Steam tables and steam wells have a place in a tremendous range of varying food service operations. Buffet style restaurants, line kitchens, banquet halls, and even food carts have a need for steam wells, but, clearly, have different needs. The process of shopping for the right steam well of table can be a rather painstaking one, but much of the stress can be alleviated by bearing the following tips in mind:
Size & Well Shape: The number, size, and shapes of the wells needed should be examined thoroughly before shopping. Steam wells come in a number of standard sizes, most of which are intended to accommodate hotel pans (or fractions of hotel pans, such as 4/3 sized). There are, however, a number of circular shaped wells that are intended to hold inserts ranging from 4 to 11 qt. Depending on the needs of your operation, there is a chance that a conglomeration of different shaped and sized wells will be necessary. Before shopping, it is crucial that the variety of different menu items being held at temperature be taken into stock, as well as the varying shapes of inserts that they will be stored in.
Location: The place a steam well will be located in your commercial establishment is an incredibly important factor in shopping. Wells located in different areas will have different accessories, and may need to look differently. For example, steam tables located on a kitchen line don’t have to be as elegant as steam tables located on a FOH buffet. Businesses purchasing steam tables for the FOH should be purchasing steam tables that are more presentable than standard stainless steel wells, or built-in steam wells that can be custom tailored to fit in with furniture and décor. Built-in steam wells are also ideal for BOH lines that don’t necessarily have the room for a freestanding steam table, although countertop warmers can be an adequate replacement should building wells into the line be out of the realm of possibilities.
Mobility: Many food service operations, such as banquet halls, need steam tables that can be moved around a kitchen or, in some cases, into a dining area. Banquet halls often times plate food directly from steam wells, however these operations often have different staging areas for each banquet room. In these instances, it is imperative that steam tables be easy to move from room to room. Additionally, these banquet halls (as well as a number of other foodservice establishments) offer both buffet and plated style banquets, creating the need for portable buffet tables. Luckily, there are a number of various makes and models of mobile FOH buffet tables that are intended to be significantly more elegant than the standard stainless steel wells found in the kitchen.
Fuel Source: Aside from chafing dishes which are fueled by standalone heat sources, there are both gas and electric steam wells on the market. Both gas and electric steam wells have their advantages and disadvantages, however electric steam wells are the standard. They don’t require a standing pilot, and tend to offer extended mobility to the table. A gas powered steam well needs to be connected to a stationary gas line, and though they may not be convenient in some operations, they may be the more efficient option in kitchens that they remain on throughout the day. For more information on when to choose gas and when to choose electric, check out our Gas vs. Electric Buyer’s Guide.
Temperature: There are a number of tables and wells on the market that not only offer heat, but also feature built-in refrigeration. These dual temperature wells can be used to hold food at proper temperatures, regardless of it is hot or cold. Dual temperature wells are available in many of the same sizes and configurations as standard hot and cold wells, including built-in models. It should be noted, however, that built-in dual temperature or refrigerated cold wells are significantly larger than hot wells because they have an attached condenser / compressor.
Accessories: Before purchasing your steam table, be sure to double check any accessories that may come with or be needed for it. Many steam tables, for example, come with under shelves or casters, however this is not standard. Additionally, there other add-ons that can allow business owners to maximize space in the oft crowded BOH or FOH, such as add-on overshelves, or things like drain kits which can be tremendous time savers.