Take Your Pick: Modern Prep Tables

With so many choices, it's hard to not find an ideal refrigerated prep table.

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To configure a refrigerated prep table, start by looking at the menu. How many types of items, requiring how many different ingredients, will help determine the size and style. Courtesy of Delfield.

With takeout and delivery an increasingly important slice of everyone’s business, having a fast, easy way to prep menu items is essential. Refrigerated prep tables handle the job well by keeping menu ingredients close, and reducing trips to the walk-in. With several new and improved models coming out in the past couple years, manufacturers now offer even more choices to help you find the perfect fit for your operation.


What’s New

At least two manufacturers have introduced entirely new lines of refrigeration equipment, including prep tables. One manufacturer has designed its products to be simpler yet sturdy with the idea of appealing to operations where budget is a priority without compromising durability, reliability or performance. Another points out its line’s stainless inside, front, top and sides for durability and ease of cleaning, front-breathing airflow design for zero clearance and cabinets fully insulated with 2-inch-thick foam. And most manufacturers have transitioned refrigerated equipment to more environmentally friendly R290 refrigerant, and have updated models and model numbers accordingly in the past few years. One key feature many of you look for is performance.

In other words, how well the prep table keeps menu ingredients cold when the lids or covers are up or off without freezing them or the evaporator, potentially causing the compressor to eventually fail. Several makers have refined models either with new features or better-engineered designs to address the issue.

A glycol refrigeration system marks one solution, and one manufacturer of this technology has added a dual-sided glycol prep table with one standard and two pass-thru doors to its offerings. Prep tables with glycol systems run refrigerated glycol lines through chiller plates below, around and sometimes between pan inserts in the rail, as well as in the storage cabinet. The rail never needs defrosting and can run more energy efficient.

Several makers have improved the design of the airflow around the pans in the rail. One uses a new ducted airflow system to distribute air more evenly and maintain product temperature; plus, dual temperature controllers make for optimal cooling in the rail and cabinet. Another has a low-velocity air screen in a new air-over model that keeps product cold without drying it out. Yet a third has changed the airflow to pass over the evaporator coil before directing it onto the underside of the pan rail before circulating back down into the cabinet, so cold air hits the rail first. Other new features on some models include dual-level brackets that let you set pans an extra inch deeper in the rail to help keep ingredients cold, and a night/day mode that senses light and adjusts the refrigeration accordingly.


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One maker’s new model can detect light to adjust refrigeration for day and night. Courtesy of Hoshizaki.


What To Consider

You can find the ideal refrigerated prep table for your needs, but the search takes careful consideration of a variety of factors. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when deciding what model to specify:

MENU. Sandwiches, salads and pizzas all require different ingredients, and prep tables for each typically have various configurations. How many types of menu items, requiring how many different ingredients, will help determine if you need a flattop or raised rail, standard top or mega top, shallow or deep cutting board, and the number and size of the pans in the rail, etc.

VOLUME AND WORKFLOW. How employees prep, assemble, cook and serve menu items can help you decide where a prep table would be most advantageously located, how large it should be and what style works best. In the back of the house, for example, you might decide on a 60-inch-wide dual-sided flattop or a 72-inch-wide three-door mega top with a raised rail and over shelf, depending on the menu items you’re preparing and the kitchen’s flow. In the front of the house, you might want a table with a clear lid to merchandise product, or a flattop behind a food shield similar to a Subway layout.

SERVICE TIME. To meet NSF standards, refrigerated prep tables must be able to hold food in pan rails at or below 41ºF for four hours with the lid off. If your service times are longer than that, you’ll want a table that continues to perform well without freezing the food in the rail or causing the evaporator to need defrosting during service. You might consider a glycol system, or a rail with its own targeted temperature control system.


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A glycol refrigeration system adds energy efficiency. Courtesy of Traulsen.

Avoid These Mistakes

Because manufacturers offer so many configurations of refrigerated prep tables, one of the biggest mistakes operators make when specifying them is not getting the right model for the application. Here are a few other mistakes to avoid:

Choosing the wrong lid. Telescoping, lift-off and clear are just some of the lid styles available. Pick out the right style upfront because it’s difficult to swap out a lid in the field.

Locating the compressor on the wrong side. You can situate it on either side of a prep table. If the side you choose ends up too close to a source of heat (cooking equipment or another compressor), airflow (exhaust hood or under a vent) or debris (dough sheeter), it won’t perform as intended.

Forgetting to specify a pan liner or a removable pan support frame. Liners keep food from falling into the cabinet below (potentially contaminating stored food). Removable support frames make it easier to clean out spilled food.

Picking doors when you need drawers. While doors work well for storing bulk ingredients, drawers make sense if you prefer to replicate the pans in your rail with the same ingredients in the base for simple changeouts.

Overall, speak up. Many manufacturers offer options such as lid styles, compressor locations, doors or drawers, top styles and interior rack configurations free of charge, eliminating the need to specify a more costly custom table. Be sure to ask about options.


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Pick out the right lid style upfront because it’s difficult to swap it out in the field. Courtesy of Beverage-Air.

Prep Work
Start your search for a refrigerated prep table by studying the following models from suppliers.



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