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FER REPORT: Shelf Savvy

Shelving isn’t a particularly complicated equipment category; however, inefficient layout, incorrect sizing or an inappropriate material selection can lead to wasted space and unnecessary costs. When it comes to shelves, a little homework goes a long way.

Carefully selecting shelving materials, sizes and weight capacities as well as investigating adjustability and accessories can save labor and replacement costs, improve sanitation and workflow and, frankly, reduce aggravation. The maxim “you get what you pay for” rings true: While commodity-priced wire shelving, matte-finish zinc options or chrome-finish versions work fine for many lighter-duty and dry-storage applications, they are not appropriate in a walk-in refrigerator or freezer.

Environmental Concerns

When dealing with walk-ins, it’s imperative you specify an epoxy-coated metal, stainless or plastic (i.e., polymer) material. Aluminum also works because it doesn’t rust. Cold storage requires coated or corrosion-resistant shelving materials because its moist, acidic environment corrodes metal, and you don’t want rust flaking into stored foods or weakening a shelf’s ability to support the weight of supplies.

Over time, even epoxy coating can wear down or scratch; the exposed area eventually will start to corrode unless it’s plated and sealed, which can delay corrosion substantially. Warranty lengths range from 5 to 15 years.

Sizing Shelving

To establish shelving needs, start with a fairly comprehensive list of items you need to store regularly. Make sure you include food (cold, frozen and dry) as well as supplies and specialty appliances, such as sacks of ingredients, big platters and baskets, specialty ice cream makers, spare espresso machines and juicers. Do you need space for odd-shaped, oversized items?

Shelving typically comes in depths of 14, 18, 21 and 24 in. and widths in 6-in. increments from 24 to 72 in.

A 48-in.-wide shelf typically can hold 800 lb. of evenly distributed product; 60- and 72-in.-wide shelves can hold 600 lb. of product. Do you know how much your food weighs? A 5-gal. bucket can hold anywhere from 20 to almost 40 lb. of product; No. 10 cans can hold 2½ lb. to more than 5 lb. of product. Check out the weights on sacks of flour and sugar—they’re heavy.

Heavy or hazardous items should be placed no higher than 36 in. off the floor—you don’t want employees reaching overhead to pull down heavy items or caustic chemicals that could injure them if dropped or spilled. And because employees always seem to step on the lower levels to reach upper shelves, it’s a good idea to reinforce the bottom shelf with a hefty dunnage rack.

Additionally, you’ll have to choose between slatted shelves, which promote airflow and cooling, and solid shelves, which contain spills. Several manufacturers offer hybrid metal frames with polymer shelves that can be removed for washing. Most all-polymer shelves also offer removable shelves.

Measure Twice, Assemble Once 

Carefully survey your space to catch every opportunity to maximize storage. For instance, the empty area over the doorway is completely useable.

When vetting the space, don’t just measure the walls. Before ordering materials, look for and mark the location of evaporator coils hanging from the ceiling in cold storage, doorway sizes, hinge configurations, door-swing radius, storage-area support posts and other elements that will affect shelf dimensions. Dovetail or corner connectors make it possible for two perpendicular shelving units to share a single post with no loss in weight-bearing capacity. 

Take advantage of accessories. Integrated hooks hang pots, pans and utensils out of the way but within reach; pan slide-racks use up valuable vertical space between shelves. See what manufacturers have to offer. Consider purchasing labels to display product names and dates, shelf dividers to enhance organization and ledges to prevent products from falling off the back or sides.

Shelving located in a drive-through area should be organized so employees have everything at their fingertips. Because up to 60% of QSR sales are processed here, service speed is essential; vertical shelving can help make the most of the tight space. 

User-Friendly Shelves A Must

Ingredients, packaging and workflow patterns change, so shelving should be able to accommodate new items. Anticipate possible changes before you buy and ask your supplier how to adjust shelves to different heights. What tools (if any) and how many people will be needed? Will adjustments require dissembling the entire unit or will the shelves slide up and down? For many manufacturers, easily adjustable shelves are a matter of differentiation; some patent their adjustability. 

Cantilever shelving, where shelves only attach to a back structure, adjust up and down in an instant and in small increments; cantilever also eliminates the need for front corner post supports.

Similarly, cleaning should be almost effortless and not disrupt restaurant operations. As mentioned previously, some manufacturers offer units with shelves that pop out for cleaning in a sink or dishmachine. However, a simple wipe down with mild soap and water often is all that is needed to clean shelving in place. Bleach is a corrosive and should be avoided when cleaning shelves and the areas around them. Additionally, some polymer shelves are embedded with antimicrobial agents to help reduce the risk of cross-contamination. 

Shelves are simple on the surface, but there is more to specifying them than meets the eye.


Taking the Guess Work Out of Shelving

No matter how carefully you plan, you never know exactly how your shelves will look and impact workflow until they’re actually installed. However, computer-generated models give operators the most precise prediction possible.

Once reserved for complex, large-scale building projects, manufacturers now can help customers visualize shelving setups before making a final decision. Custom 3D, computer-generated drawings are incredibly realistic and show how shelving will fit into prep and storage space in various units.

The renderings are part of a larger process that brings the manufacturer onsite to observe storage needs, workflow, food-safety and ergonomic issues. Reps also talk with employees about problems and how new shelving could improve operations. 

Accustomed to their routine, employees might need help understanding that workflow could be improved. Often, part of the solution involves reorganizing shelving and storage into workstations, such as those used in drive-throughs, so the tools needed for specific tasks are within reach.

After gathering information, the shelving manufacturer develops a plan and creates graphic illustrations. After the equipment has been installed and is used for two to three months, operators and manufacturers evaluate the new shelving and make adjustments, if needed. 

Used by many QSRs, this intensive approach helps optimize space and productivity and is replicable across systems.

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