Buffetware not only addresses operator needs for serving capabilities and aesthetics, but it also helps control food shrink and waste. The focus is on durability, functionality and appearance.
Operators need to determine the applications for the serving/buffet equipment. Will the operation use these items for a specific function or as a permanent fixture in a restaurant? If it’s the latter, a mixture of portable and permanent units may be appropriate. Mixtures like this can accommodate various dayparts and menu items while also incorporating action stations.
When choosing buffetware, it’s important to note operators can choose from different categories at various price points. More economical, lower-end products are produced from a lighter gauge or lower-quality stainless. Mid-range products may offer more options and higher-quality materials. Those with bigger budgets can choose high-end buffetware, which will typically be constructed of more durable materials with upscale features, like chafers with self-closing lids rather than the lift-off type.
Servingware items, including steam table pans, display cookware or decorative pans with templates, come in 12-inch by 20-inch single-well or 24-inch by 20-inch double-well units. Some chafers work with induction heating, and double wall bowls help maintain food temperatures without an energy source.
When selecting buffetware, catering operators should consider the type of setting. Whether it is a formal banquet or casual buffet, operators will want to adhere to a certain theme or design. It makes sense, then, to choose pieces that can adapt to various accessories. For multiple functions, flexibility can take the form of using various tables and designs as well as cooking stations. These can include raw bars, action stations, chafing dishes, carving stations, soup bars, hot and cold stations, and dessert bars. Carved ice features also will have specific requirements.
Some catering operations now utilize buffetware with more elaborate materials for ornate display options. Options here include wood, metal, slate and matte finishes, along with decorated items. In high-volume operations where breakage is an issue, operators can choose sturdier materials like wood, metal and melamine rather than glass or ceramic.
Like materials, buffetware offers caterers various color options. Operators commonly mix these colors with traditional white products to further enhance presentations.
In addition to a range of colors and materials, foodservice operators can incorporate other elements to add visual appeal, such as shelving, unique lighting, distinctive bowl shapes, innovative serving utensils, and bamboo, slate or other items made of natural materials. Today, elevated displays have become a more common way to achieve unique and appealing setups. These presentations incorporate stands and risers, which create vertical, space-saving displays.
The self-serve nature of buffetware usually means wear and tear is a factor. With dishes and cups often stacked in buffet settings, scratches and chips occur more frequently. Fortunately, textured buffetware with pebble surfaces, linen textures and organic-looking products can help hide these imperfections.
Along with style and appearance, operators need to look at their production process and local ordinances. For example, certain areas of the country prohibit the use of open flames. Also, the temperature and control of induction heating impacts food differently than flame burners. Bottom heat won’t be enough for certain products, so the addition of heat lamps may be necessary.
Also take into account portion control when choosing buffetware as sizing can negatively impact food costs. Containers in various sizes with shallower depths give the appearance of more food with less product, which helps minimize waste. Operators also can utilize deeper vessels with bumps at the bottom, which facilitate faster food turnover and fresher product. With this type, backup serving vessels will be necessary for consistent food replenishing. Buffetware dishes using larger rims portray the look of larger plates and encourage customers to take smaller portions.
Smaller containers continue to play a more prominent role in creating fresh-looking displays and preserving food quality. A 4-quart pot instead of a 3-gallon container is one example of this approach. It’s important for staff to refresh smaller pans more frequently than larger ones.
When purchasing buffetware, consider storage and transportation. These items require designated space for storage when not in use. And if operators will use the items off-premise, the end users will have to determine how to safely transport them. Storage and transportation options include shelving, racks, containers and carts.
If the operation requires warming and cooking capabilities, consider induction burners for making stir-fries, pasta, breakfast items and other foods as well as for presentation cooking on display lines. Front-of-house induction units often allow the food to sell itself.