Merchandising food well at the point of sale is as important to the success of a restaurant as it is to a supermarket. If customers don't see the finished meal before they buy it, you have to sell it with tempting menu descriptions or first-rate pictorial displays. But if you are putting your menu items on display, good presentation is essential.
At Rogerio's restaurant and sandwich bar in Putney High Street, London, which reopened last month after a complete face-lift, a good-looking counter was a central requirement. "The counter has been designed around the menu," says proprietor Rogerio Bagulho. "We wanted a high visual display that would help sell the products."
The restaurant has adopted a strong Continental flavour in menu content, style of operation and appearance. Customers can choose anything on the menu at any time of day. Behind the curved glass of the counter they will find pizzas and pastas, Italian-style meats and fish, a wide selection of speciality sandwiches and the fillings to make up others to order.
The servery is divided into three sections: a take-away counter at the front; a waiter service counter in the middle, where pasta dishes are displayed cold, to be reheated in the microwave oven; and an ice-cream section offering 18 flavours of home-made ice-cream.
"We are trying to create something with a wider appeal, where customers are not limited to just sandwiches and snacks or just main meals," says Bagulho. "By putting the food on display, we find that people spend more. They come in with an idea of what they are going to buy but then spend more money because they like what they see."
The servery counter was built to order for Rogerio's by Italian design and shop-fitting specialist Bocchini, through its UK distributor RSS Bocchini, based in Hereford. It is made up of four modular units from the new Koreia counter range, which was shown for the first time at Hotelympia this year. A double layer of glass is used, with a special compound applied between the two panels to keep them condensation-free. Curtains of cold air circulate around the cabinet from the front and top of the displays.
Hot and cold
"The Koreia cabinets also feature a section that can be switched from cold to hot display," says RSS Bocchini managing director John James. "It has a refrigeration coil fitted for cold use and heat mats and halogen lamps if it is needed for hot food."
However, the highly stylised look of the range may not suit every caterer, or their pocket. "Caterers' needs differ considerably, depending on the sort of operation they are running and the budget available," says Alan Hall, national sales manager for Counterline. "Styling may be important, but mostly they want functionality and compliance with food hygiene regulations.
"If you are looking at a major installation, with perhaps a £500,000 budget, there is a re-emergence of stainless steel, and granite is still heavily used. But because the criteria are so different from place to place, you need to be flexible."
Counterline offers the choice of an exclusive bespoke design, a range of standard branded products, or units that drop into a base. Potential customers can see a proposed servery design before installation on Counterline's computer "idesign" system, which builds up a three-dimensional image of the counter from its components.
Hygiene and functionality are not the only criteria that some caterers have to consider, however. Companies operating within the education system often have to take children's height and the multi-functional nature of school premises into account.
Bartlett Catering Equipment has picked up on these factors and had the school-meals sector in mind when it designed its Choices counter range. The units are mobile, making them ideal for use in school halls, where dining is just one of the room's functions.
"The height is lower and they are narrower than our standard range of counters, but because of their compact size they can be stored easily," says the company's group sales director, Chris York. "There is a push bar at one end for ease of movement and they plug in to a 13amp socket, so require no additional power source."
The range comes with hot cupboards with bains-marie, Ceram hotplates, refrigerated wells, multi-tier and ambient cupboards and with, or without, tray slides. The counters are also available with a choice of cartoon-style logos to grab children's attention.
Some caterers have to combat the problem of limited floor space while needing to serve both dry and wet food. To overcome this, ServEquip has redesigned its Henny Penny counter, HMR 104, to incorporate a gentle curtain of heated air alongside radiant heat over each food well. The heated air maintains humidity in the cabinet, while the radiant overheads provide specific well heat if necessary. "This means that dry and wet products can be displayed side by side," says the company's managing director, Ray Combo.
ServEquip has improved temperature control by moving the control panel to the top of the unit for easier access and probes are linked into each food well to monitor temperature from outside the cabinet.
Coggins Welch's Asland Europea range offers price levels to suit all types of operation, from snack bars to major restaurant chains. It boasts 13 versions of cabinets, all Portuguese-made, in seven sizes with a choice of 18 decor panels, plus a whole mix of other options.
Leasing arrangements are also available for servery counters. Macdonalds Catering Equipment, which designs and installs serveries, offers leasing with three- or five-year options. "Leasing enables customers to upgrade effortlessly as technology advances," says group finance director Scott Golton.