As foodservice operators look to grow their businesses, tabletops continue to shrink to accommodate more seats in restaurants. To better manage the smaller space, many foodservice operators continue to declutter their tabletops.
As a result, the definition of what constitutes a tabletop accessory continues to broaden significantly. Generally speaking, though, tabletop accessories today are typically considered serving vessels. This includes vessels for side dishes; card, check and menu holders; salt and pepper shakers and grinders; sugar packet holders; wire caddies and racks for condiments; plate covers; dispensers for syrup, parmesan, oil and vinegar; serving baskets, which may be wire, plastic or handwoven; bud vases; votives; ramekins; wine coolers; and champagne buckets. Also part of the mix are those items that operators can use to portion gravies, sauces and dressings. These ramekins typically match or compliment dinnerware.
Operators can also choose from a variety of new items to help dress up plates. Due to the prevalence of tapas, small plates and tasting menus, operators can select unique accessories to facilitate small-plate service.
Chafers also become a tabletop accessory for full- and self-serve buffet, hotel and catering applications. The most popular type accommodates full size or a 12-inch by 20-inch steam table pan or half-size pans. Equipment that holds round, oval and other container shapes is available, too.
Rectangular half-size pans with an oval pressed in the middle provide a different appearance but still fit into conventional chafers. This is an inexpensive way to change up the display. These pans typically feature stainless steel construction but some types have a powdered coating over the stainless.
With some local codes prohibiting open flames, alternatives to chafers that use traditional canned fuel heat have become more common. This includes induction chafers, which offer the benefit of instant heat and energy efficiency. Lower-profile chafers continue to grow in popularity, too.
Some operators now use color-coded chafers to designate food attributes, such as gluten or allergen free. Also, colors help update and coordinate this equipment. Chafer accessories include decorative trays with either double- or single-wall construction and double layer bowls.
An important factor when choosing tabletop accessories, especially in high-volume restaurants, is how easy it is to clean these items. Operations that use three-compartment sinks as opposed to dishwashers need to consider that hand washing will require additional time and labor.
With the wider variety of these items available, operators have more opportunities to get creative. Use small baking sheets to serve barbecue items or present sharables like chicken tenders in wire cones with liners inside. Today’s accessories can also be vertical, adding a dimension to tabletops. Space-savers, like stackable baskets, also are more common.
Operators are looking to control portions for a variety of reasons, ranging from higher food prices to health concerns to gourmet preparation. As a result, some serving vessels are shrinking, too.
An operator’s choice of material depends on the accessory. Metals, including cast iron and stainless steel, have become more common. Also, tri-ply servers are driving momentum in this category. Incorporating a
combination of metal and natural materials, such as stainless and bamboo, is another trend. Increasingly, restaurant operators are utilizing sustainable materials, which mirror the move toward use of local fare and other environmentally friendly practices. Melamine accessories in various colors remain popular as well.
Shapes for these items are incorporating wider rims, square formats and modern lines.
In many restaurants, the focus is on unifying the tabletop image. In this case, the accessories, such as salt and pepper shakers, parmesan cheese shaker and other condiment holders will have a uniform look. Manufacturers also offer racks to hold these items, which can save space and present a consistent overall feel. These can be customized to help unify the brand image.
Operators are focusing more on customer perception, so the details, like tabletop accessories, have become more significant. Like the menu, the restaurant’s aesthetics have become a key component to the overall presentation and brand message.