Whether it’s simply moving lunch to an outdoor location or offering a full off-premises banquet and catering service, there’s money to be made offsite. But preparing and holding food often requires specialized equipment. Before you invest a large sum, it’s a good idea to make a comprehensive list of your requirements and then consider the equipment available to meet those specific needs.
If you’re preparing food in the kitchen and serving it in another location—particularly in a buffet setting—chafers are one of the most economical solutions. They’re available in a variety of sizes, from round to rectangular to oval, and many have adaptable soup tureen inserts to increase their versatility. Look for one with a water channel to allow built-up condensation to roll back from the cover into the water pan. But beware: the ease of self-service with chafers is a double-edged sword. While you can save on labor costs when patrons serve themselves, there’s nothing more frustrating than a pan of food that’s wasted because a chafer lid was left open.
Keeping things warm
When serving larger groups far away from the central prep area, warming carts may be the best solution. They not only transport food, but can expand the holding capacity in your kitchen during rush periods. Castered wheels make carts easy to move, and holding temperatures can be precisely adjusted.
To actually prepare food away from your central kitchen, equipment requirements will depend on the size of the groups you’re serving and the types of food you’re preparing.
Tabletop burners can be as simple as a hot plate with an electric coil element or as sophisticated as a countertop induction range. The more advanced models are now equipped with thermostatic controls and LED readouts to allow for precise heating levels. Their compact size and portability make them useful in tight spaces.
Flattop cookers are a fairly recent development, and are particularly well suited to outdoor presentation cooking. Fueled by gas, they have a cooking surface large enough to prepare a bacon-and-egg breakfast for eight. Some models are set on a wheeled cart to make them easy to move around.
For the ultimate in “outdoor-cooked” flavor, there are portable barbecue grills or smokers on wheels. They represent a major investment in terms of cost and space; some are so large they have to be towed behind a car. But if you’re aiming for authentic barbecue flavor and a bit of showmanship, these are a smart choice.