Warming Equipment for a Buffet Setup

If you're setting up a buffet, you'll have a number of options with regard to warming the food.

By Kinnek Knowledge Team  |  June 09, 2018

If you are setting up a buffet — whether an off-site, catering setup, or an on-site, regular setup in your restaurant — then one of your primary considerations will likely be how to keep the buffet food at the proper temperature for customer consumption.  Food warming may seem straightforward at first glance, but there’s actually quite a bit of variation in terms of how each piece of equipment contributes to your particular setup.  Effective buffet setups take into account a range of factors, including but not limited to aesthetics, warming capability, portability, versatility, and more.

In the buffet context, there are generally three warming options that are widely used in today’s food service industry: chafers, warming trays, and portable lamp heaters.  Each offers a number of unique advantages and disadvantages.  Let’s take a closer look at these various warming solutions, in turn.


Chafers (otherwise known as chafing dishes or chafer warmers) are essentially buffet serving pans that come with their own heat source — below the enclosed serving pan, where the food is stored, there is a heating apparatus which provides the requisite heat source to warm the food for a period of hours, depending on the design of the chafer.  Generally speaking, the source is fueled with gas or in some cases a specialty heating gel.

Chafers come in various sizes and shapes.  Some vendors even customize the chafer to include branding, such as logo imprinting.  Speak with your vendor about these options, if you’re interested, but bear in mind that they will likely come at an additional cost.

Offerings can differ quite substantially from one another.  In some cases, chafers have plastic, see-through lids so that customers can look at the buffet item without having to open the chafer (thus letting out heat).  This is a good option for those who are interested in keeping their buffet food items as close to their intended texture as possible.

Warming Trays

Warming trays are essentially flat, heated surfaces that are shaped like trays and can be moved easily between locations.  Warming trays are commonly used by pizzerias as “pizza warmers,” but they have other uses as well.

Warming trays are much more versatile than chafers, in that you can put bowls and plates on the warming tray — the intended items (for warming) do not have to be moved into the serving pan, as with chafers.  Modern warming trays can also be easily adjusted and set to a particular temperature, making it more automatic to control and maintain temperature (than a chafer).

Warming trays are generally superior to chafers, in terms of versatility and functionality, but they are more expensive, and not always necessary — in most cases, a chafer will do the job just fine, and a warming tray or two can be purchased for the occasional food item that is not suitable for a chafer.

Portable Lamp Heaters

Portable lamp heaters are a great option for “filling in the gaps,” so to speak.  If your buffet changes with any regularity, then you may find yourself with food items that are not suitable for chafers (or even warming trays).  Portable lamp heaters can provide a warming source for nearly any food item, and can be brought out only when necessary.

It’s worth noting, however, that portable lamp heaters — as they provide direct overhead warming — can dry out the food at-issue.  As such, if you’d like to ensure adequate food quality, you’ll want to check in on the food to make sure that it is being replaced before it becomes too dry.

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