A reach-in refrigerator or true reach-in freezer will keep your food at the optimal temperature while making items easily accessible to staff. While all commercial reach-ins are designed to withstand heavy use, some units are better suited for some restaurants than others. 

There are several things to consider when buying a reach-in refrigerator and freezer.

reach in commercial refrigerator

What to Consider When Buying a Reach-in Refrigerator and Freezer

When buying a commercial reach in refrigerator, there are several things to consider, including:

Your Space

Before buying any new equipment for your restaurant, it's important to consider the size of your space. Take measurements, and don't forget to consider height. 

Reach-ins come in a variety of heights. The last thing you want is to buy a refrigerator or freezer that doesn't fit in your kitchen.

Fit isn't the only concern either. If the unit has a top-mounted compressor, you need to ensure there's enough space between the reach-in and the ceiling for ventilation. 

In general, it's best to choose a unit that will give you some wiggle room. At some point, your reach-in will need to be serviced, and having that little bit of extra space will make maintenance much easier.

Your Placement

Placement is one thing that's often overlooked when buying a reach-in freezer or refrigerator. Technically, you can put your reach-in wherever it will fit, but some areas are better than others. 

For example, placing a 2 door reach-in refrigerator next to a hot pizza oven may not be ideal. The heat from the oven will force your reach-in to work overtime just to maintain the set temperature. Over the long term, all of that extra work may wear out your compressor more quickly. Maintenance, repairs and replacement can quickly eat into your profits.

Ideally, reach-ins should be placed in areas with minimal temperature fluctuations. However, if you have no other option but to place your reach-in on the front lines, then consider buying a heavy-duty model that can withstand the extra strain.

The Airflow

Airflow is essential when buying a reach-in commercial refrigerator. Unfortunately, it's easy for reach-ins to be overcrowded and for sheet pans to be pushed all the way to the back of the shelf. Both of these scenarios restrict vital airflow.

Quality reach-in units will come equipped with barriers that prevent items from being pushed to the back and restricting airflow. 

Poor airflow will force the unit to work harder to maintain its internal temperature. The harder the compressor has to work, the greater the chance of it failing prematurely.

commercial reach in freezer

The Compressor

A commercial reach-in freezer will have its compressor mounted to either the top or the bottom of the unit. One location isn't necessarily better than the other, but it may have an effect on where you place the unit.

Pros of Top Mounted Compressors

  • Lower top and bottom shelves for easier access. 
  • May be more energy-efficient because heat rises away from the unit.
  • No need to worry about dust or dry ingredients being sucked into the compressor.

Cons of Top Mounted Compressors

  • There must be enough clearance between the ceiling and the top of the unit for ventilation.
  • Products cannot be stored or stacked on top of the unit.

Pros of Bottom Mounted Compressors

  • Easier to maintain because the compressor is easily accessible.
  • The compressor may not have to work as hard because the temperature is cooler near the floor.
  • Great for use in cooking lines because grease vapors won't be sucked into the compressor.
  • Items can be stacked on top of the unit.

Cons of Bottom Mounted Compressors

  • Coils may need to be cleaned more often because dust, dirt and debris will be pulled into the compressor.
  • Heat can rise into the cabinet, forcing the compressor to work harder and less efficiently.

Weigh the pros and cons of each compressor type to determine which one will work best for your restaurant kitchen. 

The Gaskets

The gasket is the rubber seal along the door that seals and insulates the unit. Gaskets play an important role in your reach-in's function, but they take a lot of abuse. Staff is opening and closing the unit all day, every day. And unfortunately, this is one part that isn't typically covered by a warranty.

If you have a 3 door reach-in freezer, gasket repairs and replacements can be costly.

To save yourself the hassle and added cost of repair and replacement, consider units that have interior step gaskets. These gaskets provide a tighter seal and are longer-lasting than their conventional counterparts.

2 door reach in refrigerator

The Handles

Whether you're buying a solid or glass door reach-in refrigerator, it's important to consider the unit's handles. Staff will be using your reach-ins daily and multiple times per day. If the unit is difficult to open and close, your employees can quickly become frustrated.

When considering handles, you have two options:

  • Recessed. These handles can be full door recessed or only recessed in one area. In addition to being low-profile, these handles are highly durable, ergonomic and easy to operate.
  • Protruding. Most people are familiar with these handles. They're easy to grab, but they don't last as long as recessed handles. In addition, their high profile means that staff is more likely to walk or bump into them.

Choose the handle type that will work best for your kitchen. For example, if you're short on space, recessed handles are the ideal choice because their low profile will save space. 

The Maintenance

Maintenance is another important thing to consider when choosing a reach-in refrigerator and freezer. As a general rule of thumb, compressors should be serviced at least once per year (every six months is ideal). In addition, coils and fans need to be cleaned regularly. 

The easier it is to perform maintenance, the more likely you will be to follow a regular maintenance routine. Ensure that you understand how to maintain the unit and whether it will require any special maintenance before making your purchase.

The Takeaway

Reach-in refrigerators and freezers are essential in restaurant kitchens. It's important to consider all of the points above so that you choose a unit that will not only last but work well in your kitchen.