Hot Food Well Buyers' Guide
Keeping hot food hot is just as important as keeping cold food cold in terms of both food safety and serving guests a meal that lives up to their expectations. A number of considerations should be made when you set out to install a hot food well, whether it's part of new construction or an upgrade to your existing workspace. Answer these six questions to make sure you choose the equipment that will best serve your needs.
- How many compartments do you need? Most food wells have individual compartments that are designed to accommodate one full-size steam table pan each, with 12-inch by 20-inch dimensions. Adaptor bars allow each of those openings to also accommodate several combinations of fractional-sized pans. Estimating how many pans you'll need to hold will help you decide if you need a one-, two-, three-, four-, five-, or six- pan model.
- How is the drop-in food well mounted? Whether your new hot food well is part of a new construction project or you're installing it into an existing fixture like a work station, table, or countertop, you'll need to know the specifics of the material you'll be mounting it to. Wood, laminate, granite, and steel all have different mounting requirements, some of which will involve buying separate hardware kits. Before you place your order, verify that the drop-in you've chosen is compatible with the surface that you're mounting it to.
The way in which the food well is mounted to the counter, regardless of the material it's mounted to, will also play a role in which is the best choice for your venue. Drop-in or top-mount food wells mount to the top surface of your countertop or work table. These models each mount on a flange that some operators see as an eyesore, especially when they're installed for self-service, but generally have the lowest upfront cost and the simplest installation procedure.
The alternative to drop-in food wells are built-in or under-mount ones. This type of equipment mounts underneath the surface it's being installed into. This adds the advantage of a seamless top, which brings improved cleanability and a sleeker look. Built-in food wells typically require a more involved installation process. They come at a higher upfront cost, and you may also find that there's a more limited selection of this type.
- Which control setup works best? You'll want the temperature controls of your drop-in food wells to be situated in a place that's convenient for staff to monitor and adjust. If the equipment will be used for a self-service application, you'll want the controls installed where customers won't bump into them or be tempted to tamper with them. That's why the majority of drop-in food wells ship with control boxes that are mounted separately from the unit itself, with long, flexible conduits connecting the two components that allow a good deal of flexibility in where the control panels can be located, whether that’s flush with the countertop or underneath in a locked cabinet.
- Would you benefit from thermostatic controls? Standard- and economy-model hot food wells are typically built with infinite controls, meaning their temperature knobs range from "Low" to "High." More sophisticated models include thermostatic controls that provide individual settings for specific temperatures. The latter generally come at a higher upfront cost, but the precision control they offer is invaluable to many operators who need to hold certain products at precise temperatures.
- Is autofill a good choice for my application? While the number of models that can be operated wet or dry is growing, the majority of drop-in food wells still must be filled with water to provide a gentle, even heat to the food being held. The process of keeping wells filled with an adequate water supply takes a good deal of labor and provides an opportunity for spills and burns. Autofill models are plumbed to an incoming water supply and automatically regulate their water levels. This feature brings extra upfront and installation costs, but can be worth the investment given the time it saves over the life of the equipment.
- Drains or no drains? Drains offer staff the ability to quickly and easily empty water from your drop-in hot food wells. That benefit makes it easy to remove water at the end of service, and it also makes cleaning the well much simpler. The drawback is that wells with drains require a more involved installation process that may require running new plumbing through your building.