The Complete Serve Over Counter Buying Guide
360 days ago..

Last updated: 2020-02-13 16:01:01

How can businesses boost food sales whilst maintaining visual impact and achieving precision storage temperatures? Investing in the perfect serve over counter will ensure that all stock is not only well presented but is delivered to your customers in premium condition.

Getting your selection right will rely on a number of individual factors personal to every business. Understanding the ins and outs of a serveover counter and its many options will guarantee you make the right decision for your business.

Table of Contents

What is a Serve Over Counter?
Why Buy a Serve Over Display Counter?
Intended Purpose and Temperature Range
Counter Size and Display Capacity
Integral or Remote Refrigeration?
Layout and Defining Features
Design and Finish
Additional Features?
Cooling and Defrost Functions
Cleaning and Maintenance
Commercial Warranty Cover
Ask Advice

What is a Serve Over Counter?

Cafe with serve over counter displaying food

A common presence in delis, shops, supermarkets, butchers, fishmongers and canteens, freestanding serveovers are useful additions in any assisted service setting.  These refrigerated display counters typically feature a glass window or screen and a small preparation surface to the rear of the unit. This permits servers to retrieve the desired stock from the display, package it and serve to the customer without stepping out from behind the counter.

Perfect for use as front of house, customer facing fridge displays, you can present produce attractively whilst observing safe storage temperatures. Foods remain fresh from first thing in the morning till the last thing at night.


Yellow light bulbTop Tip: Although counters are able to hold consistent conditions for short term preservation, they are intended as a refrigerated display rather than for lengthier storage. Stock should be removed overnight and placed in alternative storage refrigeration.


Why Buy a Serve Over Display Counter?

A serve over is the ideal way to display produce at the main point of contact between staff and customer. From chilled goods such as sandwich fillings, salads, cold drinks, cheeses and cooked meats to fresh meat or fish or indeed items that need to hold temperature including pastries, cakes and other baked goods – these units are integral to creating a smooth and professional operation.

How do you decipher which display counter is the right choice for your business?

Intended Purpose and Temperature Range

Blue thermometer

The majority of glass cabinet displays are refrigerated, intended to chill produce whilst delivering an effective showcase for contents. Serve over fridges are available with a number of temperature options. The range you need will depend on what you wish to store.

  • Refrigerated serveover counters range on average between 2˚C to 6˚C, ample temperatures in which to store and display chilled foods. These counter fridges can be used for general purpose display including dairy products, sandwiches, cooked meats, salads and pasta etc.
  • Patisserie, cake and chocolate servery display counters may deliver a slightly higher temperature range typically between 2°C and 8°C to guarantee that all delicacies remain fresh, moist and well-formed as when they were first created.
  • For more specialised products such as fresh meat and fish, units will incorporate a temperature range of between -2˚C to +2˚C. It is vital for food safety aspects to store all fish and meat in lower temperatures than other general purpose produce to prevent any possible bacteria from thriving. These are perfect for use as a fishmonger’s counter or butchers serve over meat display counters. Shop for fish serve over counters and meat serve over counters.
  • Ambient displays are also available which incorporate natural ventilation. These models are designed to simply hold stock at the temperature of the surrounding room and can be useful for some cakes, patisseries and desserts.


Serve over counter displaying meat Frilixa MaxiMe Meat Counter
Serve over counter displaying fish Infrico Malaga Fish Counter

Yellow light bulb

Top Tip: Never put hot or warm foods in a refrigerated display. It will result in condensation and misting of the glass and also leads to the refrigeration system having to work harder to pull down cabinet temperatures – reduced efficiency, higher energy consumption and ultimately reduced expected lifespan of the counter.

Counter Size and Display Capacity

Many people believe that the larger the equipment the more capacity is available however this isn’t necessarily true. Before making any purchase, it is vital to compare each model to establish firstly, whether you have the space to house the equipment and secondly, whether the capacity is ample to meet your requirements.

Determine your Dimensions

All external dimensions should be stated in individual product specifications and will vary from model to model. Accurately measure the intended site for the equipment, then measure again just to be 100% certain. Once an order has been placed, any cancellation or return of goods will result in a restocking charge.

The majority of chilled display counters follow the same general counter design, albeit available in a full range of sizes. With a wide choice of widths available, heights will typically range from 900mm to 1350mm with depths from 700mm to 1165mm. There’s plenty of choice to meet every size requirement.

Standard serve over counters with integral refrigeration units will specify standard dimensions however there are manufacturers that will offer the option to 'multiplex' multiple units allowing large premises to create a run of counters tailored to their required length.

For premises limited by space, slimline serve over counters such as the Blizzard Zeta Slim Serve Over Counter are available and also deep deck alternatives such as the Igloo Rota Slimline Deep Deck Serve Over for those businesses that require extra display area. Slimline models are also a great option for older buildings that tend to have narrower doorways, where standard off-the-shelf dimensions simply won’t fit.

Yellow light bulbTop Tip: Always consider, not only the space you have in which to position your display fridge but also access points to the building. Upon delivery you need to get your equipment into the premises so always take into account the size of doorways and any narrow corridors or awkward corners.

For businesses that have a specific layout in mind, bespoke services are available allowing you to tailor the final layout and therefore dimensions to suit individual requirements. This may be in the form of a long straight run of equipment or integrating a corner display cabinet to fully utilise and maximise all available space. To enquire about bespoke design services please contact our team today at

Choose your Capacity

Serve over counter showing large deck display area Igloo Basia Fish Counter

Once you have found the options open to you with regards to external measurements it’s time to whittle down the list using other features such as capacity.

Capacity will vary between models and will also depend on the type of stock you want to display. While it’s vital to assess the amount of stock you need to display in relation to what each model allows it may be more beneficial to ascertain the size of the display area rather than look for litres capacity.

Integral or Remote Refrigeration?

As standard, the majority of counter fridges have integral refrigeration systems. This means that the components that do the hard work to pull down temperatures are located within the actual unit. This obviously takes up space therefore reduces the available internal capacity. It does, however, make the whole equipment self-contained and compact and will be the cheaper option of the power configurations.


Yellow light bulbTop Tip: While all commercial refrigeration requires adequate airflow around the exterior of the unit, the core use of a serveover inherently requires space behind for the server to stand and space in front for the customer. Refrigeration vents that require generous airflow will typically be positioned either to the front or the rear of the unit, areas that are naturally left open and intrinsic to use of the equipment.

Multiplexed serve over counters

Multiplexing, putting multiple units together in a run of equipment, will kick out considerable heat around the counters. This will obviously counteract the whole idea of achieving chilled temperatures and effectively refrigerating. It is recommended that multiplexed counters use a remote refrigeration system whereby the actual condenser, compressor and evaporator are located externally of the building, away from the cabinet and connected via refrigerant pipes.

This means counters can achieve required temperatures more easily, with added precision and all whilst creating a more comfortable shopping and working environment. As remote units do not house the refrigeration system within the main frame, there is often increased storage and display capacity.


Yellow light bulbTop Tip: If you’re considering multiplexing your remote counters, get in touch and speak to one of our team who can offer advice, talk you through the options and arrange a tailor-made quote.


To read more about the pros and cons of remote versus integral commercial refrigeration take a look at our article discussing the subject.

Layout and Defining Features

Meat, fish and deli displays all perform in the same basic manner however the layout and defining features may differ slightly. Ascertaining exactly how you need your equipment to work for your business is the key.

Which Layout?

The majority of layouts will comprise of a large display area encased behind a glass screen. This method lends itself to a personalised organisation and presentation of goods: businesses can put their own stamp on how products are showcased. While this is the most popular layout, ideal for shops and stores, it doesn’t meet all potential demands.

Serve over counter displaying food and drink Blizzard SHAD Counter

Some display counters are designed to hold GN (gastornorm) pans, perfect for buffet style service in canteens and cafes etc. Multiple ingredients can be portioned and displayed side by side, customers being able to view and select the food they want while the server plates up in front of them.

Serve over counter with gastronorm pans Igloo CASIA Counter

Defining Features

Green tickAlthough the main purpose of a glass counter fridge is to display chilled goods, a little extra storage space is never a bad thing. The majority of counters will offer refrigerated under storage, a valuable feature to ensure quick restocking of the display with products that are already chilled down to temperature and ready to be served.

Green tickMany models will additional small countertop preparation surfaces; useful if you need to wrap or pack items before completing service. If this a feature vital to your business achieving maximum impact, be sure to always check individual unit specifications before ordering to make sure your requirements are met.

Green tickIf you are looking to purchase a refrigerated serving and display unit specifically for fish the surfaces will be treated with a protective coating, this preserve both the equipment and the produce. The ammonia produced by the fish can damage internal components, the specialised coating offering protection for your fish counter against such damage.

Design and Finish

Cold food display counters are designed to enhance the presentation of stock your business offers to maximise sales and so must be appealing to the customer in its own right. You may sell the most delicious cakes, the freshest fish or most succulent meats for example, however if the display is unsightly customers will be put off. For this reason, it is vital that you choose a glass counter which complements the style and décor of your entire business.


Ravel TOT Serve Over with extra shelves and under storage Mafirol Ravel TOT with Extra Shelves and Under Storage

A core feature of any display refrigeration is the incorporation of glass into the design. This not only allows clear, unobscured visibility of goods but also offers a degree of protection for contents. Generally, there will be options for flat or curved glass panels each giving a different overall appearance. Consider whether you require a serve over with segmented glass, dividing the customers sight with a support or frame or a counter that features a single pane for an uninterrupted panoramic view of what’s on offer.


Also think about access to the counter. Is the rear section open or does it feature sliding doors to minimise loss of cold air? Does the front glass panel open or can the display only be accessed from the rear? These factors will not only determine how easy it is to retrieve products during service but also how simple it is to restock, arrange and clean the interior of the cabinet.


To accommodate every type of business regardless of colour scheme, counter displays can be found in almost any hue you can imagine. Whether you are looking for modern whites, greys or wood or more eye-catching colours such as lime green, blue or even pink, you will be able to find a product to match.


Not only do you have a choice of colour but certain designs also allow for a choice of worktop and plinth material, such as with the Mafirol RAVEL range. Options may include stainless steel or stone or a more elegant marble or granite as seen with the Igloo Basia Gastro. Each variation ensures that hygiene standards remain high, durability is a core feature and appearance is easily maintained even after multiple uses.

Additional Features?

While the basic design elements of a chilled counter remain the same, there are certain additional features that may be beneficial to your business.

Some displays such as the Blizzard Shad will feature additional shelves. These may be either refrigerated or ambient depending on the model. This allows maximisation of the display area, granting greater versatility with regards to the range of products that are on show.

Internal illumination is a commonly required specification as seen on the Igloo Pico Serve Over, mainly to enhance the display and showcase contents in the best possible light.

Empty serve over counter with interior white LED lighting Igloo Pico Counter

Cooling and Defrost Functions

The type of cooling you need from your serveover will often depend on the contents you want to display. There are two main methods that will be used, each with its own pros and cons.

Fan Assisted Cooling

Also referred to as ventilated cooling or fan air distribution, this cooling system, as the name suggests, uses fans to continually circulate air throughout the display area. This guarantees that products are always held in consistent and even temperatures to optimise the display environment.

It is vital to ensure with these systems that the internal vents and fans remain unobstructed and regularly cleaned to ensure performance and avoid unnecessary stress on the refrigeration components.

Fan assisted cooling methods are not recommended for meat serve overs or fish counters as the continually forced circulation cold air can lead to drying out of produce.

Static Cooling

Operating in a similar way to domestic refrigeration, cold air naturally circulates throughout the cabinet. Once the ideal temperature has been achieved, the system will cut out, restarting only when internal temperatures begin to rise. Displays which use this form of cooling do not dry out foods as quickly as fan distributed alternatives.

Automatic Defrost

A great feature on standard refrigerated and specialised meat and fish glass counters, automatic defrost reduces the level of manual input required to remove any potential ice build-up, making the cleaning process simpler and much more convenient.

Cleaning and MaintenanceVent on front of serve over counter

In-depth cleaning is vital for any commercial refrigeration used to hold, display or store food for public consumption. General purpose chilled display counters, butchers counters and fish serve overs are no different. It’s essential to maintain high levels of hygiene and prevent bacterial growth to safeguard food and make sure your business is meeting all food safety standards and regulations.

Refrigerated counters should be emptied of produce and cleaned every evening to ensure optimum hygiene is maintained. This includes cleaning of the display deck, shelves (if present), glass and exterior surfaces. Vents and any accessible refrigeration components should be wiped free of dust or debris at least once or twice a month.

As with all commercial refrigeration, equipment should be serviced by a qualified engineer on a yearly basis to guarantee continuing performance, ongoing efficiency and maximum longevity.

Commercial Warranty Cover

Commercial warranties will vary in length and comprehensiveness of cover. This may range from one to two years and include parts only or full parts and labour coverage.

Click here to learn more about Commercial Warranties.

Always check the warranty that is supplied as standard as it will differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Where possible choose the longest term available with full parts and labour warranty for complete coverage should any issues arise.

Ask Advice

Equipping yourself with the knowledge of all options available is a good way to ensure that the investment you make is a wise one, however the mass of information can become confusing and even a little overwhelming.

If you are unsure about any aspect, always ask the advice of an impartial third party whether that is a colleague within the industry or a commercial refrigeration supplier. The FFD team can provide information regarding all aspects of the many manufacturers on the market and can locate the perfect product to fulfil all individual requirements. Contact us today to discuss your requirements.

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