Your Guide to Foodservice Shelving and Transport Solutions

When you work in the foodservice or hospitality industry, there's a ton of things to keep track of during your day-to-day operations, from newly received freight to dinnerware. Use this guide to find the right tools to organize your business' most essential supplies.

Commercial Carts

A number of foodservice carts are available to help you transport everything from table settings to dessert . Here we'll cover the common categories and provide some tips for choosing the right one.

Utility Carts

The best solution when you need an all-purpose cart for transporting a variety of items throughout your building.

General-purpose utility carts can be applied to a number of tasks, from transporting checked-in freight to carting ingredients around the kitchen. They're generally built with three or four open shelves for organizing and transporting products. Standard-duty restaurant carts are able to transport 300 to 500 total pounds of product.

Both plastic and metal utility carts are common. While metal carts tend to hold up better under heavy loads, plastic carts are typically quieter in transport and are therefore the better choice for use in noise-sensitive settings like dining rooms and healthcare facilities.

Trash Carts

The right solution when you need to collect trash from various work stations and receptacles throughout your building.

Trash carts are essential tools in large facilities that depend on efficient waste pickup routines. These high-volume containers range in capacity from a few hundred pounds to more than a thousand. Trash carts come in a few different formats to make it easier to find one that will match your needs:

  • The most popular type is the tilting trash cart, which rolls on two main wheels and two swiveling casters. These carts tip forward and feature sloping fronts so their contents are easier to dump out.
  • Square utility trucks have high capacities but must be unloaded manually, as they do not tilt. Square trucks are ideal for collecting cardboard.
  • Towable tractor carts can be pulled behind motorized equipment and generally have capacities of a few hundred pounds.
  • Wheelbarrow carts are suitable for toting a bag or two of trash or loose debris.

Dish Carts

The right solution when you need to organize and dispense clean dishes in the back- or front-of-house.

Dish dispensers make it possible to organize and transport hundreds of clean dishes and other dinnerware per load. These dispensers come in a number of styles:

  • Economical "poker chip" caddies are the simplest type of dish dispenser. Dishes are stacked into wells from the bottom up. Unlike enclosed caddies, no mechanism pushes dishes up to the top, so these are not ideal for dispensing wares directly to guests. Instead, they're best for holding dishes after they're cleaned and moving them around large facilities as tables are set.
  • Tube-style plate dispensers are appropriate to set up at buffets and similar service lines. A mechanism in each compartment pushes plates towards the top so they can be easily retrieved. These make it easy to load dishes right after their cleaned and will them out to the serving area.
  • Food served on heated plates stays hotter longer than food served on room-temperature plates, so choose a heated dish cart to provide the best dining experience for your customers.

Portable Bars

The best solution when you want to set up a temporary bar outdoors or in an event space without a permanent bar.

Serve guests their favorite cocktails virtually anywhere with a portable bar. The simplest versions of these bars include service rails, ice bins, and compartments to organize glasses and drinks. Complex portable bars include plumbed sinks and speed rails that equip bartenders to serve dozens of patrons an hour.

Lightweight, economical bars are made of durable polyethylene plastic and come in a number of subtle solid colors. Deluxe portable plastic bars include décor packages that help the unit fit into upscale venues better. Stainless steel bars offer durable alternatives to plastic bars.

Meal Delivery Carts

The right solution when you need to deliver dozens of meals to guest and patient rooms in healthcare and institutional facilities.

Deliver fresh, hot meals to hotel guests or hospital patients with a meal delivery cart. These insulated transports keep meals hot and ready to eat as they are moved throughout your facility.

Hospital meal delivery carts are often designed to work with particular induction or pellet dinnerware systems. If your institution relies on such a system, make sure to purchase carts that are compatible with it. Hospital meals are generally delivered on 14-inch by 18-inch trays, so these systems are usually designed to accommodate trays with those dimensions.

If it's your job to specify equipment for a jail or a prison, you can choose meal delivery carts that are modified for correctional facilities with locking doors and without hardware that is easily removed.

If you're looking for equipment for serving hotel or bed and breakfast guests, invest in room service carts for taking individual meals to guest rooms.

Cooking Carts

The best solution when you want to set up demonstration cooking stations at events or in your dining room

Mobile cooking carts can be used to set up mobile cooking stations so chefs can give cooking demonstrations at events or prepare made-to-order meals at omelet stations in your dining room.

These mobile electric ranges are designed to be mobile and setup in a number of places. However, you must be sure that you'll be able to use the cart for your intended purposes. Some models may be connected to a standard 120-volt circuit, but many require a 220-volt power supply. If you're interested in the latter, make sure you'll have the proper power supply to accommodate the equipment where you want to use it. Also, some cooking carts include built-in air filtration systems, so they won't need to be used under a hood. Check local building codes to see what type of ventilation you'll need to use your mobile cart for your intended purpose.

Food Carts

The right solution when you want to sell a limited menu of items at a concession stand, festival, or throughout a large facility.

If you run a concession stand or a mobile kiosk, you'll want a food cart that will equip you for taking your products to guests wherever they are. These carts come in a diverse range of styles and sizes. Here are some common features you may want to look for as you search for a food cart that will meet your needs:

  • An umbrella to keep the sun off of staff and guests
  • A service rail over which staff can serve guests their food and drinks
  • Cutting boards to provide sanitary and convenient prep surfaces
  • Menu boards for displaying the products you have available
  • Cash boxes for securing and organizing the money you collect
  • Countertop wells for holding and organizing pans of food
  • Insulated compartments for holding hot or cold food at serving temperature for an extended period

Bus Carts

The best solution when you need to equip your bus crew with a solution for hauling soiled wares from the dining room to the dish room.

Equip staff to clear tables efficiently with bus carts. These are similar to utility carts, which are sometimes used as clear tables, but a true bus cart is covered on two or three sides to contain and conceal dirty dishes. Bus cart shelves are generally designed to hold standard-sized bus bins, which measure 20 inches by 15 inches.

Another common type of bus cart is equipped with bin slides instead of shelves to accept standard bus bins. Some restaurant carts include receptacle hangers that let you mount flatware receptacles to the cart so staff can better sort wares as they bus tables.

Janitor and Cleaning Carts

The right solution when you need to equip your cleaning crew to make their rounds through your facility.

Janitor and cleaning carts enable your maintenance workers to transport the tools they need around your facility so they can perform their cleaning routines efficiently. Janitor carts are equipped with trash bag holders that accommodate trash bag liners. Tool grips organize cleaning implements like dust pans, dust mops, and brooms. Mop bucket platforms provide a secure transportation solution for carrying mop buckets.

Most janitorial carts include shelves for organizing cleaning chemicals and supplies. Premium janitor carts enclose those shelves in cabinets, and many models provide locks on those cabinets. If you're outfitting an upscale establishment, consider investing in a cart with a black finish or wood-grain accents to lend a classier aesthetic to your janitorial equipment.

Housekeeping Carts

The right solution when you need to equip a housekeeping crew to haul supplies from room to room.

Housekeeping carts are similar to janitor carts, but are designed to be used by housekeeping staff in the hospitality industry. These carts include compartments to hold consumables like toiletries, as well as towels and linens to equip housekeeping crews to service guest rooms. Often, those compartments are concealed and lockable to prevent theft when the cart is unattended. In addition to those compartments, a standard housekeeping cart includes a hamper each for trash and dirty laundry.

If members of your staff need to tote vacuum cleaners with them as they make their daily rounds, choose housekeeping carts with built-in vacuum cleaner holders. Similarly, tool organizers allow members of your crew to take brooms, brushes, and dustpans with them on their rounds. Most standard housekeeping carts measure 60 inches in length, but compact models are smaller at 49 inches.

Other Restaurant Carts to Consider

A number of other commercial carts are available for streamlining miscellaneous tasks.

  • Serve guests dessert and hors d'oeuvres tableside with service carts.
  • Queen Mary carts make quick work of rolling out and collecting table settings in banquet halls and similar large venues.
  • Use portable sinks to set up handwashing stations in areas without permanent sinks.
  • Laundry carts equip housekeeping crews to collect bedding and towels for an efficient laundry routine.
  • Hotel luggage carts give bellhops and hotel guests a convenient way to carry luggage to and from rooms.
  • Computer carts and media carts are great for securely transporting computers and television equipment.

Commercial Shelving

A typical foodservice program has tons of supplies and tools to keep track of. Whether those items are well-organized can make all the difference in the success or failure of your enterprise, because a well-organized business is one that is able to keep costs in check, provide satisfactory service, and make the most efficient use of labor. Commercial shelving is the most important class of equipment for keeping goods and tools efficiently organized.

Wire Shelving

The right solution when you need to hold light- to medium-weight supplies and products in both dry and refrigerated storage.

Wire shelving is one of the most popular solutions for holding and organizing food and supplies in restaurant kitchens and storage rooms. This category includes equipment appropriate for holding dry goods, as well as equipment for holding chilled goods in walk-in coolers and freezers. Wire shelving allows air to circulate around your products to keep them fresh, dry, and to prevent the buildup of condensation. When the shelving is used in a freezer, that airflow helps keep held products consistently chilled.

Wire Shelving Materials

Wire shelving is available in a number of materials, each of which provides its own unique benefits.

  • Epoxy-coated wire shelving is the most popular choice because it strikes a good balance between quality and price. The shelves' epoxy coating protects the steel wire underneath; this type of shelf is a good choice in environments where the equipment will be exposed to acidic products that can pit steel. The downside to this type of shelving is that its epoxy coating can become worn down over time, which can expose the metal underneath to rust. For that reason, it's best not to use epoxy-coated shelving for holding heavy items that will wear down the coating quickly.
  • Stainless steel commercial shelves are often specified for healthcare applications because they're easy to sanitize. They're also rugged and attractive, so they're suitable for many front-of-house applications. Stainless steel is a popular choice for installations in walk-in coolers because its rust-resistant properties help it hold up to the moist environment of a walk-in cooler.
  • Chrome-plated wire restaurant shelves come at the highest price point, but offer superior durability. Chrome's shiny finish makes these shelves attractive, too.

Many wire shelving systems are compatible with polymer mats that fit over shelves to provide a solid surface that's ideal for holding smaller, irregularly-shaped items that would otherwise fall through the gaps in uncovered wire restaurant shelves. Polymer mats create solid surfaces that are easier to wipe clean compared to wire, and many such mats can also be sent through the dishmachine. Louvered mats provide the circulation necessary to keep produce fresh.

Wire commercial shelves can be purchased in full shelving kits, as well as in individual components. You can purchase shelves and posts separately to expand your shelving unit as your business needs change. Wire shelving's modular design makes it easy to customize based on your specific business' needs.

Most shelving units take advantage of a split-sleeve system wherein each shelf is mounted on four plastic sleeves, one on each post. That setup is economical but requires that the entire unit be disassembled when shelves need to be adjusted. Other shelving systems take advantage of a lever system that allows users to adjust each shelf without disassembling the entire shelving unit.

Polymer Shelving

The best solution when you need a sanitary, rust-proof alternative to wire shelving.

Unlike many types of wire shelving, polymer shelving will never rust, making it a good choice for applications that would wear down the coating on wire shelves or expose shelves to a great deal of moisture. Polymer shelves are also usually made with antimicrobial properties that slow the growth of bacteria and mold, so the units are easy to keep clean and sanitary.

Like wire shelving, polymer shelving systems are modular and pieces can be ordered individually or in sets. Also like wire shelves, polymer shelving systems are highly customizable, so systems can be configured to match virtually any setup, from walk-ins to dry storage rooms.

Track Shelving

The right solution when a high volume of goods and supplies must be stored in a limited amount of space.

Track shelving is designed to store high volumes of supplies where there isn't sufficient space to accommodate traditional shelving. Track shelving units are similar in format to standard wire shelving, but they're mounted on tracks that allow them to slide together.

Track shelving is a great solution for holding lighter items and supplies. Operators should avoid storing bulkier items, as those heavy products can impede the movement of the shelves.

Dunnage Racks

The right solution when you need to store bulk items off the floor in dry and refrigerated storage.

Dunnage racks are designed to keep bulky, heavy items off the ground so they're less likely to attract pests and can receive adequate air circulation. Dunnage racks are sized in increments of 12 inches, with 24-, 36-, and 48-inches being the most popular lengths. Aluminum racks are the most popular and the most affordable, but polymer racks offer superior durability and sanitation.

Mobile dunnage racks are equipped with wheels and casters so they and their contents can be wheeled across the kitchen. This type is also a good choice for bringing just-received freight from the dock to wherever it will be stored.

Mounted Shelves

The best solution when you want to keep small quantities of product or supplies handy at work stations.

Mounted shelves can be installed virtually anywhere. They're a good fit over work stations, where they give staff quick access to their most commonly used supplies and tools. These are available as wires shelves, solid shelves, or "T-bar" shelves. Wall-mounted shelves range in depth from 10- to 24-inches-deep, and in several increments to as much as 144-inches-wide.

Ceiling-mounted commercial shelves hang down from the ceiling and provide storage space to work stations, islands, and equipment suites. Table-mounted shelves mount on top of or underneath work table surfaces.

Keg Racks

The best solution when you need to hold and organize heavy beer and wine kegs in walk-in coolers.

Keg racks are specifically built for storing dense, heavy beer kegs that can weight nearly 200 pounds. The two most-common sizes are 72-inches and 93-inches, which are capable of storing eight and 10 kegs respectively. In addition to the keg storage these racks provide, they also allow you to hold lighter items, including cases of bottled and canned drinks, on their top shelves.

Keg racks are almost universally built of aluminum, a lightweight material that keeps costs low and can still support heavy keg loads. Kegs racks are also almost all made with "T-bar" shelves, which are built with a series of slats that support kegs but allow air to circulate across them to keep them consistently cool.

Security Cage

The best solution for securing expensive or sensitive products like alcohol and meats.

Security cages are enclosed wire shelving units with lockable doors. These cages allow you to secure your most valuable items and keep them safe from unauthorized access. Stationary cages can be permanently installed in coolers or dry storage areas. Mobile cages are fitted with casters so they can be transported in and out of the cooler or to your receiving area to collect new freight.

Enclosed security cages conceal your sensitive items, keeping them secure and hidden from view. These containers are best for sensitive supplies and documents. They are not recommended for storing food products, especially not in walk-ins, as they do not provide the ventilation adequate to keep contents fresh.

Like other forms of wire shelving, security cages are available with economical epoxy-coated exteriors and rugged, attractive chrome-plated finishes.

Commercial Pot Rack

The best solution for storing cooks' tools and utensils overhead at prep and cooking stations.

Choose a commercial pot rack equipped with hooks for holding and organizing common cooking implements. Ceiling-mounted units can be installed overhead virtually anywhere and make popular solutions for holding cookware and utensils over kitchen islands, prep tables, and cooking suites. Wall-mounted racks are installed on walls behind prep tables and near cooking suites. Table-mounted racks are fitted to your existing tables and sometimes include shelves for holding additional tools and supplies.

Drying Rack

The best solution when you need to dry freshly-washed wares sanitarily and according to health department standards.

An effective dishwashing routine isn't complete unless you have a reliable way to dry your wares. A drying rack can set your dishwashing crew up to get freshly-washed wares dried quickly and according to health department specifications. Wares must be dried without allowing water to collect and create conditions that could harbor bacteria and mold.

If you're drying large items like trays and sheet pans, choose a drying rack that's equipped with slides that separate and space them so they'll dry thoroughly and quickly. Another common format includes slides designed to accept warewashing racks fresh from the dishwasher, allowing them to be dried efficiently.

Can Racks

The right solution for storing and organizing canned goods and promoting first-in, first-out inventory practice.

Most can racks are designed to hold one or both of the two most common restaurant can sizes: No. 5 and No. 10 cans. Full-size can racks have room for 150 to 300 cans. Half-size can racks will accommodate 100 cans or fewer. Many can racks are equipped with sloped rails that guide cans toward the front of the racks so they're easy to retrieve.

Most can racks can be loaded from the rear in order to promote first-in, first-out inventory. Others are loaded from the front but allow the same type of inventory control by guiding cans down to the next level where staff members retrieve the cans they need.

Commercial Wine Rack

The best solution for holding and organizing wine in a commercial cooler or at ambient air temperatures in a dry storage area.

Full-size wine racks hold from 100 to more than 200 bottles. These racks come in a number of sizes, so you're likely find the ideal solution for whatever volume of wine you need to keep. You'll also find mobile wine cages designed to protect wine while it's left unattended.

Like many of the other shelving solutions we've discussed so far, wine merchandisers come in chrome-plated and epoxy-coated versions. Chrome-plated units are attractive and extremely durable, while epoxy-coated shelves tend to cost less.

Pan Racks

The best solution for holding, transporting, and organizing sheet pans, bun pans, and steam table pans.

The most common pan racks measure about 20 inches wide and 26 inches long, and are thus capable of holding one double-size pan or two full-size pans per rack. Pay attention to the space between each model's slides as you shop for the best sheet pan rack. If you only intend on holding sheet pans, you may choose closely-spaced racks to maximize the number of pans you can hold. If you're holding deep steam table pans, choose a rack with spacings wide enough to accommodate pans of that depth.

Full-size pan racks have capacities for about 20 sheet pans, while half-size units can hold about 10 pans each. You can choose to purchase knocked-down versions that tend to be more affordable and have lower shipping costs, but require assembly, or you can choose preassembled racks that may cost more up front but tend to be more durable in the long run because many components are permanently welded.