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.
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.
There’s a lot to be said about the construction of your walk-in unit, so we’ll break it down into prefabrication, finishes, insulation, and accessories.
Prefabrication: The simplest walk-in unit is typically a prefabricated model. Assembled either at the manufacturer or on-site, these models are a drop-in refrigeration unit that requires little setup and no costly technician! These start at 5 foot by 5 foot and increase by 1 foot increments, but what you gain in simplicity, you’ll lack in customization. Also, you will need to hire an electrician as these don’t simply ‘plug in’ but rather need to be hard wired.
Finishes: The finishes on the panels of your unit can extend its usable life.
Insulation: The wall, floor, and ceiling panels are insulated to maintain the internal temperature of your walk-in, and most manufacturers use foamed-in-place urethane as opposed to laminating the metal on polystyrene. Also note how the floor is constructed. The ideal setup is an insulated floor on top of an insulated concrete slab, quarry tile and grout, and topped with a thermal break. Local codes may also play a role in how your walk-in is constructed.
Accessories: Don’t forget that law now requires that all walk-ins have an air curtain or vinyl curtain as well as door closers on all walk-in units! Not only do these reduce refrigeration loss, but they prevent humidity from leeching into the box itself. Food lasts longer in a dry environment, and your evaporator will have to work less to maintain the cavity. This will help improve the efficiency of your unit, so it’s truly for your restaurant’s benefit.
Ramps, coated shelving, and dunnage racks are all great additions that can improve workflow, reduce accidents, and increase organization. Ramps work well for restaurants that tend to have heavy loads and bulk purchases, as you can simply wheel a cart into the unit itself. Coated shelving and dunnage racks are great for organization and help you utilize the most space within the unit.
On a final note, consider spending the extra money for an alarm. A few hundred dollars off the bat for an alarm is cheap compared to thousands of dollars of spoiled food.
E Friedman Associates Inc