Chafing Dishes Guide

Banquet, buffet and catered events all rely on chafers to present food to the adoring and consuming crowd. Chafing dishes can tell a lot about your business and there are several things to consider when choosing one. Let’s take a look at the shape, the sizes, the cover types, the heat source and the finishes to help you decide what kind of impression you want to give your customers.

Chafing Dish Shapes

Generally, hot foods are served from Chafers in banquet or buffet settings, so perhaps the first thing a patron of the food line will see is the shape of the chafer. The room, the table set up, and the flow of traffic for the food line are all considerations for the shape of chafer you should consider. Lines that serve from two sides may consider the rectangular chafing dish. Tables that are round and serve without a line may consider a round chafing dish to allow for traffic from any angle. Let’s go over the various shapes of chafers.

Rectangular Chafing Dishes – This is most common of the chafer shapes. This chafer is used primarily for main courses, meat dishes, pasta dishes, etc. Because of the length of the rectangular chafer, often there are two heat source points.

Round Chafing Dishes – Adding a true style quality to the look of your buffet line, the round chafing dish also serves main entrees, sides, sauces and even breads with a level of class. Round chafing dishes most often have one heat source point, but do come with their own challenges other shapes do not.

Oval Chafing Dishes – The presentation of an oval chafing dish is a bit more modern with a distinctive style. Used for main dishes, sides, sauces, and heated desserts, most oval chafing dishes have one main heat source point.

Square Chafing Dishes - This chafer shape is rather uncommon, primarily to the volume of food they hold. The square chafers are often used for more delicate of foods, like warm appetizers, delicate side dishes – or dishes meant for smaller serving sizes. Square chafers usually have one main heat source point.

Soup Chafing Dishes - Often seen on breakfast buffets, a soup chafer is a round, deep chafing dish best suited for hot cereals, soups, and sauces. These chafers are typically tall, so you would want to consider the height of your serving area. There is one heat source point.

Sizes of Chafing Dishes

The next aspect to consider when purchasing the right chafers is size. Most common is the standard size, which for the rectangular shape equates to an 8 to 9 quart capacity, depending on depth. Half-sized chafers, then, are just that. They are about half the size of a rectangular chafing dish and are about 4 to 5 quarts in capacity. Round, oval and soup chafing dishes vary in capacity between 4 to 7 quarts, with the soup chafers usually being the largest of that group.

Cover Types

How your chafing dish opens to get to the food will be another determining factor as to which ones to buy for your table. You will want to think about how you intend to lay your tables out and whether or not you want patron to contend with covers at all. For this, we will look at the different types of chafer covers.

Dome Covers: The most common, the dome cover completely comes off the chafing dish, usually with a handle in the center. For burn safety, either find chafing dish covers with coated handles or if your chafing dish has a metal trim, make sure your serve staff always has hot gloves for use.

Roll Top Covers: Available in several different configurations, the gist of a roll top cover is to provide a retractable cover that allows patrons to open and close the chafing dish instead of needing to leave a food uncovered. Most often seen on round chafing dishes, roll top covers can have the ability to lock one side down.

Hinged Covers: Your rectangular chafing dishes may have attachments that enable the dome cover to become hinged. Some chafing dishes of this sort come with the hinge top already solidly attached. The hinged cover enables a patron to serve themselves and then close the lid on the food again. This sort of option is handy at breakfast buffets and hotel breakfast services.

Glass Covers: Some chafing dishes can handle a glass cover, which enables people to see the food without lifting the lid. This is a viable option for most chafing dish shapes and should be considered for foods that require a certain amount of moisture or heat that could normally escape when covers are lifted to see foods.

Heat Source (fuel)

What makes a chafing dish special and different from other banquet or buffet serving options like steam tables, is the ability to keep food warm on a nice presentation table. But to make that happen, a chafing dish has to be able to effectively keep the hot food hot. This is accomplished in one of three ways, traditional fuels, electric heat, and induction heat. Traditional fuel generally comes in two forms – gel fuel, (also known as Sterno) and wick fuel. Traditional fuels are a great option for catering businesses and buffet locations without a nearby power source. Electric heat source chafing dishes are a good option for banquet or buffet services that are always in the same configuration. For a catering company, the benefit of fuel over electric heat is portability. The last type of heat source is rather new, but is proving a viable option – the induction heat source. Traditional chafing dishes cannot use induction. You will want to seek out induction enabled chafing dishes.

Chafing Dish Finishes

The last aspect to consider is all about presentation. Chafer finishes define how good your table will look. This aspect should be discussed and decided upon with your dining room or buffet/banquet manager. For catering or buffet services that offer different types or kinds of event meal services, it is beneficial to have several sets of chafing dishes with different finishes.

Matte Finish: Just as it sounds, this is the most common finish and not very pretty. But the matte chafing dish is very functional and easy to keep in shape after cleaning. It has a dull surface and looks very basic. These chafing dishes are good for outdoor events like picnics or barbeques. It is the all-around go to for most any function.

Satin Finish: The appearance of a satin finished chafing dish is a bit more upscale that the matte finish. Though not reflectively shiny, the satin finish still feels smooth like the more polished finishes. This style of finish is good for most any application.

Mirror Polish Finish: Perhaps one of the most attractive on a table, the mirror polish finish chafing dish truly makes your food the center of attention. The reflective appearance works positively with the right lighting as well. One drawback to this finish style is spillage, fingerprints and cleaning. This finish style is great for upscale presentations and events.

Hammered Finish: In some cases, chafing dishes will come in a hammered metal finish, most often copper. This finish is popular for special occasions. This finish will look stunning on your table. The drawback with this finish, is simply cleaning.

Trims - You will find most chafing dish finishes will come with different trims. These trims give the finishes and chafing dishes that extra bling. Finish trims are available in chrome, gold and brass, all polished.


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