For the most part, those huge open buffets that we used to love are out of the equation, at least for now. But restaurant operators still need different kinds of commercial food warmers and heated tray areas to keep all of their creations at safe temperatures, and ready for serving.
In the wake of coronavirus safety procedures, restaurants are more likely to have one person serving many people from a food warmer, rather than having people file past to scoop up the food themselves. Plexiglass dividers are a good addition to any type of scenario where the food in the warming trays is on display to the public.
Benefits of Commercial Food Warmers
With that in mind, restaurants really benefit from having these types of countertop food warmers on hand.
The main use of food warmers is to keep food at an appropriate temperature that’s safe for long-term storage over a number of hours.
Realistically, when you make a big batch of something, you’re not going to serve it all at once. So you need a way to keep it at an approved temperature, where potentially harmful bacteria can’t grow and threaten the health of diners. Experts refer to the “HACCP danger zone” (HACCP is short for the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point food management system recognized by the FDA) from 41° to 135°F, and experienced restaurant operators know that health inspectors pay attention to temperature-held food with these standards in mind. It is absolutely critical for a food service business to be able to demonstrate excellence in food temperature controls.
Commercial food warmers also help with product visibility. As mentioned, putting food warmers on display behind Plexiglass can be an appropriate way to show off the results of your culinary skills to visitors.
So what do you want to know when it comes to purchasing this type of key restaurant equipment? Here are some of the main considerations that we talk about when we advise customers on buying commercial food warmers.
Fractional Pans and Round Soup Kettle Inserts
First, you’re going to want to look at layout and capacity. How much food do you want to keep warm on a regular basis? And how much space do you have?
You’ll also want to choose an appropriate number of two different types of commercial food warmers. The main type involves tray or pan components, which are mostly rectangular, and some chefs refer to them as “fractional” because they come in standardized sizes. One common standard is 12 x 20″, and then you can get fractions of that size, for instance, two thirds or one half of a 20” length, and you can plug them into your food warmer layout as needed.
Other food warmers are cylinders called “soup kettles” in which mostly liquid dishes can be kept nicely hot for service. Soup warmer pans or kettles tend to be sized by liquid capacity, for example, from 4 to 20 quarts, or for a big commercial setup, maybe 20-40 quarts.
Food Warmer Controls: Heating
This is an important one, because there are two main types of controls for heating commercial food warmers. Either of these will determine how you keep your food at the best temperature, to keep it safely heated, but prevent it from drying out or scorching.
The first type of food warmer is called a thermostatic system. Here you have a thermostat that you control to set it at a certain temperature. After that, the system automatically corrects to keep food at that temperature, regardless of (or according to) changes to the local environment or room temperature.
The other method is called infinite heating, where you have something called a rheostat that has low, middle and high settings. You might see a dial with numbers from 1 to 10.
With the rheostat, you manually control how hot the food is, and you monitor the temperature as necessary. Pairing a rheostat with a digital thermometer can help you to maintain an eye on how hot the food actually is at any given time.
Here’s another way to look at these two different kinds of heating when you’re buying commercial food warmers.
Your Table Service
Imagine you have a number of different prepared foods sitting in warmer trays in your kitchen area. You open for business, and you start selling dishes.
Eventually, your food trays start to get emptier. Without a thermostat to monitor the actual temperature, the rheostat system is going to keep heating food, and possibly start getting it dry and stale.
Also, people are going into and out of the kitchen or dining area. That’s also going to lead to more dynamic temperature changes.
Now imagine you have the rheostat cranked too high. After the initial desired temperature is reached, the food continues to heat up.
You can see where all of this is going. Again, you can sit there and manually control food temperature with a digital thermometer, but if there is no one assigned to this particular task, it might be a good idea to go with thermostat controls. Even then, digital thermometer readouts will help you to micromanage food temperatures over time as the kitchen gets busier and busier.
Also think about this – although most food warmers work on the basis of a water bath, heating water under the trays to heat the trays by radiant heat, some other models sometimes called ‘strip warmers’ just use electrical heat and metal contact with the bottom of the tray. Many chefs that we’ve talked to really prefer the water bath variety.
Here’s another big tip – look at the certifications of your food warmer equipment.
In addition, some models are rated for ADA use, which is important if you’re trying to provide access for individuals with disabilities. Then there are also standard certifications like BPA-free labels that demonstrate and prove the absence of harmful or toxic materials.
Other Types of Food Warmers
If you’re not going to be showing your tasty wares off to customers or other visitors, back-of-the-house food warmers provide the same temperature control without the display option. One type of back-of-the-house food warmer is called a drawer warmer, where you put food in, and close the drawer. Some of these models will have rolling wheels to help with portability.
It’s also helpful to look at different kinds of specialized warmers for reheating refrigerated or frozen foods. It is not advisable to use conventional food warmers or soup kettles to heat these foods, because they will be compromised by temperatures in the HACCP danger zone as they warm.
With all of this in mind, you should be on the way to getting commercial food warmers and related gear that will help you to succeed in achieving your restaurant goals. Always keep in mind that we are available to help: at Chefs’ Toys, we are “for chefs by chefs” – we have practical kitchen experience that helps us to guide our customers! We also have lots of helpful resources online, so browse the site to learn more about our products. Happy cooking!