A Guide to Choosing Chafer Shapes

Choosing a chafer shape can inconspicuously influence the ambience of an event and add convenience to the serving process.Chafers are those fantastic contraptions that allow food to be served on a buffet, while being kept warm, usually by a flame under the chafer, a water bath heated by a flame, or by induction. They are seen at the buffet service of almost every event, hotel meals, and even home buffets. Though the any chafer will provide a tool for caterers, home entertainers, and hotels to comfortable and elegantly serve their guests, choosing the right chafer shape can have a subtle, yet defined influence on the overall dining experience. For example, soup should be served in a deep, circular chafer, in order to allow guests to comfortably scoop it out with a ladle. The same effect would not be had with a square chafer, even if it was deep, since the corners would make the ladling process more inconvenient. Chafer shapes can also have an influence on the ambience of an event. Choosing sharp edges versus soft edges can change the look of a buffet, while having a combination must be done carefully and with taste, set up implicitly and with purpose, so as not to look disorganized.
Here’s our guide to the different chafer shapes and the advantages and disadvantages they have to offer.

Rectangular Chafers

Rectangular chafers are probably the most common chafers seen on buffets. Lasagna, meats, and antipasti, can all be comfortable options to serve in a rectangular chafer. These dishes are all typically served with a spatula or tongs, tools which can be complemented by the straight edges of the rectangular chafer. As an added bonus, typical commercial kitchen sheet pans usually fit into these chafers, allowing kitchen staff to bring the food straight from preparation to the buffet, and perhaps making them the most comfortable chafer shape offered. However, for dishes typically (…Read More…)

Wearing which hat?

Chef hats are usually required in the restaurant kitchen by local regulations.  However, choosing the right chef hat for employee comfort and convenience can make all the difference.I was once working in an upscale hotel kitchen, and they required all their kitchen staff to wear tall chef hats while on shift. Though tall chef hats can appear very impressive, they were not very practical. Every time I opened the door to one of the walk-in fridges, my hat would be blown off by the powerful fans. On the other hand, in culinary school we wore baseball caps as cooking hats. The advantage was a more comfortable to work with fit, but the main disadvantage was that the visor would sometimes get in the way of seeing everything that was going on around me in the kitchen.

The decision of which chef hat to require workers to wear should be a balance between utility and aesthetics. On the one hand, it should be comfortable for workers to do their day to day tasks, while not having to worry about their hair getting into the food. On the other hand, customers are likely to glimpse the chefs, making it important to have some kind of uniformity and aesthetic look to the chef hats. Chef hats are usually required according to food business regulations, so choosing the right ones is very important. This guide provides an overview of a few of the options often used.

Toque Hats

Toque hats are the most often used, and most common hats that come to mind when thinking of chef hats. Toque hats are usually made of disposable paper and white, and are tall and stiff. In short, that inconvenient hat I wrote about in the first paragraph of this article: that was a tall toque hat. Toque hats can come in two difference forms, with one type being tall and stiff and the other more floppy. The tall and stiff ones are offered in different heights and sizes, and offering a few different types in a venue can (…Read More…)

Melamine vs. Plastic vs. China

Fine china dinner plates instantly elevate the level of a meal, creating an elegant and upscale vibe and restaurant ambience.The perfect dinnerware is always a struggle to choose when entertaining, at home or in a restaurant. There’s a tension between making an excellent impression with fine china, and preventing the potential loss of a plate or too, by offering plastic or melamine dishes instead. Home cooks often choose to go with fine china when looking to impress, but for businesses, there is more at risk, with a statistically higher chance of financial losses when using fine china dinnerware. For food businesses, it is obviously more attractive to use ceramic or glass dinnerware, such as china. However, when serving kids’ meals, or for very casual venues, it may be worth offering nice plastic or melamine dishes instead, in order to save costs and hassle. But what really is the difference between these different materials?

Melamine

Melamine is a chemical used in many different types of industries. In the food industry, it became a choice material for tableware in the late 1950s. It’s lightness, strength, and resistance to cracking made it an attractive alternative to ceramic dinnerware. It was used to make plates, cups, and serving utensils. However, sales have gone down since their peak in the 1960s, due to the material’s tendency to stain and scratch. Scratches in food preparation and serving equipment are a notorious harvesting ground for bacteria. But the health concerns associated with melamine go beyond the scratches. There has been suspicion that the material may contaminate foods with melamine, which has been found by the Food and Drug Administration to raise the chance of kidney stones, kidney failure, and even death above certain levels. Luckily, only very low levels of melamine were found to leak into acidic foods in extreme heat conditions. What this means for food businesses today is that melamine dinnerware can be an appropriate and cheap option for fast casual venues and for serving kids’ meals, but should be used with caution and switched often in order to address the aesthetic and health concerns appropriately. It should not be used for serving very hot foods or in the microwave.

Plastic

Whereas melamine plates can be a cheap, hassle-free replacement for china, good quality plastic plates can offer a shatter-safe alternative for glass plates. Most plastic dinnerware is made of a material called polycarbonate, which can come in scratch-free varieties. Hard plastic can be hard to differentiate from glass, providing an attractive plating option. However, plastic plates may get scratched and/or “foggy” over time, and will therefore likely have to be replace on a semi-regular basis. Hard plastic dinnerware is dishwasher safe, providing an extra convenience over fine china. However, in order to prevent chemicals from seeping into food, it is usually recommended to avoid heating the plastic plates. It is also important to make sure to purchase BPA-free options. BPA is a carcinogenic compound found in some plastic products. Overall, plastic can be compared to melamine as an inexpensive and convenient alternative to glass, ceramic, and china dinnerware.

China

Fine china has a reputation for being a lot fancier than your typical plates. However, it is made from ceramics, similarly to the most common restaurant plates that are used. The difference is in the quality, expense, and fineness of the dishes, with fine china often being breakably and beautifully thin, with intricate detailing. Fine dining restaurants tend to offer their meals on china, and accordingly, the dishes will usually be hand-washed and hand-polished before being deemed fit for service. Restaurants offering such plates should budget in the added costs of purchasing and replacing such dinnerware, since accidents are pretty much guaranteed to happen. A single fine china plate can easily cost a few hundred dollars, making it a main cost when starting up the venue and maintaining it. Yet the expense can be worth it for upscale dining locations, with a noticeable impact on the restaurant ambience. For other, more colloquial venues, ceramic plates with beautiful shapes and in a variety of sizes can provide a basis for aesthetic and contrasting food plating, doing the job at a lower price.

It’s fair to say that melamine can be compared to plastic, but it would be relatively unreasonable to compare those two to fine china. Fine china is in a whole other category altogether, but can be compared and contrasted with ceramic dinnerware in order to make purchasing decisions. The right purchase depends on the target customer group, the type of venue, and the business’s budget.

A Guide to Food Portioners

Food portioners can be used to measure out dishes almost exactly, insuring the profit margin of a dish and providing a tool for aesthetic plating techniques.When pricing menu items and planning dishes, the defining factor is portion size. Whereas some potential customers will look for large portion sizes as the indication of a satisfactory venue, others will be happy with smaller portions, when they are offered a high level of food. Either way, the portions must be consistent. It simply won’t do to serve a small portion one time and a huge portion the next. Loyal customers will only be loyal if they expect the venue to keep up their standards. And on the business side of things, serving portions which are too large can cause the profit margin on the dish to be negligible, making the business less profitable. Food portioners offer a simple, efficient, and affordable solution for portioning most food items. This guide provides a review of some basic options available and outlines their potential uses.

Scales

Scales are the most often used food portioning solution. They are useful for food businesses not only when portioning the dishes, but also for preparing baked goods which require exact quantities of various ingredients, as well as when receiving raw ingredients to ensure the weighing and billing was done appropriately by the supplier. When it comes to portioning pastas, doughs, meats, and fish, scales provide the easiest indication of size. Many burger venues offer patties by the pound, and those portions are weighed out using a kitchen scale to ensure that the customer is getting what they pay for, and that the business is making the expected profit off of the ingredients.

Food Portioning Cups

Food portioning cups are similar to measuring cups, and can be used to add previously decided upon amounts of a certain ingredients to a dish (such as herbs, for example) or to dish out an estimated amount of a component of a dish. For example, guacamole can be a very pricy dip, so instead of piling it on in different amounts based on the chef’s estimate of what the dish should be, scooping a set amount of it with a food portioner can be a smarter option. Food portioners can be useful for side dishes as well. Not only can they measure out adequate amounts of grains to add to a dish, if a grain such as rice is packed in, and the food portioner flipped over directly onto the plate, the grains can hold the shape of the food portioner, producing an aesthetic plating scheme. Food portioning cups can be used for the variety of applications mentioned above, and can also help provide customers with an idea of the nutritional value of their meal, if they ask how many ounces are included. Though food portioning cups can be seen as less critical for commercial kitchens when compared to scales, they offer a multipurpose tool to be used for the cooking process itself, as well as for plating.

Cafeteria Trays

Cafeteria trays are ideal food portioners for school caterers, since they provide a reusable, super-easy option for portioning. When considering using food portioners for cafeteria meals, the factors which are important go beyond caterer profit. With the awareness of obesity and the health problems associated with bad diet habits, eating the correct portion sizes and amounts of different foods has become a focus for schools and parents. Offering portioned cafeteria trays can help enable students to make wise food choices, and help the school caterer provide healthy solutions and good portion sizes while making a profit.
Food portioning tools are valued for their ability to ensure the amount of food being offered, and therefore the nutrition facts of a dish and the profit margin it will have for a food business. They also provide an easy way to measure out ingredients for a recipe. On the other hand, they can also be used to easily and aesthetically serve different dish components. Imagine an ice cream store serving ice cream with a regular spoon…doesn’t sound so attractive, does it? The ice cream scooper not only enables the server to easily serve the ice cream in an attractive way, it also allows the store owner or manager to price the scoop based on their expenses and effort for a given amount of ice cream. Food portioning tools are a must have for every food business, but which ones? Each food business will have to decide which food portioning tools are crucial for them, based on their menu and service strategy. Caterers offering buffets, for example, may be able to forgo food portioning cups in many cases. Food portioning is a basic factor that must be taken into consideration by every venue, even before sales start, in order to estimate profit potential and provide customers with a consistently positive experience.