Your walk-in unit is arguably the most important and understated piece of restaurant equipment you have. More often than not, it’s value is emphasized when the unit has an issue, and according to Murphy’s Law, this will happen during the night on a holiday weekend! Fortunately, walk-ins are built to last, so when your unit fails, it’s probably time to analyze the core issue and to re-evaluate the specifications to see if they match your restaurant’s needs and uses.
A professional designer, while trained to allocate the correct space for your unit, cannot foresee changes in your restaurant over time. While your restaurant may have grown and expanded over the years, your walk-in unit may have fallen to the backburner. On the other hand, installing a unit that is too big will be costly for your utilities, and the space it consumes in your kitchen can impact overall functionality of your kitchen as a whole.
To determine the correct size, first analyze how much food you’re using that is fresh versus frozen. The size of your restaurant, overall volume, and menu selection will help you determine how much stock you’ll rotate through and how much of it should be fresh. Similarly, if you plan to purchase most items in bulk or do not live in an area that receives many deliveries, you may find that you’ll freeze items more often. Don’t forget that if you offer catering or banquet-style options, then you’ll probably need more space for bulk foods in your walk-in.
Most manufacturers take care of balancing the cooling unit for you, but you’ll want to ensure that components are correctly sized for your location as well. For instance, the refrigeration system of a walk-in unit in Florida will need to be larger than one in Maine because of the ambient temperature, and a compressor in the mountains of Colorado will need to larger than one in California due to the differences in elevation.
Many choose to purchase an overpowered compressor with the idea that their walk-in will have power to spare. While the idea is logical, consider that your compressor will then have short cycles, costing your unit efficiency. The strain on your compressor kicking on and off constantly will shorten its life, and every owner is looking to get the most out of their unit!
Consider as well that having an exterior compressor and condenser located outside of your building will also earn your unit higher efficiency. While many restaurants may not have this option, it is something to consider.