Serving Equipment

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Serving Lines: An Overview

Foodservice operators typically use serving equipment in cafeteria-style, self-serve applications or in front-of-house made-to-order applications in schools, casinos, military operations and corporate feeding, along with restaurants and hospitals.

These units are typically categorized by market, such as K-12, college/university, business and industry, healthcare, and military, because each requires a different style and setup. While utilitarian setups are designed to move large volumes of people through lines in the shortest amount of time, corporate setups are positioned as amenities to keep staff members in the building during lunch hours.

This equipment is used for both self- and full-service applications, and stations can be configured in a galley or long line format, which is traditional, or with self- and full-service stations scattered in different areas. Modular setups allow operators to use the space for a variety of purposes or events. This type is popular for high schools, which may use the equipment for lunch as well as sporting events or celebrations.

Like the format, serving line equipment can be basic, like a stainless-steel cart with a couple of pans, or more extensive, such as custom hot tops for holding, cold pans, steam tables, food guards, lighting, refrigeration and storage systems.

Serving counters can include equipment on top and below as a complete unit or can be separate with a platform or pedestal below a table surface. They are often custom fabricated to include components for individual applications and operations.

There are various serving line types, dependent on construction, including modular unitized, modular frame with custom fabricated worktable base, stationary with millwork/casework, custom frame made of steel or stainless steel as either angle iron or tubing, and millwork frame.

Price depends on both the material and appearance. Operators can choose from multiple finish options like plastic, stainless steel and millwork. Stainless-steel tops, although institutional in appearance, tend to have long service lives and be easy to clean. Solid surfaces, such as Corian, quartz, stone, wood and copper, provide an upscale appearance. Millwork types are affordable but not recommended for humid environments as porous wood can harbor bacteria.

Table lengths can vary from 10 feet for smaller-volume operations up to 250 feet for high-volume use. Standard heights range between 34 and 36 inches, although elementary schools typically specify 30-inch-high units for student access. Customized widths from 24½ to 44 inches are also available.

Because most serving lines are custom designed to operator needs, there are few standard features with serving equipment. Components include a basic box line, and operators can choose to add shelves, doors and drawers as necessary. Custom units can include anything from backlit plate shelves to hidden storage and high-end refrigeration.

Serving line options include food guards, tray slides, decor panels, casters or legs, kick plates, various countertop materials, inclusions or drop-ins, and a choice of stainless-steel gauge. Hot/frost merchandising platforms and refrigerated over shelving can be added.

Food shields serve as an integral part of serving lines that enhances food safety. NSF classifies these components into functional categories: self-serve, cafeteria style or full serve. Food shields utilize a pane of glass or clear acrylic material as a barrier between customers and food to protect from safety hazards. NSF guidelines dictate the design of this equipment.

Operators can choose from a variety of food shield styles, including adjustable, institutional, decorative and custom designs. Food shield sizes can range from 1 foot to 100 feet long. Longer sizes include connecting sections to fit any counter length. Adjustable food shields allow operators to change the angle or height, while fixed shields stay in place. Portable or temporary food shields also are available.