This may be the oldest of all foodservice fixtures known. The humble counter has served us since antiquity. Separating the server from the patron, displaying the wares, maintaining the integrity of the food, or just facilitating the transaction, the counter has been a (sometimes invisible) component of our foodservice world for millennia.
Originally ensconced in pharmacies, counter restaurants gave birth to the fountain soda industry. Quick-service (formerly known as “fast food”) restaurants, mall & airport kiosks, bakery-cafes, and fast-casual concepts all owe a debt of gratitude to those American originals.
The modern cafeteria, as the name implies, has its roots in the coffee houses of old Europe. Implying a lack of table service and emulating buffets and smorgasbords, counters usually fall into one of four categories: hot, cold, frozen, or dry. Salad bars and milk coolers are specialized variations of cold counters. Cashier counters are adaptations of the dry units. The ubiquitous coffee shop uses a hybrid triple zone counter design with grab-n-go capabilities.
Augmenting counter design with ever-more sophisticated, and designer inspired superstructures has spawned an entire sub-industry. Formerly collectively called sneezeguards, the latest case work available has been inspired by the all-you-can-eat buffets of the casinos, and the colorful designs of theme parks. These artful eye-level constructs are meant, not to disappear in front of the foods that they protect, but to adorn and illuminate them.
Another counter accessory that has seen a renaissance is the tray slide. Manufacturers have dabbled in many materials, including composites and resins to dress up this most utilitarian of appendages. Three bar or solid aren’t the only choices available any longer.
Front fascias are a convenient substitute for a canvas displaying the artistic ambitions of foodservice consultants, designers, architects and operators. The bases of food bars can be made of structural metal, and/or wood or can be molded from fiberglass or rotationally molded plastic.
Schools of all levels, Business & Industry, and coffee shops are all heavily dependent on the foodservice counter. The springtime order surge for these units is due to the need to have most counter projects finished prior to the fall.