How keeping food warm with Eleven36 can save you time, money and flavor

Imagine if during the chaos of a kitchen’s peak hours, you could suddenly slow down time and find your favorite dishes at your fingertips, already prepared, with your wait staff and chefs able to take a deep breath and deliver the highest quality experience.

Sound like a dream? It’s achievable!

While the daily battle to serve high quality food in a timely manner is one that keeps people glued to their seats when watching a cooking show, business owners also know it will prompt them to walk out of a restaurant. Fortunately, there are many great tools restaurateurs can rely upon to keep food at delicious temperatures and help staff prepare for peak service hours. 

Each of these tools has its own strengths and purpose in the kitchen — which is why Eleven36 is here to help guide you to what you need for the perfect setup for your kitchen. Getting the correct set of tools right can help you save money in the long run (and even the short run) and make your daily planning much easier.

Why the battle to keep food warm matters

If you can’t serve food at a temperature your customers expect, you will find yourself losing customers. The right temperatures are key to flavor as well as expectation. But the importance of keeping food warm goes far beyond that — it’s also a major safety issue! Hot food that loses temperature can become a haven for bacteria and potential illness quickly.

Having the right food warming equipment can help you prepare for rush hours and make sure you have all the food you need — and it can also prevent food spoilage and wastage caused by warm food going cold.

Understanding food safety temperature requirements

The “Danger Zone” is not just an invention of Kenny Loggins — it is a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses to describe the range of temperatures at which food can become unsafe. So what is the keeping food warm temperature range required?

The “danger zone” describes the temperature range between 40 °F and 140 °F in which bacteria grows rapidly, doubling in as little as 20 minutes. And those bacteria include some really nasty ones, like Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus. These are the bacteria that cause food poisoning and even worse.

The USDA of course has many guidelines for keeping food safe, but the guidelines for avoiding the “danger zone” are the most important here. Hot food should always be at or above 140 °F if not served immediately (which can be accomplished in a number of ways we will get into shortly). Cold food on the other hand should be kept cold, at or below 40 °F. Never leave food out longer than 2 hours, and no longer than 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F.

How do you balance keeping dishes at the right temperature without cooking them further? Read on to learn about the wide range of solutions Eleven36 offers to the puzzle of how to keep food warm.

7 easy appliances to keep food warm

Eleven36 has a full range of valuable, cost-saving tools to keep food warm as necessary.

Heat lamps

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An elegant solution for keeping food warm, heat lamps (also known as bulb warmers) can be seen in restaurants and buffets everywhere, providing a heat source for dishes ready to be served. They keep food warm effectively and even provide it with appealing lighting, and also come in a range of functional designs to adapt to your space and add to the aesthetic environment you wish to create. (You can purchase free-standing lamps, for instance, or clamp lamps, or hanging lamps, and so on). The downside is that they only heat a very small area, so if you need a lot of food kept at an optimal temperature, they will probably not work (or you will need many heat lamps).

Typical use: Pass-through areas from the back of the house to the front; buffets; carving stations; quick-service or full-service restaurants. 

Heating Cabinets

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A great solution for restaurants that need to keep a lot of food warm, heating cabinets (or heated cabinets) can store almost anything until it is ready to be served. You can store large quantities of food in a heating cabinet and also adjust moisture controls so that food retains its flavor. You can even transport heating cabinets from your kitchen to a venue. The downside to a heating cabinet is that it is utilitarian in look and feel and doesn’t necessarily belong in the front of the house.

Typical use: Restaurants, delis, buffets. Any place with a need for practical warm storage.

Steam tables

A familiar sight at buffets and catered events, steam tables hold pans of prepared food, keeping them moist and delicious. There are two main types of steam tables, open well and sealed. An open well steam table can hold moist or dry heat, but requires a spillage pan. In a sealed well steam table, you can add water directly, so you don’t need a spillage pan — but it can’t be used for dry heat. So if you are serving french fries, for instance, you would want an open well steam table. But if you are serving veggies, pasta, and other non-crispy food, you can get away with using a sealed well steam table and not dealing with the spillage pan. No matter what type of steam table you use, they are all attractive options that do a great job of holding dense foods at temperature in a customer-friendly way.

Typical use: Hotels, cafeterias, barbecue joints, buffets, breakfast bars, catered events.

Tabletop warmers

A friend to the caterer, a tabletop warmer is like a small heating cabinet that can be easily moved around. They have simple dial controls that make them easy to use, and preheat quickly, cutting down on prep times. They also can be appealing to display. But they lack the space of a larger heating cabinet.

Typical use: Catering for events, parties. Hotels.

Round warmer

An appealing option for displaying liquids, like soups, gravies and fudge (or fondue!) a round warmer keeps your dish hot for a long period of time without burning. They can also be used for chilis and veggies. They are easy to clean and maintain and look great in delis, grocery stores and buffets. They are also easy to use, with automatic temperature controls to prevent burning. Different options, from countertop to drop-in, are available to fit your establishment’s needs. These are an essential for any foodservice establishment that wants to effectively create and serve soups.

Typical use: Any place that serves soup, gravy or other liquid, from restaurants to delis to cafeterias and more.

Drawer warmer

Convenient and commonly used for dinner rolls, baked potatoes and tortillas (although they can store meats and veggies, too!), drawer warmers have precise moisture controls. A drawer warmer usually has several drawers so you can store multiple different foods safely during peak serving times. Drawer warmers can be free-standing or built in units. They are very useful for keeping food warm temperature-wise but not as large as heating cabinets.

Typical use: Restaurants, cafes, delis, etc — any food establishment.


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Yes, your very own oven can also be used to keep foods at serving temperature! A warming drawer in your oven will keep food from 170 °F to 200 °F. This is certainly a cost-effective approach to keeping food warm and works in a pinch — but for peak serving times, you will likely need more warming capacity.

Typical use: In a pinch, for small establishments

How to be smart about keeping food warm

Flavor and safety are fundamental to the well-being of your customer and your business. So selecting the right combination of heating solutions and investing wisely can spare you many headaches in the future. 

For instance, a cook and hold cabinet, which allows you to cook dishes and keep them warm all in one place, may be ideal for a busy restaurant serving up favorite slow-cooked staples. Or a transport cabinet can make sure as you move food from your kitchen to an event that it stays at the right temperature the entire time, without being dependent on electricity. A huge deal for safety and flavor!

With any kind of heat-holding technology discussed here, a real difference-maker is quality design. Ideally, the food you are serving tastes like it just had its finishing touches put on, even if it has been waiting to be served. Keeping food exactly as warm and also as moist as you strive for it to be often comes down to quality construction. Don’t lose customers by investing in the wrong equipment that doesn’t do its job well — our experts at Eleven36 will help you understand what will really work for your needs.

You can serve delicious food at all hours, even peak times, without a drop in quality! Call on us for solutions for keeping food warm, delicious and tasty — just as in your restaurant, at Eleven36, safety and flavor are always top of mind.