Non-Food Countertop Dispensers: Features and Capabilities

Foodservice operators use non-food countertop dispensers to optimize efficiency, reduce waste and organize necessary items, like cups, lids, straws, stirrers and utensils. This not only helps get customers through the serving process quicker but also provides cost savings for operators.

iStock 10967799 LARGEOperators primarily use these units in the front of house, which means aesthetics and appearance are critical factors when purchasing non-food countertop dispensers. Matching or complementary models help create a seamless yet functional dispensing area.

The counter service dispensers divide into four types: cups for soft drinks and hot beverages, cup lids, napkins, and straws and stirrers.

In general, foodservice operators use three types of disposable cups — paper, plastic or foam — with sizes ranging from 8 to 64 ounces. Shapes and rim diameters can vary, although some cup styles offer the same rim diameter for different-size cups to fit one lid size. The dispenser type and size depends on the type of cup, size and rim diameter. Operators can choose from countertop, cabinets with one to four levels, wall or fountain mounted, or built-in counter cup dispensers. These typically feature plastic or stainless steel construction.

When specifying a napkin dispenser, foodservice operators have a variety from which to choose. The type that best suits a specific operation will depend on the napkin. The most popular napkin configurations include full fold and interfold, although operators may also use mini fold and mini interfold napkins, too. Full fold napkins, when properly folded, have about an inch of exposed napkin where there’s an overlap. These can unravel and unfold to become much larger. Interfold napkins interlink so the next napkin is dispensed after the first one is pulled out, like a tissue box.

The menu typically dictates the napkin. For example, messier food, such as a hot dog, requires either a full fold or interfold type. Problems arise if the napkin and dispenser style do not match. This will frustrate customers. A number of paper manufacturers create napkins specifically for certain dispenser models.

Operators can choose from a variety of napkin holders for countertop dispensing. Some horizontal countertop units are lifted up on a stand and angled for a more upscale appearance. Because they mount or hang from the wall, the wall-mount style saves countertop space. While tabletop napkin dispensers provide less capacity than the other types, they do offer added convenience and accessibility for customers. Dimensions vary by manufacturer, but these units typically average 3½ inches high by 5 inches wide or 5 inches high by 6 inches wide with depths of 18 or 24 inches.

Regarding drink lids, a federal mandate requires dispensers issue one lid at a time. Countertop and cabinet lid dispensing options come in multiple configurations that accommodate large and small sizes. Adjustable countertop lid dispensers sit horizontal on countertops and have multiple-size lid stacks from left to right. Wall-mount versions help free up counter space. Lid towers feature multiple levels with two to four compartments. Operators can choose between plastic or stainless steel construction.

Operators can also choose between double- or single-sided straw dispensers. Double-sided dispensers can hold more straws, while single-sided dispensers can save space.

When it comes to dispensing single-serve, prepackaged condiments, operators can use units made from plastic or stainless steel. 

Non-food countertop dispenser designs continue to evolve. Newer types provide interchangeable bases with inserts for added flexibility and customization. Some types offer color options or black plastic with smoked acrylic to match front-of-house decor.

Dispensers also are available in shorter profiles for more confined spaces and are available with labeling or logo opportunities and easy disassembly for dishwasher cleaning.

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