10 Ways Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm for Serving Crowd

One issue that every caterer faces is how to keep the food warm until serving during a catering event.

Also, if you need to feed a large group or a family reunion, you should know how to keep food warm and safe.

Catering necessitates a skill set that includes being both knowledgeable and organized. You must also be familiar with food regulations and safe temperatures.

Everyone expects a dependable caterer to be well-organized and knowledgeable about every aspect of preparing large quantities of food.

In this article, we will discuss 10 Ways Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm in order to serve the crowd.

How do Caterers keep food warm?

It uses insulated heat to keep your food hot for several hours. If you take the proper steps to convert your cooler into a ‘hot box,’ you can safely keep food warm in a cooler for 4-6 hours. You want to heat up the water in a large pot on the stove. After that, pour the water into an empty cooler and set it aside for at least 5 minutes.

It’s worth noting that this will raise the cooler’s internal temperature, which means it won’t need to steal heat from the food to warm up. When you’re ready to begin insulating, drain the water and you’re good to go.

How do you keep food warm in the absence of electricity?

The answers to your questions are insulated food bags or portable burners. Insulated bags keep food at its original temperature by blocking heat with reflective aluminum interiors and nylon exteriors. Aluminum foil can also help keep food warm for a short period of time.

How to Keep Food Warm for 4 Hours

Some appliances are capable of keeping food warm for several hours. Even so, how and for how long you keep food warm depends on the occasion. So, how do you keep your dinner party food warm? Here are a few ideas for keeping your food warm:

  • When serving, use chaffing dishes.
  • While serving, a slow cooker is used.
  • While traveling, use insulated carriers.
  • Making use of a stove to keep food warm
  • When traveling, use insulated grocery bags.

You May Also Know:

How Many Grams is a Cup of Cooked Rice

How Long to Bake a Sweet Potato at 350 Degree

How Long to Bake Meatloaf at 350 Degrees

10 Ways Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm for Serving Crowd

1. The hot box

Consider a large, insulated, plastic suitcase equipped with clamps. Great! You now understand what a hot box is.

Caterers use hot boxes in the same way that DJs use flight boxes. They aid in the safe and, in the case of the caterer, warm transportation of food from one location to another.

Hot boxes are made of hard plastic on the outside and contain tray stacks on the inside.

Although it isn’t ideal for all food types, such as soup, it is ideal for individually plated food, pizza, warm cookies, or other relatively flat dishes.

These boxes are frequently stackable and have wheels for easy transport and maximum volume.

Hot boxes typically keep food warm for 4 hours on average. The higher the density of the food, the longer it will stay warm, and vice versa.

  • To prepare a hot box for use, place a hot water pan in the bottom rack and leave it there for 20-25 minutes. This is supposed to add humidity to the box.
  • After the timer goes off, you remove the water pan and replace it with camwarmers. Then you’d load the food and quickly close the box door.

2. Food carts

Food carts

This method of keeping food warm is relatively uncommon in the catering industry. It’s a portable way of keeping food warm while serving it.

Hot carts are more commonly associated with hotdog stands or other types of street vendors.

Caterers who serve very large groups will occasionally use them instead of pre-plating the plates or laying out the food buffet style.

Water dishes, like a hot box and chafing dishes, keep hot carts warm. The water in larger carts is heated by propane gas flames. Camwarmers can keep it warm in smaller carts.

3. Heat lamps

Heat lamps are also a less common way to keep food warm because they are not typically portable. Caterers may use this method if heat lamps are already provided at the venue where they work.

These lights are ideal for storing large, custom-carved meats.

Heat lamps generate heat by passing a current through a filament within the light assembly, which becomes extremely hot when a current is passed through it.

Although this isn’t the most efficient way for caterers to keep food warm, it does have the added benefit of improving the food’s presentation.

Heat lamp bulbs frequently emit an orange-yellow light, giving the food an appealing, warm, and inviting appearance.

4. Insulated bags

Insulated bags are also used to keep food warm during transportation.

Because they have no other heat source besides the heat from the bag, these bags are typically used for very short transportation trips.

These bags are ideal for foods that could be overcooked or become too hot if cooked in another method.

You may have noticed that food delivery services use insulated bags to deliver your food.

The cookies are fairly warm because they come directly from the warmer. The cookies retain the majority of their temperature and remain warm when transported in an insulated bag.

These bags typically measure 22′′x 13′′x 16′′ and have nylon exteriors and reflective aluminum interiors. The entire interior is intended to trap heat from the food contained within the bag.

Larger catering orders typically avoid using insulated bags in favor of hot boxes.

They are, however, extremely useful for smaller catering businesses that only serve one dish at a catering event.

5. Crockpots

Crockpots are the most uncommon method of keeping food warm for caterers. This method is more commonly used by those who cook for large families at home. Which could be considered a distinct type of catering in and of itself.

Crockpots are a type of electric food warmer. If this method is used, there must be a nearby plug, which limits where the carters can set up.

Caterers, on the other hand, should use crockpots to keep medium amounts of sauce warm.

In terms of versatility, keeping food warm, and depth, these dishes compete with chafing dishes. A caterer would only use a crockpot instead of a chafing dish if the chafing dish was too large for whatever was being used.

For example, if a large group requires several types of sauces, a caterer may use several crockpots rather than a chafing dish because the overall amount of each sauce is smaller.

When considering all of these options, keep in mind that chafing dishes and hot boxes are the most common. Other methods are used for specific purposes or because they are more cost-effective in general.

6. Chafing dishes

Chafing dishes are the traditional silver dishes associated with caterers.

These dishes have several components that work together to keep food warm.

The first piece is a metal stand of some kind that raises the trays off the table. This also allows the food to be removed from the table and the heat source to be placed beneath it.

A metal tray of varying depths stands on top of the metal, with a small amount of water in the bottom of the pan. The water evaporates and evenly distributes steam on the bottom of the second pan.

A second metal tray is stacked inside the first, but not in contact with the water. The constant evaporation of water is what keeps the food warm.

The heat source used to heat the water is known as canned heat. Inside a can, this is typically ethanol or methanol-based reactions.

In two ways, these candles differ from portable burners.

For starters, Sterno candles are usually made from denatured alcohol. The heat source remains constant once lit, and the flame cannot be adjusted. Portable burners use gas and can be made larger or smaller.

Two Sterno candles require very little assembly or setup. A caterer simply removes the lid and lights it to make them operational. Portable burners are typically required to be assembled before use.

Chafing dishes are the most popular item used by caterers to keep food warm. They are frequently large, simple to erect, and relatively safe. They are also the most dependable way to keep food at a consistent temperature for extended periods of time.

Chafing dishes are the most popular and versatile way for caterers to keep their food warm.

These dishes are large and aesthetically pleasing, with excellent heat distribution, making them ideal for caterers.

7. Portable incinerators or burners

Portable burners may be used depending on the size of the catering order and the precision of heat control that a caterer desires.

These burners are typically propane-powered and come in a variety of sizes.

When caterers need more immediate control over the temperature of a specific dish, they use portable burners.

Portable burners are more commonly used with smaller catering groups because they require more attention and pose a greater fire risk.

However, they are extremely useful for onsite cooking, allowing for the freshest food possible. This is another important reason why some caterers use portable burners.

Portable burners are more commonly used with smaller catering groups because they require more attention and pose a greater fire risk.

Because portable burners are usually single-dish or pot-sized, this is a unique way for caterers to keep dishes warm.

8. Rethermalizer 

The majority of warmers are intended to keep already-hot foods at safe temperatures. A rethermalizer is intended to warm cold food to a safe temperature and keep it out of the danger zone. Caterers in the United States enjoy rethermalizers because they quickly heat foods, saving them time on preparation.

9. Drawer Warmer 

This versatile piece of equipment can keep dishes hot and ready to serve. Dinner rolls, baked potatoes, and tortillas are all common uses for them. They also come in single and multi-drawer configurations. Most will also let you control the temperature and moisture level.

10. Thermal Cookers

Thermoses are excellent for keeping food warm for hours while doing nothing. Ideal for soups, stews, and sauces. The best part is that they pour easily and are ready to serve! Thermal cookers are incredible. You don’t even need electricity to use one.


Caterers must ensure that all of their food is kept at a safe temperature. When serving hot dishes, keep in mind that hot holding equipment is not intended to reheat dishes. It’s intended to keep already-hot items at 140°F or higher.

Warming ovens, also known as holding cabinets, are common in restaurant kitchens and catering setups. These ovens are crucial in keeping extra food warm until it is ready to be moved to a steam table or a customer’s plate. A warming oven can normally hold any type of food, from rice to vegetables and meat.

Hope it helps

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.