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Tips You Need To Know for Equipping School & Hospital Cafeterias

By Sean McGill - Last updated on 08/15/2017

Launching a cafeteria can be a tremendous undertaking.  Whether it is in a high school, a hospital, or another location, there will be a lot of similarities regardless of where the cafeteria is being opened.  Let’s take a look at some of the cafeteria essentials first and some of the location specific necessities that will be required in certain environments.

Kitchen Equipment

There are many pieces to examine when looking at B.O.H. equipment for a cafeteria.  For obvious reasons, it is important to know what guests will be served when picking out equipment.  We have a number of Buyer’s Guides for selecting the right piece of restaurant equipment, here are a few of the most common items found in any given cafeteria kitchen.

  • Convection Ovens– Cafeterias produce large volumes of food, and time is a major concern as there is a pressing need for the oven for other food.  Convections, usually double stacked convections, are the best solution as they cook the largest quantities of food the fastest.
  • Broiler - Charbroilers are one of the premier ways to cook hamburgers and other grilled meats, however since food will have to be able hold temperature for extended periods, cafeterias often utilize other varieties of broilers should one be necessary.  Salamanders are common in cafeterias as they are ideal for searing product such as roast beef which will be served at a carving station.
  • Range - A range is a must, not only because it is a great way to have another accessible ovens in the kitchen (as oven space is quite important in high volume operations), but also because of the numerous items which require the use of a hot plate (sauces, sides, etc.).
  • Steam Kettle – A steam kettle is important in cafeterias.  It allows large volumes of food that needs to be submerged to be cooked (such as pasta or potatoes), and it can also be used to cook large amounts of items such as soup / stock or gravy.  In some instances (depending on volume needs), a stock pot range can be a suitable replacement.
  • Mixer - A mixer (traditionally a floor model with a hub) is going to be necessary in any large scale food operation.  Mixers have various uses that can be helpful in a cafeteria, aside from the obvious.  Mixers with hubs can also be used as meat grinders, cheese graters, or to expedite prep work, as when slicing lettuce for instance.
  • Fryers - Fryers also have their place cafeterias.  Though they may not be used as extensively as they would be on let’s say a bar menu, they are still used to cook French fries, or chicken for sandwiches, to name a couple.
  • Commercial Hoods & Ventilation - Like any kitchen, there must be adequate ventilation, and where required, make-up air and fire suppression systems as well.
  • Prep Equipment / Kitchen Tools & Essentials - All sorts of kitchen tools will be required when opening a cafeteria. Items such as cutlery, a food processor, a microwave, work tables, non-slip floor matting, and small utensils including spatulas and peelers will be necessary.  In addition to many of the standard kitchen utensils needed, there are a number of pieces of equipment that can help cut down the intensive labor required in prepping large volumes of food.  Lettuce spinners, food choppers, manual slicers, and even multi-use cooking equipment such as a tilting skillet can dramatically reduce prep time.
  • Refrigeration & Storage – As with any food operation, there must be adequate shelving / storage for dry goods, as well as kitchen tools and equipment.  Utensil racks, pot hooks, and knife racks need their place, as well as storage containers, hotel / sheet pans, and any other items that would otherwise need to be stored to reduce kitchen clutter.  For this purpose, wire shelving, dunnage racks, and speed racks will be necessary.  In addition to dry storage, and perhaps even more important, is refrigerated storage.  A walk-in cooler is absolutely necessary in high volume cafeterias, and there may be an additional need for freezers or reach-in coolers should the walk-in not be easily accessible from the cooking area.

Dishes & Dish Area Equipment

The dishwashing area of a cafeteria is similar to the dishwashing areas of most standard restaurants, however there are a few differences that need to be taken into account before purchasing equipment.

  • Conveyor Dishwasher & Dishtable – Traditionally cafeterias go through incredibly large amounts of dishes, not only because of the high volumes of customers, but also because of the large amount of dirty utensils, cookware, etc. that goes along with cooking large quantities of food.  It is relatively standard that cafeterias feature an extra large dishtable and a conveyor dish machine for this reason.  It is also common that cafeterias invest in a pot washer, as most large cookware is not supposed to be run through a dishwasher, or a hot water booster to ensure the sterility of each wash cycle.
  • Dish Sink / Mop Sink– A functional dish sink (usually with a pre-rinse faucet) is a requirement, not only to adhere to any and all health regulations, but also to do any pre-rinsing that may be necessary before dishes go into the dish machine.  They need to be built into the dishtable to create a seamless flow from dirty to clean dishes, and be set up so there is no contact between the dirty and the clean.  Additionally, there must be a separate mop sink located somewhere where mop water will not come into contact with the dish area (lest it contaminate the dish area or some dishes).
  • Disposer - Often times cafeterias will invest in a commercial waste disposer, as they often are disposing of excessive amounts of food waste.  This reduces trash removal costs, and can also speed up the dishwashing process.
  • Trays & Tableware – Different cafeterias will have different tableware and trays.  School cafeterias tend to serve right off segmented trays (which means they must be sterilized by the dish machine), and tend to use disposable silverware as schoolchildren tend to be ambivalent to throwing away utensils.  Hospitals tend to use silverware, and either serve on ceramic or paper plates which are placed on trays either by customers or when transported to a patients room.  It is cheaper in the long run to invest in tableware and flatware, however should you be dealing with consumers that may disregard the costly utensils (like schoolchildren) or folks who shouldn’t necessarily have metal flatware (like a cafeteria in a correctional facility) then disposable is probably the way to go.  The same can be said for glasses; more often then not cafeterias will provide paper or plastic cups, though the plastic cups don’t necessarily have to be disposable.  Plastic cups can be washed and sterilized just as glass can, however they are significantly more durable.
  • Dish Room Essentials – There are a number of items that need to be purchased to ensure the seamless operation of your dish area.  Dish racks (including some specific for silverware / utensils), floor mats, garbage cans (for the entire cafeteria), as well as accessories like squeegees, wet floor signs, mops and mop buckets should all be on the list of items to purchase for the dish area.  A dish rack dolly may be a good investment to transport racks of cups, plates, or trays to the service line.

Serving & Dining

Though cafeterias are somewhat self sufficient when it comes to customers, there are many components that come together on a cafeteria service line to make them functional.

  • Buffet Lines / Salad Bars – Most cafeterias will have at least one station that has hot or cold storage for hotel pans.  Hot buffets and salad bars give cafeteria managers a way to display sides, salads, or entrees so that they can be portioned out at the time they are being purchased.  Some have two sneeze guards that allow customers to line both sides to take what they wish, and others are accessible on only one side and have a clear sneeze guard on the other so an employee can serve directly from the hot or cold wells.  Many of these buffet lines or salad bars can also come with a tray slide (so trays can move along their length) or plate dispensers.
  • Heated / Refrigerated Food Merchandisers – There is a need for a variety of heated or refrigerated food merchandisers on a cafeteria service line.  A slanted display merchandiser will be necessary if sandwiches are being displayed, a glass door merchandiser should be used to merchandise items such as pizza or soft pretzels, and cold deserts or pre-made salads should kept in either a glass door merchandising cooler, an open-air cooler, or a refrigerated deli case.  Additional cooler space may also be reserved for bottled beverages.  School or hospital cafeterias may also invest in milk coolers so customers can take cartons of milk at their leisure.
  • Beverage  / Ice Dispensing – Beverage and ice dispensing is critical in a self-serve environment like a cafeteria.  Cold beverages either need to be offered in refrigerated display merchandisers, on a cold fountain with an available ice dispenser (which will require an ice machine, to supply it with ice), or both.  In addition to this, refrigerated bowl dispensers or cold brewers may be required for iced tea or lemonade.  Coffee equipment is usually standard as well (hot water dispensers, coffee dispernsers / airpots, or even hot chocolate or cappuccino dispensers) will come in handy.
  • Condiment Stations / Paper Goods Storage­ – Condiment stations and dispensers for paper products are a must for a cafeteria.  As people move through the line, there are a number of different condiments that may be needed for their food.  For instance ketchup and mustard, hot sauce, butter, jam, or even coffee supplies like sugar and creamer will have to be easily accessible and organized along the service line in proper dispensers.  Paper products should also be stored in accessible places for customers.  Straws, napkins, or even paper cups for beverages should be stored in a place that is accessible to customers and easily refillable. 
  • Tray / Dish Storage – Clean service trays, dishes, glasses, and silverware will all need to be stored along the service line.  Since a cafeterias are self-serve (at least to some extent), tableware must be displayed in a place on the service line so customers can take them willingly, and as to not jeopardize their sterility. 
  • Seating / Dining Area – There must still be an area for diners to eat, despite a cafeteria’s lack of a service staff.  Additionally, there must be places to store dirty trays and any other plates, silverware, etc. that may accrue after customers eat, since there will not be bus boys taking old dishes and wiping down tables.  Check out our Buyer’s Guide on how to configure a dining area for more tips on setting up your dining area.
  • Service Area Accessories – There are a number of various accessories needed for a service line to properly function.  Serving utensils for steam wells, refuse bins on the service line (for empty condiment packets, paper waste, etc.), bottles for dressings (and ramekins), lids for hotel pans, ice scoops and transport bins, and other various smallwares will be necessary for customers (or employees) to load plates and keep food fresh and serviceable. 
  • Ice Cream Station / Sundae Bar – Some cafeterias offer ice cream and other frozen desserts for customers.  Often times just an ice cream chest or merchandiser freezer will suffice, however some cafeterias have begun offering self-serve ice cream bars. 

Related Categories: Catering & Buffet Equipment

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