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The Difference Between A Beverage Cooler And Refrigerator

Beverage coolers and refrigerators have many differences and similarities, both in the way they look and the manner in which they operate.  Because of this, the prospect of choosing just the right device for you and your family can often be a daunting experience.

At first glance, both a beverage cooler and a refrigerator may appear to be very alike but they are actually designed and engineered to meet different purposes.

When setting up your man cave or home bar, you may only have the budget and/or space to accommodate just one of the two cooling devices.  Given that problem, which one should you choose?

This guide will help you answer that question.  Below we will cover the various features found on both beverage coolers and refrigerators, and explain the differences and similarities between the two.

In this end, we hope this will help you make a more informed purchasing decision and allow you to get the product that most meets your needs.

The Doors

The first obvious difference between a beverage cooler and a refrigerator is the door you will find on each device. The door of a refrigerator is usually opaque and made of insulating material with a vacuum in-between and aluminum coating.

This design setup is intentional, done to help the refrigerator maintain the ultra cool temperatures—temperatures that approach the freezing mark.

A beverage cooler, on the other hand, usually comes equipped with a UV-resistant transparent glass door. This allows you to see what is inside the cooler without actually having to open it.

This comes in very handy if you are throwing a party or watching the big game with the guys in your man cave. That’s because your guests don’t have to keep guessing what you have for them, leaving you embarrassed if you don’t have their request—they just make their orders from what they can see.

The ability to see the drinks in a beverage cooler also sets the mood for any party. In addition, the doors of beverage coolers have special hinges that prevent the swinging of the door to avoid slamming on the cabinet. This also makes the doors of the beverage cooler quieter than the refrigerator.

Some models of beverage coolers have reverse opening doors which makes it possible for you to alternate the direction the door opens. This can come in handy during parties or when there is a large crowd visiting your home.

You can choose the direction to open the door so that you don’t obstruct traffic or slam the door into someone’s face.


When you purchase a refrigerator, the instruction manual will usually tell you to allow plenty of open spaces on the sides and back of the unit for proper ventilation.  This large amount of space is really not necessary for a beverage cooler.

When you purchase a beverage cooler you actually have two options when it comes to the installation of the unit:  you can allow it to be a freestanding or standalone unit, or you can build it in to your cabinets or countertop—a great option if you have a home bar or man cave.

For the freestanding beverage cooler, the installation guide will usually tell you to allow 1-inch of space on the sides and perhaps 2-3 inches at the back of the unit for proper ventilation.

While the freestanding beverage cooler and refrigerator both require ventilation space, refrigerators usually require much more space, which limits your options as to where it can be placed. The built-in beverage cooler is quite different. It can be sandwiched between kitchen cabinets without the slightest thought about ventilation.

This is because the vents on this type of beverage cooler are located at the bottom of the unit.


Naturally, both the beverage cooler and the refrigerator are designed to provide a cold environment. However, the way they achieve this goal differs significantly between the two.

In fact, the holding temperature is probably the main difference between a refrigerator and a beverage cooler. A refrigerator is designed to have compartments for preserving groceries, including meat, cheese, produce, etc.

To keep bacteria away and keep the items fresh, refrigerators usually operate at a temperature below 39 degrees F.  Most refrigerators do not even have temperature control and operate on a single temperature.

This is why items in the refrigerator are often iced-over. While you certainly want your drinks to be chilled, a can of beer that is partially frozen can quickly kill the fun at any party.

Beverage coolers, on the other hand, have a temperature control that allows you to set the temperature between 39 degrees and 65 degrees to accommodate different types of beverages. You can easily set the temperature by pressing the buttons with the up or down arrows.

There is also a button that will allow you to switch the temperature display from Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa.  All of this means you can chill your beer or wine to the perfect temperature.

Some newer brands of beverage coolers incorporate smart controls like alarms that buzz when the door is left open for too long or lock modes that prevent people from altering your preset temperatures.

In some cases, you will be storing many different types of beverages.  Fortunately, there are some beverage coolers that allow for zoned cooling.

You may have two or even three zones within a beverage cooler, each having their own temperature controls. Each of the zones will come with digital displays that help you to monitor their temperature.

This will allow you to store and chill each type of beverage at its recommended temperature.  Here are the recommended temperatures for different types of beverages:

  • Non-alcoholic beverages – 30 degrees F to 35 degrees F
  • Sparkling wine/Champagne – 55 degrees F to 60 degrees F
  • White wine – 45 degrees F to 55 degrees F
  • Low-content alcohol – 45 degrees F to 50 degrees F
  • Red wine – 60 degrees F to 68 degrees F
  • High-content alcohol – 55 degrees F to 60 degrees F

You would probably need three to four refrigerators to be able to achieve all of these optimal temperatures, assuming you have all the above-listed types of beverages to serve. On the flip side, if you purchase a beverage cooler that offers zoned cooling, only one unit will suffice.

beer from fridge


Both the refrigerator and the beverage cooler have various compartments. However, some brands of refrigerators will spell out the items that should be placed in each compartment, such as plastic egg crates for your eggs and chambers for vegetables.

Ideally, beverage coolers come with metal racks or shelves strategically placed to give room for bottles and cans. If you have larger-sized beverages, you can pull out one or more of the shelves to accommodate those drinks.

Beverage coolers with pullout racks also allow you to lay your wine bottles on their sides so that they can take up less space. The shelves of beverage coolers are also designed to be very tough and durable, allowing them to hold drinks in large volumes without caving in.

There are beverage coolers that can hold up to eighteen 2-liter drinks on a single rack. This personalized storage space makes it ideal for all of your favorite drinks.


One of the few areas in which refrigerators and beverage coolers are similar is in the availability of sizes. Both devices come in a wide array of sizes and have varying storage capacities.

However, it is important to note that the same size refrigerator and beverage cooler may not necessarily have the same weight. This is due to the difference in their material components.

Additionally, beverage coolers are usually larger and taller compared to most mini-refrigerators.


Last but not least are the lighting differences and similarities between a beverage cooler and a refrigerator. The inside of a (newer) refrigerator and beverage cooler is usually illuminated by LED lighting which can be white or blue.

However, there is still a key difference in their lighting patterns. Since refrigerators have opaque doors, it will be utterly useless and a colossal waste of energy to have the lights constantly on.

For this reason, the internal lighting components of a refrigerator (where available) are wired to come on only when the door is opened. Beverage coolers, on the other hand, have glass doors so that the light can be set to stay on or can be turned off when you want to save energy.

When you are throwing a party, you would naturally want your guests to see what is in the beverage cooler, so of course you would set the light to stay on. This also makes it easy for you to find your favorite drinks.

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