The following information is provided
courtesy of The Catering Equipment Suppliers Association.
Understanding Counters and Serveries
serveries are different types of the same thing. They are
merchandising units which allow food to be kept at the right
temperature for best taste and food safety, in good condition
and looking tempting to a customer. There is some blurring of
interpretation of what is the difference between a counter and a
servery, but a widespread understanding is that counters are
fixed and serveries are mobile.
This is what is
used in self-service traylines as in cafeterias, staff
restaurants or motorway service areas. It combines units for
everything from tableware to hot food, chilled food and a
paypoint. There are two types of construction process. Bespoke
is where everything about the countering is designed
specifically for the installation by a kitchen designer, either
one of the manufacturer’s design team or a specialist commercial
construction is where the final appearance of the countering
looks bespoke, but has been built mainly from standard units,
which are fitted together. Modular is much cheaper than bespoke
and can provide every item of countering needed, but it will be
using the manufacturer’s designs. However, there are still lots
of design variations to choose from such as colour schemes and
These are at
their most useful in situations where serving space is limited,
in multi-use or if food and drink service is only needed at one
period in the day and the space needed for another function at
other times. Examples of this might be in a hotel needing extra
service area for breakfast, a hotel conference suite for lunch
or dinner service, schools where the dining area has to meet
other needs outside lunchtime, hospital sites where there are
separate wards or accommodation units or a pub where there is a
need for a lunch counter, but the same area is needed for bar
area in the evening.
of mobile serveries is their main advantage. They can be
configured, linked or connected to provide all the features of
dispense points and ambient countering are quite
straightforward, but where heated and chilled service points are
to be installed there are some important considerations.
Heated dispense points
three main display heating systems. Where dishes of food contain
fried foods or pastry goods where crispness needs to be
maintained, under-dish heating is usually done through dry heat
contact plates. These can either be built into the countering
with tiles, toughened glass or ceramics, or on independent
heated trays. The advantage of under-counter heating is that it
allows for serving dishes of different sizes to be easily moved
about on the heated surface. Smaller serving dishes containing
other foods such as vegetables are also suitable for this style
“Wet” foods with
a high sauce content such as curries, pasta sauces and boiled or
steamed vegetables are best kept warm in the gentle heat of a
bains-marie containing very hot water, which will have the added
advantage of surrounding the foods with a gentle steamy
atmosphere, helping prevent drying out and skinning of sauces.
way of holding food hot is by use of overhead quartz lamps. This
is normally used in conjunction with a gantry for individual
servings of main course dishes such as lasagne and cottage pie
where there is rapid throughput of dishes and good presentation
and portion control is needed. It is also a popular way of keep
roast meats hot on a carvery unit.
These are needed
for items which for enjoyment of eating or drinking and food
safety reasons the food has to be kept chilled. There are three
systems of refrigeration which can be incorporated into servery
Dole-well – This
is static chilling where there is a recessed area in the counter
with a steel base which has under-counter refrigeration. Their
main use is for chilling soft drinks and for short-term chilling
needs such as lunchtime salads. Refrigeration tends to be
restricted to the lower part of the item.
Gravity chilling – This is most often seen as upright cabinets
holding items such as sandwiches and pre-portioned salad plates.
Cold air comes out of vents in the top of the cabinet and
because cold air naturally falls, the food is kept chilled. It
works best with enclosed display counters incorporating glass
Blown air chilling –
This gives a very even spread of chilling. It is the preferred
method where chilled foods are being put on display over a long
period of if the foods have associated food safety issues if
displayed at incorrect temperatures. Examples of this are foods
containing eggs, dairy products, cooked meats and rice. Because
the chilled air is being blown, chilling is very even and
There are some key design
elements of countering and servery design. These include eye
contact between chefs and customers is important, don’t have
chefs obscured by gantries and holding cupboards. Chefs also
need to be able to hand plates across to customers easily.
important that different sections look different so it is clear
to customers where to go to for what they want. Separate out
drinks and snacks from main courses so those just wanting a
drink are not held in a queue behind those buying a full meal.
Customers buying drinks get impatient if just before the cashier
they are held up by someone buying a meal. Alternatively, have
the drinks dispense the last service point before the cashier so
those wanting just drinks can go straight to the end. Have
cutlery, serviettes and condiments in a freestanding dispense
point after the till to avoid hold-ups.
If the servery
is only in use for part of the day, say lunchtime in a pub, then
a fixed servery takes up customer drinking space in the evening
and looks dreary. Opt for a mobile servery.
Look after it!
There may be
almost no moving parts on counters and serveries, but there are
still things to go wrong if they are not looked after properly.
Hot counters often have a bain marie system powered by electric
elements. A common cause of element damage is running the unit
without enough water in. There may be a thermal cut-out
connected to the heating elements, but not all have them and if
it is not working properly, then running low or without water
will be costly.
The water is
almost always a manual fill from the mains hot water system or
from a water boiler. The hot water mains are unlikely to have
water treatment fitted – this usually comes with each individual
unit in the kitchen. Water boilers should have a water treatment
system fitted, but may not.
there is the strong possibility of scale build up on the heating
elements. This causes the elements to work harder than designed
to and is poor energy efficiency. Simple manual addition of
water treatment tablets or loose salts occasionally will help
prevent this problem.
on serveries are not as popular as they once were, but are still
around. The problems with tiled surfaces is that grouting can
become discoloured and both look off-putting for customers and
raise eyebrows of environmental health officers. Keep the grout
clean and use a proprietary grout cleaner to bring back the
Tile cracking is
not caused by heat from containers as sometimes claimed, but by
banging heavy pots down on the tiles. A cracked tile must be
replaced immediately for food safety reasons and can be a costly
in the kitchen often a glass gantry with heat and light lamps
shining down. The glass is toughened, but not indestructible. If
staff continually slam plates down on the gantry there is the
risk of damage and loosening of the fastening bolts.
refrigerated counters care should be taken that the vents
blowing out the cold air are not obstructed by dishes or
bottles. This will force the compressor to work harder than it
needs to and cause unnecessary wear. With upright chiller
serveries that have plastic curtains on, ensure the curtains are
clean, in good condition and free to sit snugly to avoid
excessive loss of cold air. As with cabinet refrigeration, the
use of a vacuum cleaner with appropriate attachment can be used
to clean dust from the vents and the area around the compressor.
Keep scrupulously clean
Ensure refrigeration vents are not obstructed
Clean inside motor housing
Check any grouted tiled surfaces for wear
Watch out for limescale build-up on water heating elements
Clean stainless steel with abrasive scourers
Leave doors open
Allow bains marie to run dry of water
Obstruct air circulation vents
Move a mobile serveries without checking it is not plugged in