An undercounter refrigeration system is an integral component of any efficient, well designed foodservice kitchen. Tim Smallwood shares some pointers on what to look out for when you’re making your next purchase.

I hate to break it to you, but you’ve wasted your money if you’ve installed an undercounter refrigerator in the wrong location. Whether it’s to be used for food or drinks, an undercounter refrigerator is a workstation and should not be seen as storage for which you would use a reach-in upright cabinet.

As a workstation, an undercounter refrigerator is as essential to the cook as knives or cutting boards, which must be immediately at hand in order for kitchen staff to operate efficiently. A cook shouldn’t have to walk the length of the kitchen to get a different knife in the middle of service, and a bar operator shouldn’t need to travel the length of the bar to get a glass every time they serve a drink. An efficiently designed work space means staff are provided with the ability to serve more customers in a given time with less effort. In the case of undercounter refrigeration, the food or the drink becomes just a reach away rather than a march.

The other benefit of this type of refrigerator is that its top can be used to work on and to also become part of the workstation. Today there are many features which can be included in its design to make work easier and more efficient.


Drawers rather than doors will not only increase efficiency by eliminating the need to bend down or get on your knees every time you need to get something out, but they also increase the effective storage capacity. A standard undercounter refrigerator with doors will have a bottom and centre shelf so that you can reach to the back of the cabinet. However, when you have three drawers, you are effectively increasing the storage capacity by 50 percent as well as eliminating bending and stretching. The type of drawer can be a frame that will hold Gastronorm food pans or it can be a perforated base (to allow cold air circulation) to allow any size container to be put in. Refrigerators can be supplied with drawers which will take a single or two GN1/1 full size pans.

Because the drawers will be more frequently opened and shut and are carrying the weight of the food, it is important that the drawer track design is tough enough to survive the work. The type of captured ball stainless steel drawer track that banks install on their cash drawers are typical of the recommended duty.

The fan unit which will blow the refrigerated air to cool the undercounter is best located at the end, or between doors (and sometimes in bar refrigerators on the rear wall of the cabinet) where it doesn’t reduce the usable space rather than hanging from the top of the cabinet where it will make the top shelf effectively useless. This type of fan unit is generally designed to blow to the front rather than the length of the cabinet where the food or drink is. There will also be a number of benefits if the compressor running the refrigerator can be located away from the refrigerator itself so that the noise and the hot air are not blowing into the work space. Compressors also take up floor space so by installing it outside, it will not only work better and be cheaper to run but you also save space in the kitchen or bar.


With a remote compressor, it is essential that the refrigerator can be turned off with an easily reached switch in case of an emergency, or even if it is not being used for a period of time. If there is no other option but to have the compressor self-contained with the cabinet, look for one which takes up the least space and when it is installed, make sure it’s not possible to block up the ventilation louvres at the end as this can result in the compressor burning out or the box of napkins catching fire.

As with all refrigeration, to keep working effectively for the lowest running cost it is important to regularly maintain the unit: check gaskets; tighten hinges as soon as they get loose and make sure the drawer close tightly against the gaskets. And remember, it’s far better to spend money on having your refrigeration system serviced regularly, than to be let down when you can least afford to be.

Buyers' Guide

1. Stoddart
Adande VLS Refrigerated Drawer System


  • stoddart.jpgWorks as a fridge or freezer (temp range -22 to +15C)
  • Cold air doesn't fall out
  • Unrivalled temperature stability
  • Low velocity cooling system
  • Negligible ambient air attack
  • Removable insulated storage container
  • Seals are hidden from view
  • Unique airflow design
  • Available in six different combinations to suit your application.

2. Liebherr
MediLine undercounter refrigerator – FKUv 1663

  • liebherr.JPG141L capacity with three adjustable shelves and a floor shelf
  • Electronic sensors precise to 0.1 degrees (temp range +1 to +15C)
  • Tropical climate rating ensures efficiency regardless of high ambient temperatures
  • Highly energy efficient using only 0.898 kWh per 24 hours
  • 42 dB(a) operation keeps the workplace quiet
  • External temperature display as well as visual and audible temperature and door opening alarms
  • Key lock to protect against unauthorised access
  • Stainless steel external and lid, heavy duty polystyrol internal liner.


3. Electrolux Professional
Electrolux Professional Benefit-Line Refrigerated Counter

  • electrolux.jpgDigital controls for ease and precise temperature settings (temp range -2 to +10C)
  • Excellent insulation for reduced power consumption
  • Most compact design of its kind on the market
  • Automatic defrosting and evaporation of defrost water by hot gas
  • Ease of cleaning with rounded internal corners and removable runners and grids
  • Self-closing door when opened less than 90° angle
  • Only requires frontal ventilation
  • Units can work at up to 43°C 
  • 265L capacity

4. Skope
Backbar Series – Bar Refrigeration

  • skope.jpgCan be personalised to suit the overall design specifications of a bar or establishment
  • Available in integral or remote, and with swing or sliding doors
  • Quality LED lighting options and glass or solid doors 
  •  High energy efficiency models are available 
  • 580L capacity
  • Total shelf area 2.04m2 (including floor)
  • Premium grade stainless steel
  • Temp range +1 to +4C in 40C (swing door)
  • Electronic controller with digital temperature display

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