Spec Check: Hot Food Holding Equipment

In addition to keeping menu items at desired temperatures, hot food holding equipment can provide countless other benefits to many foodservice operations.

Foodservice operators use hot food holding equipment to keep menu items prepared in advance at safe temperatures. And because this application appears to be rather straightforward, hot food holding equipment has long been considered one of the simplest and easiest to use items in a foodservice operation.

Still, that does not mean specifying one of these items is a slam dunk. In fact, like most other pieces of foodservice equipment it is important to take into account a number of considerations before deciding what kinds of units to purchase, how many are necessary and where they should be placed.

Before deciding which hot food holding equipment to purchase or how many units will be needed, it is important to understand how the foodservice operator intends to use these items. There are two basic applications for this equipment:

Bulk Food Holding: Generally speaking, this applies to those operators that produce food faster than they can serve it or in advance of their peak service periods. For example, school foodservice operators need to prepare their menu items well in advance of the students' arrival in the lunchroom in order to meet the time constraints of the day. This also alleviates the on-demand production burden in the kitchen.

Banqueting: This refers to foodservice operators that needs to feed a plated meal to a large group all at once.

After understanding how the units are being used, then foodservice operators can collaborate with their supply chain partners to take the next steps in the specifying and purchasing processes.

How do you determine the appropriate number of hot food holding units needed?
The number of units needed depends on capacity, meaning the number of pans of food a foodservice operation is producing to feed the number of customers coming through the doors. For example, if customer demand has an operator producing up to 50 sheet pans of food each day, then four full-sized units will be appropriate.

In a banqueting application, it is important to know the covered height of plates and diameter of covered plates, before determining how many units are appropriate.

How can you tell what the most relevant features are for a particular foodservice operation?
It is important to know what pans the operation uses. If an operator uses either steam or sheet pans exclusively, then a unit with fixed racks could be appropriate. If the operator uses a combination of both sheet pans and steam table pans, or believes their menu could change in the future, then a unit with adjustable racks would be appropriate.

In addition, it is important to know if the operator plans to keep the units stationary, say supporting a trayline, or if they plan to transport them from one room to another or to different buildings. Operators transporting the units on and off a truck, for example, should consider a unit with heavier duty construction. These units may be better suited to withstand the impact of the vibrations that come with transportation, as well as any impact associated with loading/unloading from a truck or moving the unit from one location to another. And because units being transported may sit on a truck or loading dock unplugged for extended periods of time, it is important to specify hot holding equipment that is well insulated and maintains its heat.

When looking at the method of transportation, consider openings on trucks and in the building to determine whether a full-sized or half-sized unit is most appropriate.

What considerations should a foodservice operator weigh when trying to decide where to place hot food holding units?
Most insulated units use 120 volts and 15 amps of electricity, which means foodservice operators can place their hot food holding equipment where they would like. First and foremost, operators should examine their workflow and position the cabinets in a place where they make most sense.

Of course, the boundaries of common sense should apply here. For example, a unit placed too close to various pieces of cooking equipment could become too hot and that would have an adverse effect on the food.

What are some common mistakes operators make when purchasing hot food holding equipment?
The biggest mistake most operators make is not fully considering what size they need and understanding what they want to accomplish. Once they understand how much food they need to hold and why they are holding the food and for how long, they can begin to make informed purchasing decisions. Also, there is a tendency to buy on price and that's where operators can get in trouble because they purchase a unit that does not meet their needs or can compromise food quality.

When it comes to hot food holding equipment, a state-of-the-art unit is easy to use and maintains consistent temperatures, which allows operators to focus on other aspects of their business, like cooking food and serving customers.

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