Long a staple piece of equipment for operators of all shapes and sizes, food wells keep menu items hot or cold, depending on the unit and application. Foodservice operators can use these units in either the back or front of house.
The most common applications for this equipment include cafeteria, buffet and catering. Although primarily geared for non-prepackaged foods, food wells also can accommodate packaged items, such as beverages and yogurt.
The types of food wells available include hot, cold, integrated and soup/sauce. NSF guidelines require hot food wells to hold food at 150 degrees F and cold food wells to hold product between 33 degrees F and 41 degrees F to ensure food safety.
Foodservice operators can choose from electric or gas-fired hot food wells that use water baths to keep food at safe temperatures. Waterless units are an option, too. Hot food wells feature stainless steel top rims and optional drains.
Cold food wells include mechanically cooled models, forced air units that push air on top of product and a newer technology that cools wells using refrigeration lines. The more simplified cold food wells utilize ice pans to keep food at safe temperatures. Most cold wells feature a 3-inch recess to meet NSF 7 listing requirements, are fully insulated and include copper coil refrigeration.
While the majority of these units have compressors underneath, food wells also are available with remote compressors and condensing systems for operations looking to save space and reduce noise in the kitchen.
Integrated counter merchandisers have either slightly recessed sheet pan merchandising or vertical drop-in cold and hot configurations.
Operators can choose from a variety of configurations, with the most common wells holding 12-inch by 20-inch stainless pans. By incorporating adapter plates as accessories, food wells can accommodate a combination of 1/3-, 1/6- or 1/2-size pans. Some merchandisers can hold 18-inch by 26-inch sheet pans in different sections. Soup warmer wells come in 4-, 7- and 11-quart round models. Curved food wells also are available.
Some food wells offer cold-wall technology to fit 1/3 and 1/6 pans in channels for flush countertop holding, meeting NSF 7 standards without the need for a 3-inch recess.
While countertop units have an outer shell and are portable, built-in units are designed to be fabricated into counters.
Standard features with food wells include stainless steel construction, remote controls and slide-out compressors. Operators can include optional components, such as adapter bars for different pan configurations, telescope covers, low-profile configurations, water pans and inset covers. Other add-ons include autofill devices that automatically add water to the wells and drains on built-in warmers that operators can easily open and close.
Newer to the market, hot and cold convertible food wells provide independent temperature controls per well. Some units also feature various tilts and angles that meet NSF guidelines.
Another new development is a hot food well that utilizes heated, convected air rather than steam to maintain food temperatures. This eliminates the need for water and uses less electricity than traditional equipment of this type, since heat is transferred more directly.
Well technology that incorporates eutectic fluid to effectively cool pans also is available. With this method, food pans can be flush mounted rather than recessed.