Food Bars and Accessories Buyers' Guide

Food Bar and Buffet Equipment

To ensure products remain appetizing to customers and safe to consume, food bars are designed to keep hot food heated and cold food chilled to serving temperatures outside of the danger zone where dangerous bacteria can grow. Those simple concepts can be implemented in a variety of ways in restaurants and other foodservice operations. This guide will help you decide which food bar options will benefit your concept and layout.

Choosing a Food Bar

Hot bars, cold bars, and combination hot-and-cold bars will allow you to easily serve main dishes and sides, from hearty pastas and meats to more delicate salads and fruits. For the ultimate layout flexibility, food bars can be configured as buffet equipment to let patrons serve themselves, set up in a serving line for cafeteria-style dining, or used to display grab-and-go items like bottled drinks and packaged snacks. Food bars are available as freestanding units, countertop buffet warmers, or drop-in wells, which are all meant to be used with food pans.

Freestanding units, which may be portable carts or tables, can be used to create serving stations without having to commit to a permanent installation. These can be one- or two-sided, so they can be pushed up against a wall or placed in a way that creates two serving lines. Freestanding bars are equipped with casters that make maneuvering them easy. For displaying and serving items that don't require heating or cooling, such as condiments and packaged snacks, utility stations usually provide a flat surface for displaying products and storage accessed via one side of the cabinet, and are also mounted on casters for mobility.

Countertop units and drop-in wells are better options for businesses hoping to transform existing layouts or install a more permanent design with cabinets and countertops. Countertop buffet warmers can be conveniently placed on a countertop and plugged in for operation while drop-in wells require a bit more planning, as they are installed into the countertop via an appropriately sized cutout.

Hot food bars can be operated with either electric or gas, while cold food bars are cooled by a refrigeration system or with ice. Combination food bars are meant to be switched between hot and cold applications, a versatility that allows businesses to serve hot soup in the winter and refreshing salads in the summer without purchasing additional units.

Buffet Accessories

Once you've decided which type of food bar will benefit your foodservice operation, you'll need to complete the setup with buffet accessories. Sneeze guards help protect displayed products from being contaminated by germs and other debris, and might be required by certain health codes. These accessories are usually designed to be clear, providing an unobstructed view of products, with single- or double-sided coverage that may be slanted or straight. Sneeze guards may also include a flat top that acts as a shelf for light storage. These guards can be portable for use with countertop units, or can be permanently installed.

If you'll be using your food bar in a buffet line, you'll want to purchase a unit that includes tray slides and end shelves or remember to purchase them separately. Tray slides allow diners to set their trays or plates down while food is being served. End shelves can be used to hold dinnerware and flatware so they are accessible.

Other food bar accessories are aimed at keeping your bar organized. This includes the food pans and food storage crocks that are used to safely contain food until it is served, as well as insets and spillage or water pans. Because food bars are meant to be customized with various pans and crocks, you may need to invest in adaptor bars and plates or tiles and cut-outs to create a cohesive and secure display.