Service Games

Buying a new serve-over is no small investment, but with proper research and a will to invest, you can make them work to your benefit, boosting turnover and profit margins, says Alyson Magee


Style, efficient temperature control, easy maintenance and cleaning and green credentials are all likely to feature on butchers’ wish-lists when investing in new serve-over counters.

Longevity is another. “If looked after properly, a good counter’s life-span is indefinite,” says David Holroyd of Leeds-based XL Refrigerators, who adds that styles come and go, but quality is a prerequisite. “One shop in Harrogate still has a counter I installed 30 years ago – and if I took the glass off, I wouldn’t notice much of a difference.” Old refrigeration gases will need tweaking, he says, but XL has essentially used the same model as its blueprint over the last 30-plus years, evolving its technical and design specifications over the intervening period.


XL clients include former MTJ Champion of Champions sausage-maker David Lishman and celebrity chef Rick Stein’s own deli, and its current serve-over lines include the Stardust and curved corner Super Stardust ranges, with specific models tailored for fresh meat, fish, deli, cheese and hot food. These feature curved glass, hinged upward or forward for easy cleaning.

Supplied with integral or remote condensing units, the counters can also incorporate ambient and heated sections, sandwich preparation areas and carvery stations, as required.

“The butchers who have invested and kept up with the times, to compete with the supermarkets, have done very well,” says Holroyd. “Our bread and butter is independent retailers, butchers and farm shops. Quite a few customers that we did six or seven years ago are now coming back, because they’re extending the shop, putting in deli counters or supplying ready meals, home-cooked on the premises.”

Chris Dale of Euro’Cryor concurs. “If you stand still these days and do not reinvest into your shop, customers will shop elsewhere,” he says. “Tired shops will not attract new customers.

“The good butchers of today are also selling other products to increase customer spend. This is the biggest change to traditional butchers’ operations over the last 10 years. It is so important to find a way to prise a few extra pounds from each customer.”

Few butchers’ shops specialise in only fresh meat now, adds Dale, with deli, sandwich and hot food counters all commonplace additions. “At Euro’Cryor, we fit hot sections in over 70% of new counters,” he says. “A typical counter run now consists of 60% fresh meat, 30% deli/cooked meat and 10% hot foods.

“At some High Street shops where the butcher wants to ‘maximise his take’, during the lunchtime period especially, we install our upright multi-deck hot section. This enables staff to serve as many people as possible, as the case itself soon attracts lots of attention and, often, new customers, who also come back for their meat.” Clients report turnover up 10-20% after installing new serve-over counters, continues Dale.

Bespoke Counters

Using bespoke counters will boost profit margins, according to Graham Smith of Bailey & Smiths, by optimising merchandising space through clever design. Butchers choosing a supplier when investing in new counters should look at company’s service level, attitude towards maintaining customer relationships and after-sales care, he says. “What other benefits is the refrigeration company offering you? Bailey & Smiths is also able to custom-dress and clad modular units to fit in with a core brand.”

A single-source solution, offering the necessary service requirements prior to installation, minimises potential problems, says Smith, advising butchers to assess cost and “how long it will take to recoup the costs through marginal increments on products, marketing and attracting new customers with a higher spend”.

“We believe that an investment in new counters significantly increases the value of their business, attracts new customers, and builds growth through profits,” says Smith. “Customers will want to buy more products from a tidy, hygienic establishment, where the food looks attractive. Clean, organised counters show that the business is doing well and, with careful layout and branding, can coax customers in and persuade them to spend.”

Smith also suggests butchers don’t need to stop at just a serve-over counter if the whole shop is looking a bit tired. Concern over potential loss of business during a shop refit pushes many butchers into changing counters and equipment bit by bit. “They should consider the return on investment in uniformly refurbishing their entire shop, instead of simply changing the odd counter when it becomes a health hazard,” he says.

Meanwhile Tim Cooper of Acold Sifa notes: “The most important thing for MTJ readers is the efficiency and performance of the equipment, coupled with the design or appearance,” he says. “Displaying meat properly while pleasing on the eye, that’s all you want with a new counter.”


Options to consider

Choosing a new serve-over counter can be a tricky proposition, even before style comes into play. Curved or square-cornered glass and stainless steel and clean lines versus traditional-style wood with granite work surfaces are just a few of the aesthetic decisions to be made – and then there is lighting to consider.

Black stainless decking is the latest style innovation, says Ben Hatton of Phoenix Retail Services, which supplies the Smeva Vision full-service case, manufactured in the Netherlands. The bespoke unit comes in 15 glass style variations, and will set you back in the region of £3,000 to £3,500 per metre; the biggest counter it has installed was 30 metres.

Phoenix installed the black stainless Smeva Vision with low glass and chrome louvres in the award-winning Willis Butcher’s shop in Wales, and owner Peter Willis has just bought an identical case for his new shop.

Bigger clients include Waitrose, with Phoenix the supplier of its square glass service counters – “a reversion to 1960s- and ’70s-style counters”, says Hatton. The High Wycombe-based company also supplies fish counters to Sainsbury’s.

Radius glass corners are currently a popular choice for clients of XL Refrigerators. “As a British manufacturer, we never let our European competitors get ahead of the style game,” says David Holroyd. “If the Italians introduce something new, we make sure ours look just as good.”

Meanwhile, Tim Cooper of Acold Sifa, exclusive UK supplier of the Italian Sifa range, claims individual client demands take precedence over style statements. “There isn’t an overall style everybody’s looking to do,” he says. “It’s more a matter of designing a section of counter that will fit in with the client’s own business.

“A lot of butchers are interested in rounded corners, but when we discuss their requirements and space, it might not be the right choice for them. Corner units can be expensive and take up a lot of space and, quite often, we can offer a client more display space without it.

“The smaller the shop, the more care you have to take,” he adds. “A lot of it is in the design, and coming up with the maximum amount of space.”

Serve-over counters are the focal point of every butcher’s shop, says Cooper, with other peripheral displays scattered around the shop important, but secondary in terms of drawing the eye. “It’s all down to individual taste,” he says. “One shop could be ‘olde world’ wood with granite working surfaces and another shop just down the road could be ultra-modern with stainless steel and mirrors. Quite often, we’ll give suggestions and carry the theme through the shop.”

Acold Sifa offers three Sifa serve-over counter designs, including its top-of-the-range model, which has just been given a facelift with new finish and décor panels. A Guild of Q-accredited supplier, Acold Sifa’s clients include Harry Coates in Durham and Dennis of Bexley.

Bailey & Smiths lays claim to a unique design service, offering custom-made display counters, modified modular display counters and modular display counters for butchers on a tighter budget.Bespoke cabinets are likely to last three times as long as modular units, according to Graham Smith of Bailey & Smiths, while maximising available retail space and tailoring positioning of shelves and lighting to individual requirements. “The brand synergy we are able to achieve with counter frontages, fittings and finishes allows you to keep the quality brand image, further widening the gap between you and your competition,” he says.

Cooling system

Before getting down to colour schemes and fancy glass, it is probably a good idea to pick a corner in the ongoing debate over ventilated refrigeration versus static cooling. Ventilated refrigeration involves the circulation of air via fans over an evaporator, allowing additional shelving within the cabinet, but tends to dry out and discolour the meat and makes the units harder to clean. Static cooling cabinets, on the other hand, are chilled through natural convection and keep meat more moist, but are less flexible in terms of shelving.

Bailey & Smiths claims its bespoke approach combines the best of both worlds, with Graham Smith citing the example of client Philip Warren & Co butcher’s of Cornwall. “We developed a static cooled refrigerated shelf, with a main deck that was a completely sealed unit, plumbed into main drains and which could be easily cleaned down,” says Smith, with all the client’s requirements met.

Other clients include JW Mettrick & Sons of Glossop of Kill it, Cook it, Eat it fame, A J Rees & Son of Narbeth and Fraser’s Butchers & Delicatessen in Aviemore, which reported a 30% increase in trade in the month following a £130,000 refit by Bailey & Smiths. Owner Fraser MacKinnon knocked through into a neighbouring shop to make room for new fish and deli counters, while Bailey & Smiths created bespoke counters and suspended glass shelving. “Our counters are not the cheapest on the market, but we have
the ability to manufacture made-to-measure counters, individually tailored to suit each business,” says Smith.

XL Refrigerators is a proponent of static cooling over ventilated refrigeration, with remote condensing units another must-have. “It makes a big difference,” says David Holroyd. “It’s a lot more efficient to have it outside than in the shop and 90% of those who can afford it, choose it. It’s a little bit more expensive, but less hassle; you don’t get the condenser blocked up, as it tends to drag dirt towards it.

“Using a remote fan also creates a quieter, cooler environment in the shop. If you put a little bit of ventilation in, you can get away without air conditioning, which just happens to be more energy-efficient.”

XL recently appointed a new German company to manufacture its condenser fans, after its previous supplier outsourced production to China and the quality deteriorated. “We’re not going to go down that line,” says Holroyd. “We would get a bad reputation.”

Energy-efficient LED lighting is used for coffee shops but not in butchers’ shops due to its tendency to discolour and dry out the meat. Double lights from Barrow or Napa are ergonomically built into the cabinets.

Advocating ventilated refrigeration, meanwhile, are Acold Sifa and Phoenix Retail Services. Tim Cooper of Acold Sifa says its Italian counters are very efficient and much greener than 10 years ago, while also being easy to clean with upward hinging glass and lift-up evaporators.

Smeva Vision counters supplied by Phoenix Retail Services include a low fan speed and defogging system to counter dehydration and, a new addition this year, reverse osmosis filtration, improving life expectancy of the units. “One of the most important things is longevity,” says Ben Hatton.

Phoenix also prides itself on its environmental credentials, citing 60% recycled materials in its units, energy efficient LED lighting and approval under the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme, allowing tax on the counter purchase to be repaid after a year.

“Old equipment has higher running costs and larger maintenance bills,” says Chris Dale of Euro-Cryor, “while staff much prefer to be working a newer, fresh looking counter.”


Accessories are an important step in the decision-making process for butchers buying new serve-overs, with step decks, under-storage, under-lighting, scale platforms and night covers just of a few of the optional extras on offer.

“AVS plastic night covers are popular,” says David Holroyd of XL Refrigerators. “You can have your display out Monday and Tuesday, with the cover going on at night, clean the counter Wednesday night and then run it through until emptying it on Saturday afternoon. You don’t have to empty it of merchandise every night.”

Restocking can take an hour or longer, says Ben Hatton of Phoenix Retail Services, so the £300-£400 cost of polythene night covers is soon recouped in labour savings.

Tim Cooper of Acold Sifa identifies accessories as one of the key factors butchers should consider when investing in a new serve-over counter. Any accessory can be fabricated on to Sifa cabinets, says Cooper, with popular choices including platforms for combines till and scales, hose reels and sinks.

Mobile or fixed dividers to segregate different types of products within a display are useful additions, while Acold Sifa will often add decorative lighting with speciality bulbs to its standard twin track lighting on customer request.


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