The humble utility cart might be one of the most underrated pieces of equipment in your kitchen and dining room. This commercial workhorse makes it easy to move heavy loads with minimal trouble, particularly for hotels and large convention areas who might cover more ground between the kitchen and ballroom. From basic utility carts to insulated carts perfect for catering, this buying guide will cover everything from construction type, handle designs, weight capacities and more to find the best cart for your needs.
Utility carts are simple, durable workhorses that help make your job easier. These carts come in several different shapes, sizes, material and more. Determining which cart would best suit your needs boils down to what you need to transport and how much of it. Read on:
Before purchasing any new cart, it's important to know what you'll be using it for. Will the cart be customer facing, and if so, do you care about its aesthetic? Do you need to cart heavy loads long distances?
Rust-resistant and extremely durable, stainless steel metal carts are commonly used in the back and front of house for transporting supplies, dishes and much more. You may find that you like the aesthetic of a metal cart over a plastic cart, particularly in your dining area.
Plastic utility carts are prized for being lightweight and durable while also being able to tackle heavy duty jobs. Most plastic carts are made from a strong Polyethylene that prevents chipping, dents and more. Plus, unlike metal carts, you never have to worry about unsightly rust.
Keep in mind that plastic carts often feature molded-in, fixed height handles that while durable, could make for posture issues for workers of varying heights transporting heavy loads.
Metal and Plastic Combinations
You may find some carts featuring a combination of plastic shelving paired with aluminum uprights for added durability. Unlike stainless steel, aluminum is extremely susceptible to corrosion, so avoid using these carts in humid environments like walk-ins.
Number of Shelves
When it comes to picking out the number of shelves you need on your cart, more does not necessarily mean better. Carts often feature 2, 3, or 4 shelves, but remember that the more shelves you have, the lower shelf clearance you'll get. So if you need to regularly transport tall items, you may opt for a model that features just 2 shelves.
Light or Heavy Duty
Most manufacturers publish a maximum load capacity but many fail to consider that this number is distributed among all of the shelves on the cart. For example, a 300 pound maximum weight capacity for a utility cart featuring 3 shelves would mean that each shelf could carry a maximum load of 100 pounds. Weighing down your cart beyond its capacity could spell a broken cart and a whole lot of clean up.
Open or Enclosed Shelves
Locking cabinet doors are a great way to hide additional supplies if you intend to feature your cart in the front of house. That said, cabinet doors may be less functional than open shelves if you're regularly adding or removing products. Consider where you intend to use your cart and for what purpose to determine which configuration best suits your needs.
It's subtle, and you may have never noticed it before, but a small, raised lip on the edge of a shelf can change your life. When in transit, it's easy for items to slide around and even fall off a shelf. Insert that handy shelf lip and voila! Products stay where they're supposed to be until you reach your destination.
For cafeterias, schools, and other high volume foodservice operations, consider adding a dish cart. Adjustable dish carts come with dividers that can be moved to secure plates and cups easily.
For those who cater a lot of events, simple foodservice carts won't make the cut. Caterers who often need to transport foods long distances require insulated options that keep food safe and out of the danger zone (between 40° F and 140° F). Many large catering carts can be moved easily on casters, however smaller boxes lend themselves to stacking. When shopping for transport carts for your business, consider the following:
Hot, Cold or Both?
It's a simple question, but an important one to answer before purchasing any new transport carts. Most carts are equipped to either hold hot foods or cold foods, though there are some models (like the Cambro Ultra Camcart) which are equipped with two cabinets so you can safely move both hot and cold foods simultaneously. Cambro also sells ThermoBarriers® to split a single cabinet into two holding zones while also minimizing empty space and temperature loss.
Do I Need Electricity?
Electric carts are not necessarily required for transporting your hot or cold foods safely, however they can give you additional peace of mind. Not only do electric carts often provide hours of safe holding temperatures while plugged in (doubling as an extra fridge or warming cabinet), when not plugged in they also boast 4+ hours of safe warming temperatures.
Most insulated carts require warmers/chillers to maintain a safe holding temperature. When equipped with the appropriate tools you can safely keep food warm for at least 4 hours, which should give you more than enough transportation time.
Take note of the full internal capacity of your transport cart before purchasing. Many carts are equipped to hold half size sheet pans, a variety of steam pan sizes and even pizza boxes. You'd be surprised at just how much you can hold in such a small footprint!
As you would expect, catering and transport carts are specifically designed to handle the demands of the foodservice industry. You'll find that many catering carts feature a thick polyurethane insulation that is rust proof and dent resistant. Models with molded-in handles give you easy maneuverability as well.
Though utility carts and insulated carts are designed to tackle the demands of the foodservice industry, over time there will be parts that naturally wear and tear. Lucky for you, many manufacturers sell individual parts so you only need to replace what you need. Plus, you can find many of these parts right here at Etundra.com!
Carts are only as good as the casters they sit on. Unfortunately, casters are one of the most common parts that need replacement first. Our advice? Always keep a spare set of casters close by, because you never know when you'll need a replacement caster on the fly.
Don't let a runaway cart get the best of you! Consider your floorplan and if locking casters would be a wise addition.
Swivel vs fixed
When choosing swivel or fixed casters, it all comes down to maneuverability. A utility cart that needs to weave around tables or tight corners would benefit from swivel casters which make turns more easily. That said if you're transporting items long distances (say a commercial kitchen to a hotel ballroom) including anywhere from 2- 4 fixed casters will increase you stability for faster movement.
When it comes to your dining room, appearances matter. Avoid unsightly marks and permanent damage to your hardwood, tile or linoleum floors by opting for non-marking casters.
A broken handle can make a seemingly easy job take twice as long to complete. Not only does a broken handle make a utility cart far more cumbersome to operate, but you put the safety of your food, dishes, supplies, etc. at risk for breakage at the event of unexpected collisions or falls. Spare yourself the risk of a huge mess (and added costs) by replacing a broken handle as soon as possible!
Sadly, you can spend a small fortune on replacement flatware alone because it frequently makes its way into the trash. Ensure you hold onto more of your investment by adding cutlery bins to your bus carts to encourage employees to separate the flatware from the dishes before food scraps are thrown into the trash.
When it comes to foodservice, you can never have enough rubbish bins on hand. From clearing away scraps to finding a place for odds and ends like labels, paper and more, attaching a trash bin to your cart can be an extremely useful addition. Just make sure you opt for a sturdy, durable bin that won't leak in the middle of your dining room!