold only wine, and can therefore allow you maximum storage potential. They are designed to keep specific wines at desired temperatures, which may not match the temperatures held by other refrigeration units.

If your wine cooler is placed under the bar, you can choose a unit that holds the wine bottles horizontally, as it is not necessary to display the bottles to your customers. You can also adjust the shelves in the unit to hold the bottles horizontally to save space.

For units that are within sight of the customer, adjust the shelves to allow for the display of upright bottles, and face the labels forward.

Back Bar Cooler

back bar cooler
To chill your glasses, use a back bar cooler in lieu of a glass chiller. The glass chillers create frost on glasses, which is great for beer but not for wine. No one wants watered down wine, and that is exactly what will happen when the frost melts into your customers wine glass. Instead, store glasses in a refrigerator, not a freezer. Back bar coolers have adjustable shelves so that you can fit glasses of any height. It is personal preference whether you choose a solid or glass door unit.

Choosing Your Finish

stainless steel and black vinyl finishes
Once you have decided which types of units you need for your bar area, pick the finish that best suits your needs. Your options are stainless steel or black vinyl. Whichever you pick will work in your bar. Just be consistent with your choice for uniformity behind the bar.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the most durable substance. It is less likely to dent or scratch than the vinyl. This shiny exterior is great for well lit bars as this finish is great for show. These units are more expensive than vinyl. While steel is more durable, it still require some maintenance.

» Learn more about maintaining stainless steel equipment

Black Vinyl

Black vinyl is not as durable as stainless steel and is more likely to dent or scratch. However, this dark finish is easily hidden in dimly lit bars, thus hiding dents and dings better than the stainless steel. Black vinyl units tend to be less expensive than stainless steel.


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FSW Staff

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