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November 2008

11th Annual Supplies Awards

Fourteen products from a field of more than 90 took top honors in FER's 2008 Smallwares & Tabletop/Servingware Competition.

August proved a busy month this year. In Beijing, the Olympic Games held global attention, while on a smaller scale in Skokie, Ill., Foodservice Equipment Reports' 11th Annual Smallwares and Tabletop/Servingware Competition kept our editors on the run. Pre-competition events included the "100-meter box run," the "22-table setup race" and the always popular "assemble-the-product marathon."

But seriously, our annual competition offers you a detailed look at some of the newest and most innovative products now on the market, products that can help you run a more efficient back of house, and effectively and attractively equip your front of house.

This year's entries tallied nearly 90 in all. On the Smallwares side, some 33 product entries included the latest developments in cookware, utensils, thermometers, scales and more. There were also a number of noteworthy innovations, such as a plastic-wrap dispenser combined with a food-label holder; an elevated cutting board with a cut-out opening so finished product can be swept into a prep pan below; a re-engineered ladle that both scoops liquid and strains solids; LED-enhanced bottle pourers that flash when liquid flows through them; and a large, stirring spring-whip for mixing food in oversized kettles.

This year's 55 Tabletop/Servingware entries ran the gamut, as usual. Sturdy, beautiful melamine tableware was again extremely popular, with multiple entries from at least three major suppliers. Also well represented were collections of white chinaware in numerous shapes and sizes from four leading manufacturers; and a number of stainless steel bowls, trays and chafers. One maker submitted a line of translucent green plates made from recycled glass bottles. On the Servingware side, we fielded a number of eye-catching risers, bowl stands, beverage dispensers and one curved-glass breath guard. Adding ambience to the competition, two companies entered products for table lighting: tea-light holders in onyx, glass and stainless, and a rechargeable candle system.

And The Editorial Golds Go To...
Since the competition was held during the Olympic Games, we editors chose to bestow a few awards of our own on outstanding products.

The Ideal Entry Gold Medal goes to a thermometer maker who not only included entry form, return shipping labels and all product information tucked into a handy folder, but also sent along a small hot water pot and an extension cord so judges could test the thermometers' prowess on the spot.

The Most Invisible Product Gold Medal goes to one of the Tabletop winners. Vollrath's Mobile Breath Guard, a curved sheet of sturdy glass supported by two matte-black posts, gave Eric Futran, our photographer, all kinds of conniption fits as he tried to figure out how to position and light the unit so it could actually be seen in the cover shot.

The Weight Lifting Gold and Silver Medals, meanwhile, go to two companies. The gold goes to the company whose Tabletop entries arrived on a pallet. When the truck driver told us he had 93 lbs. of product to deliver, we blanched. In fact, it was split between three boxes and not nearly as massive as we'd feared. The silver goes to the maker of one of the larger chafing dishes we've seen in recent years. This polished stainless steel unit required two editors to lift into place.

Finally, the preparation, room setup and cleanup for the competition were made possible thanks to the hard work of Senior Editor Janice Cha, Editorial Intern Angela Muñoz and Sales Assistant Jessica Scurlock. The three of them tracked e-mails, faxes and entry forms, and then unpacked, displayed, repacked, and return shipped the many entries of this year's event.

Rules Of Engagement
We define Smallwares as back-of-the-house tools, usually hand-held and always free of motors, although we allow batteries in items such as scales. Tabletop/Servingware candidates include anything that would be used on a well-dressed table or buffet. To be eligible, products had to be new to the market since the May 2007 National Restaurant Association Show.

All entries were pre-judged by FER editors. Those that met the criteria (innovative, new and problem-solving) were sent on to judging. This year we sent about 90 on to the final event.

Our three operator judges this year included John Ayaleanos, executive chef at Birch River Grill, part of the Doubletree Hotel Chicago-Arlington Heights; Gary Mann, Sodexo USA's retail and culinary support director for the Central area; and Pamela Stoner, dining room instructor at Kendall College.

And three national dealer representatives contributed their expertise to our judging panel: Marty Joyce, The Boelter Cos. Illinois & Michigan; Nick Kariotakis, The Wasserstrom Co.; and Michael Gold, Edward Don & Co.

We asked the judges to consider a product's innovativeness, ability to solve a problem, food- or labor-safety aspects, and, if applicable, aesthetics.

After a long morning of reviewing products, our six judges agreed on 14 outstanding products, seven in each category. The remaining products earned the title of finalist.

When the dust had cleared, we donated many of the remaining smallwares and tabletop/servingware items—with kind permission from our manufacturers—to three Chicago-area soup kitchen/charity operations and to culinary students at Kendall College.


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