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Counters and Services: what to look for

It’s a catering truism that customers “eat with their eyes”. The right choice of food display serveries and cabinets is of crucial importance, especially in impulse-driven “grazing” applications. Hence the growing choice of cabinets and servery modules featuring large expanses of glass – often laminated curved sheets for maximum panoramic impact – in conjunction with in-vogue stained wood, granite and stylishly wrought metal fitments.

However, while such serveries do a good job in making food visible and attractive, they must also meet the fundamental requirement of holding food safely at the correct temperature and humidity. Thus while a great deal of counter equipment supplied to caterers has bespoke features, the trend has been to build on modular lines, with the “guts” of the equipment – ie the heated or refrigerated holding sections – using standard components within a well-tested frame.

Cladding, top surfaces and jointing between modules is then customised where necessary so that the finished installation fits the space and serving requirements while meeting menu and the site decor and colour scheme.

The ergonomic design of cabinets also warrants plenty of attention from prospective purchasers, both from a customer viewpoint (lines of sight, tray slide heights, location of plate lowerators, etc) and in terms of daily staff practice.

How easy is it to clean the cabinet inside every day (some front panels are on hydraulic struts)and how easy it it for staff to reach in through the rear doors and serve over the top of the cabinet? Adequate drainage is also essential on chilled cabinets to enable condensate water to be drained off without flooding. Another consideration is automatic defrosting, especially if cabinets have to operate continuously for long periods. Grease and moisture collection must be allowed for on hot counters.

Bains marie units

These pan-holding “baths” for hot food display keep a wide range of food at correct serving temperature without drying-out. They can be purchased as table-top units, built into servery modules or mounted on top of hot cupboards. There are two basic options – wet well or dry heat – choice of which is very much application-related. Wet well is generally considered to have the edge in maintaining a steady temperature but needs regular topping-up; a drain tap is also important.

Bains marie units are effective in maintaining food temperature and condition but the hot food is is partly hidden below the counter surface. For this reason, they now have plenty of competition from more flexible and more visually appealing methods, such as coloured stoneware pans and Le Creuset ironware dishes sitting on heated tiles or ceramic plates.

Whatever means are used to hold and display hot food openly, overhead heat lamps – usually on a gantry fixed to the counter – are needed to provide top-up heat. They can also lend an appealing glow to the food.

A variant of the bains marie is provided by the soup kettle, for ladling out soup and stews from a distinctive cauldron style vessel, and portable chafing units in steel or copper. The latter can be adapted to hold cold foods.

With cold food which needs to be held chilled, there are three alternative methods suitable for incorporation in serveries: a drop-in air blown refrigeration tray; a refrigerated metal surface or dole plate (generally considered less efficient);a drop-in ice bed filled from an ice-maker (a depth of 75mm is needed for a 2 hour meal period).

Whether food serveries are heated or chilled, adequate methods of maintaining safe temperatures and being able to keep records for hazard monitoring (HACCP) purposes have become steadily more important. Victor Manufacturing this year introduced an inter-active touchscreen able to detail an entire bespoke servery diagrammatically in terms of temperatures and energy usage.

Carvery units

The carvery counter, comprising overhead heat lamps, carving pads, plate dispensers and space for meat accompaniments, continues to be one of the UK’s most successful marriages of merchandising and service convenience in the way it encourages customers to fetch and carry their main course from a central counter. Units can be fixed or wheeled counters, trolleys with spirit lamp haters(also used for carving at diners’ tables) or, for maximum flexibility, portable carving tops.

Display cases

Countertop display cases offer useful flexibility where food is only sold at certain times of the day or for a specific event. Units take various forms, notably glass-enclosed boxes with forced air cooling (which can have customer access via flaps)or as a series of chilled trays within a portable case, which can be lidded.

For hot foods, pie warming cabinets for front or back counter siting comprise a glazed frame with built-in heating and lighting. Rotating types, popular for pizza, increase the merchandising impact.


Plate lowerators speed counter service throughput and cut breakages by making it easier for customers to help themselves to plates(also bowls and saucers). The plate cylinder can be ambient for salad dishes or heated and have a self-levelling spring mechanism. A similar principle is employed with tray dispensers.



Cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Servery modules

BGL Barret Gray

Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Servery modules


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Blue Seal

Bain maries, Hot display case


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot cupboards, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Coggins Welch

Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Equip Line

Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases


Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Fast Food Systs

Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot display cases, Servery modules

Grundy Catering

Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Bain maries


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

MPD (UK Sales)

Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Malibu Corp

Hot cupboards


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules


Hot cupboards, Bain maries, Hot and cold display cases, Servery modules

Roller Grill


Seal Display l l l l

Servequip l l l l l

Trimco Coolair l l

Victor l l l l l

Zanussi l

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