Successful caterers rely on a host of supplies and equipment for each event. From chafing dishes, to transportation options, beverage containers and more, navigating the world of catering supplies can be a daunting task. In this guide we'll walk you through popular catering supplies to help you at your next event.
There are pros and cons when it comes to choosing fuel or electric chafer heaters. Fuel chafers utilize gel or liquid fuel to keep the chafer water dish heated. Fuel can be inexpensive, but it is a recurring expense over time. Fuel chafers can also be difficult during outdoor events in windy or inclement weather. Those who were once turned off by the disposable aspect of fuel chafers would benefit from shopping eco-friendly, recyclable options that utilize ethanol, a renewable product derived from corn.
With electric chafers you won't have to worry about the recurring cost or waste of disposable fuels. Of course, electric chafers rely on having access to an outlet, which may or may not be accessible at all events. That said, if you cater a lot of indoor events you'll avoid indoor fire risk hazards. Companies like Vollrath even make a universal electric chafer heater for those wanting to make the switch to electric heating easily with existing chafers.
Electric chafers also include new induction-style models that are an effective (and eco-friendly) heat source. Utilizing oscillating magnetic fields, induction cooking methods work by having the pan itself generate the heat instead of relying on an external heat source. Not only does induction use little energy, but many chefs like the consistency and performance of induction units-no more hot spots!
If you decide on a fuel chafer, you have some options when it comes to fuel. Keep in mind that some fuel is considered a hazardous material, which might be subject to more stringent shipping requirements. Translation? Shipping might take longer or cost you more.
Liquid chafing fuel utilizes a wick and is produced with non-flammable, biodegradable DEG (Diethylene Glycol)-the same category as vegetable oil! With liquid chafing fuels you needn't worry about shipping restrictions or storage limitations because even if the liquid spills, it will not ignite. Manufacturers like Hollowick have released adjustable wick heat chafing fuel, which lets you set the wick for high or low heat depending on your application.
Unlike liquid fuels, the gel fuel is ignited within the can itself and produces a high heat output with packaged burn times of 2.5 hours all the way up to 6 hours.
There are two types of gel fuel: Methanol or Ethanol. Methanol gel chafing fuel is odor-free and leaves virtually no residue.
Green Fuel Options
If being eco-friendly and sustainable is important to you, look into gel chafing fuel which is made from ethanol, a renewable resource derived from corn. Many manufacturers are packaging green fuel options in recyclable aluminum or steel cans.
Chafing dishes come in many shapes, sizes and finishes. Standard sizes for chafing dishes include full, and half sizes for rectangular dishes, while round and oval chafing dishes range anywhere from 4 to 8 quart capacities. Square chafers are not as common, but can add an elegant look to your display.
In addition to size and shape, you can also choose between different finishes for your ideal chafing dish. Read on to learn more:
Mirrored Polish Finish
Chafing dishes with a mirrored polish finish are extremely popular in the industry. Its reflective finish makes for a nice display in casual and formal events alike.
If you want an upscale look without a lot of shine, shop for chafing dishes with a satin finish.
Chafing dishes with a matte finish lack luster and can look dull because it lacks the shine of its satin and mirrored polish finishes. As a result, matte finish chafing dishes work best in informal or back of house settings.
Stay on trend with new styles of chafing dishes that include hammered copper finishes that look elegant at weddings and other formal events.
Most chafing dishes are finished with some kind of accent trim to enhance its display. Whether you opt for brass, gold or chrome trims, there's a style to suit every brand and occasion.
Before settling on a chafing dish, think about what you're serving and where you're serving it. Picking a chafing dish with the right lid is key to a better service. Whether you want maximum drama with a formal 'lift off' lid, or you need a hinged/roll top lid for better buffet lines, be sure to opt for a chafing dish that best suits your needs.
Lift Off/Dome Covers
Lift off and dome covers are often used for rectangular chafing dishes and considered an industry standard. They help keep food warm and protected from cross contamination, but could be troublesome for guests trying to self-serve.
Roll Top Covers
These retractable-style chafing dishes are often used in buffet lines because of its 'hand-free' ease of use. For added versatility, look for roll top covers that have a complete 180 degree opening for buffet service on both sides.
Like roll top covers, hinged covers make it easier for guests to self-serve without worrying about removing and holding a lid.
The obvious benefit of a clear, glass cover is being able to see exactly what's inside. Great for buffet lines and breakfast bars, food not only maintains proper temperatures, but it helps entice hungry guests.
Making sure your food tastes good is half of the battle-it needs to look good too!
When it comes to risers, many manufacturers are embracing modular systems to give you the utmost flexibility in your displays. From beverages, to condiment stations, salad bars and more, risers add a polished look to your presentation. Risers can be stacked at multiple heights to highlight offerings in an elegant way, with companies like Cal-Mil taking it a step further with the addition of shelf brackets that integrate seamlessly into the rise themselves. And if you want a seamless look when it comes to your chafers or hot plates, you can find decorative options for those as well. Whether you opt for traditional, rustic or midcentury modern, you're sure to find a stylish solution for any catered event.
Besides the obvious convenience of having signs to notify guests what the dishes are, clear and accurate signage is a must when it comes to food safety. Dietary restrictions and allergies are extremely common, and using signs to denote items that could be vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, etc. can go a long way with the guests.
As a caterer you can't have enough tongs, spoons, scoops and more! Always bring extra utensils at catered events because once a guest drops one on the floor, you'll need another one ready immediately to prevent line backs up. Not only that, serveware can get gummed up with food pretty quickly, so it's good practice to use a fresh spoon or tong when switching out the chafing dish with a new one.
Are you prepared to serve hot drinks and cold drinks? Insulated beverage dispensers are great for keeping beverages at proper serving temperatures for hours, making it particularly useful for outdoor events when the weather might be warm.
For an elegant service option, shop coffee urns that match the finish of your chafing dishes for a streamlined look.
Some events might require on-site cooking stations to put the finishing touches on appetizers, desserts and more. Here are a few of our favorite pieces of equipment to have on-site:
Induction Hot Plates
Popular amongst chefs, induction hot plates are extremely effective at generating heat for even, consistent cooking. Induction units work by creating oscillating magnetic fields so that the heat is generated by the pan itself, not a stationary heat source; without the need for an open flame, these units are also extremely safe to use near crowds. The best part about induction units? The use little energy so you can still achieve your sustainability goals.
If catering an outdoor event, chances are you might be utilizing disposable plates and utensils. With eco-friendly options like compostable plates, flatware and even "plastic" cups, you can keep your event zero waste (and trust us, your guests will notice your sustainability efforts).
Glassware can also be tricky outside, when a sudden gust of wind could accidentally knock over a glass of wine and cause a real safety hazard for guests. Opting for polycarbonate drinkware is a great drinkware option for outdoor events. The best part? It looks so much like the real thing your guests won't tell the difference!
One of the biggest threats to your food is during transportation! Not only do you have to worry about presentation during transport, you also need to make sure you're moving food safely from one destination to another.
Insulated carriers, like the lightweight Cambro Cam GoBox are one of the best ways to transport food to your final destination. Designed to keep product at food-safe temperatures and out of the danger zone (40° F to 150° F), you won't have to worry about the risk of guests developing a potential foodborne illness—an immediate party and reputation killer if we ever saw one. Plus, insulated carriers keep food stored securely to prevent any messes along the way.
Depending on where your event is located, loading food onto sheet pan racks is one of the best ways to transport ingredients. Great for storing finished dishes or prepped ingredients (like garnishes), pan racks make it easy to move a lot of stuff with not much effort.
Cleaning is one of the best ways to keep your guests safe from cross-contamination and your chafing dishes looking beautiful. Use a microfiber polishing cloth and non-caustic cleaning to keep the finish on your chafing dishes intact.
If you cater a lot of outdoor events, consider adding a portable hand sink to your equipment list. Hand washing is the #1 best way to combat cross-contamination and illness, and should be done often. Though requirements vary between municipalities, most health inspectors will require hand washing conveniently located where food is being cooked or prepped.