How do Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm

How Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm?

Catering requires a skillset that means you know what you are doing and also very organized. Plus you must know the food regulations and safe temperatures.

See our Top Home Tips For Keeping Food Warm – Some pretty innovative ideas!

However, Caters also have to keep food cold – and we cover the top tips on keep food cool also.

Everyone expects a reliable caterer to be organized and knowledgeable about every single detail in preparing large portions of food.

Creative Ways to Keep Food Warm Without Electricity

However, one of the problems that every caterer faces is how to keep the food warm until serving during a catering event.

Also, maybe you have a large group you want to feed, or a family reunion – then keep food warm and safe is something you should know.

See Our Hot Dog For A Large Crowd Warmer Suggestions Here

In this article, we will give you the top suggestions on how to do it just like a professional.

How do Caterers keep food warm?

There are several choices available to a catering business and different pieces of equipment that you can use in keeping the food warm during a hors d’oeuvre or any catering service, including:

Chafing Dish
Chafing Dish

Chafing dishes

The French word, chauffer, is where the chafing dishes come from. These are the classic silver dishes that you see when you are in a catering event. Professional caterers regularly use this since it is considered a foundation of any food presentation. Chafing dishes are also essential in restaurants that specialize in buffets that serve hot dishes. You also

These multi-layered equipment include several parts that give an important role in keeping the food warm such as

Chafing pan lid

This is used to maintain heat and preserve the food at a constant temperature while retaining the food moist and prevent saturation. There are different types of lids that every caterer uses like the roll-top, lift-off, hinged, and glass-top lids.

Food pan

This is used to place the food in the upper part of the chafing dish to make it warm enough. The food pan comes in different sizes to fit your serving requirements in a large event. Remember that food is not supposed to be cook in a food pan, its only function is to keep the dish warm.

Water pan

The water pan, obviously, contains the water to be heated by steaming and allowing the food to be warm. This is deeper than the food pan and should only be filled about one inch full during the heating process.


This part hold and connects the individual parts of a chafing dish into one piece of equipment. The stand or frame primarily holds the water pan and stands for the fuel.

Chafing Fuel

You can use either Gel Fuel or a wick fuel – either can give you 2,4 or 6 hour burn times.

Chafing dishes work by heating a water pan underneath the dish using a chafer fuel or an electric source, which will keep the food items warm for two to six hours. Know that chafers are not supposed to be used to cook food, rather, food is cooked elsewhere then transferred into the chafing dishes to maintain its safe and hot food temperature. These are large, safe, versatile, and easy to set up wherever the party may be.

There is recently new professional catering equipment like induction chafers also. Some very large organizations use a steam table as well as an electric chafing dish.

Thermal insulated bags
Thermal insulated bags

Thermal insulated bags

Thermal insulated bags are great for both short travels and in-house parties. These bags are usually used in delivering foods since it is easier to carry and does a great job in insulating the dishes while being transported.

These kinds of food warmers typically measure about 22″x 13″x 16″ with nylon exteriors and reflective aluminum interiors. The whole interior is intended to trap the heat from the food while in the bag. Small catering and food delivery services that are serving a handful of dishes usually opt to use this kind of stuff.

However, large food catering services opt to use hot boxes instead because the thermal insulated bags do not have any other heat source other than the heat that comes from the food. In other words, it is meant to preserve the heat and not to create heat itself.

These bags are perfect for food that cannot be overcooked or could easily become too hot if put in another piece of equipment.

hot box
Hot box


Hot boxes are another way to insulate your food. It is a big, plastic suitcase with clamps that help transport food safely and warmly. Most of the time, hot boxes are stackable on the inside and come with wheels for easy transport of large quantities of food.

It works by keeping your food warm for up to 8 hours and is ideal for catering in confined spaces such as small weddings, yachts parties, or caravans because it reduces the amount of cooking gas needed by up to 50%. Also, the more dense the food is, the longer it will stay warm inside. However, hot boxes are not best for all foods like soup. It is only perfect for individually plated food like warm cookies, pizza, cupcakes, and other flat dishes.

Hot boxes work by placing a hot water pan in the bottom rack before using. Then allow it to sit for 25 to 30 minutes to add some humidity into the box. After that, you can remove the water pan and replace it with warmers and place the food inside quickly. Make sure that the box door is properly closed or sealed.

Portable Burner
Portable Burner

Portable burners

Portable burners or portable stoves are usually propane-based and may vary in size. These food warmers can be used depending on serving requirements during the catering and the needed heat control for food. Professional caterers use these portable burners when they need immediate control over the temperature of a specific dish when holding catering services.

These are usually used during the smaller type of event since food burners require more attention because of the higher risk of creating fire. However, portable burners are helpful for onsite cooking, especially with perishable food, especially for a single type of dish or pot-sized food items that needed to be served warm.

Portable burners work by burning propane or butane as fuel that comes in a small, easy-to-pack cylinder. This should be used when attaching to the stove and allowing it to have an ignition that allows you to light the fuel at the burner. Unlike other food warmers, caterers can manually control the heat from the burner and preventing the food from getting burned or overcooked.

Heat Lamp
Heat Lamp

Heat Lamp

Heat lamps are surely familiar to you since it is commonly found in restaurants. It is not just there to give additional lighting but to warm the dishes and keep it fresh. As common as may seem, professional food caterers only use this equipment if it is already provided at the event’s venue. Hence, they would prefer to use another since heat lamps are not as portable as the other ones.

Moreover, heat lamps are best for carving meats and keeping them fresh. It works by generating heat through a thin filament within the light bulb that gets extremely hot when a current is being run through it. It also makes the food presentation more appealing by giving a warm, enticing look through its orange-yellow light from the bulbs.

However, heat lamps are slowly losing their grip in the food industry since it an outdated way of keeping the food warm. This piece of equipment consumes more energy at around 250 watts to generate power. The bulb pins into a ceramic base instead of a plastic one so that the lamp does not melt from the heat and would work as a reflector, focusing on the food that is supposed to be heated. So, if you are looking for power-saving equipment, make sure to have incandescent lamps during your catering.

Hot carts

Hot carts are something rare in the catering industry since it is not big enough to cater a large number of food items. Usually, it is used as a movable method of keeping the food hot at a special event like a wedding or a corporate event.

This catering equipment is much like a hot box or chafing dishes because it keeps the food warm by using water dishes. More often, larger hot carts if heated by propane gas flames depending on the type of food to be served.

Hot dog stands or other street vendor types of catering services regularly use hot carts because it is best to use them in individually plated food.

Crockpots or Slow cooker

Crockpots or electric mini slow cookers are another rarely used in catering services, however, they can be wisely used in heating the food. These are recommended for keeping warm food like side dishes or dips at a safe temperature. They are also perfect for a taco bar or catered event where you want to heat multiple sides or dishes all at once but in a minimal amount. Also, if the catering venue has limited space, these pieces of equipment are good to use as they do not take up a lot of space.

Additionally, crockpots need an electric source since it uses electricity to work, which is kind of similar to electric-based chafing dishes. The only reason that professional caterers use crockpots is that they are best for serving several kinds of sauces for a large group since a chaffing dish might be too much for sauces and dips.

But when it comes to versatility, crockpots and chaffing dishes come together since they are both great in keeping the food hot and comes with deep pots.

How do Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm
How do Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm

What is the temperature to keep food warm?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hot foods should be kept at an internal temperature of 140 °F or warmer. To keep it warm, serve the food with either of the food warmer equipment written above and use a thermometer in measuring the temperature.

We highly recommend a quick-read thermometer to help your catering service serve the best quality meal or dishes and prevent wasting the food by dropping it too close to the risky temperature level.

How to keep food warm without electricity?

Insulated food bags or portable burners are the answers to your questions. Insulated bags work by keeping the original warm temperature of the food by blocking its heat using reflective aluminum interiors and nylon exteriors. Aluminum foil will also help keep a food item warm for a short time.