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November 2008

As The Tabletop Turns

Sharp plates, stainless steel condiment holders, a sleek induction chafer and flickering rechargeable candles were among the seven winners in FER's 11th Annual Tabletop/Servingware Competition.

By Angela Muñoz

With a whopping 55 submissions in Foodservice Equipment Reports' 11th Annual Tabletop/Servingware Competition, our judges had their hands full as they made their way through a maze of tables to critically evaluating each product on display. The competition was held in August at FER's publishing headquarters in Skokie, Ill.

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

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

Edward Don’s Michael Gold (l.) and Boelter’s Marty Joyce compare notes about entries from Vollrath and TableCraft.

"A suggestion for next year: Get a starter gun," joked Gold about everyone's eagerness to begin the task at hand on the morning of the competition.

But when it came down to the challenge of distinguishing the best from the rest, our savvy team of judges wasted no time. Working their way around the room, judges looked for products with unique visual appeal, durability and innovative design. What they found was a wide range of items that met a variety of foodservice needs.

In a conversation between judges, dealer reps Joyce and Gold discussed how the foodservice industry is evolving to meet these needs, determining that what dealers and operators are looking for these days are unique, attractive pieces, like those you might find in high-end retail stores, which are also practical and durable.

"Operators used to show us a Crate & Barrel piece and ask, 'Can you get me something like this?' " the dealers said. "Today, we can. The foodservice industry has really started to catch up."

As they made their way around the room, judges awarded the most points to affordable products that were durable and easy to use, paying careful attention to simplicity of design, food safety, innovation and cost-effectiveness.

In the end, a diverse range of seven products shared the virtual trophy in this year's Tabletop/Servingware Competition. Read on for full details about each product. The winners are presented in alpha order by company.

And then, go out our Web site at for full writeups of the 48 finalist entries in this year's competition.

And The Awards Go To...

A "great look" and "cool designs" made the Decorated Palette Designer Displayware collection from Carlisle FoodService Products a winner in the judges' eyes. Just as a painter's palette supplies infinite possibilities for decorating a canvas, so too does this line of round and square bowls, platters and plates offer a plethora of options for decorating your buffet tables. Made of heavy-weight, break-resistant melamine, "the pieces would be great for outdoor dining," one judge noted. From modern to classic styles, the collection allows you to choose from eight patterns to achieve the look you want.

Next up, CookTek's Induction Buffet Chafing Dish scored high points for being compact and sleek in design, and having the ability to keep food hot atop a smooth surface via a built-in induction system. "Tagged" chafing dishes contain the company's SmarTag RFID technology, providing instant wireless communication between the dish and induction surface to maintain ideal food temperatures. Judges also liked the chafer's slow-close hinge mechanism, which allows the lid to gently descend from 90° to about 45°, and then accelerate downward to the fully closed position. Lids are pre-set to stay open at a 60° angle, and are available in metal or see-through glass. CookTek chafing dishes come in two sizes (in capacities of about 5 qts. and 7 qts.), with porcelain or stainless steel inserts and an attachable spoon holder. "Untagged" chafers can be used with non-induction heat sources.

Another winner, praised for its style, versatility and satisfying heft and hand-feel, was the Stainless Steel Line of Salt/Pepper Shakers and Condiment Tray by Orion Trading Co. & Design. Judges appreciated the sleek, modern shapes of these utilitarian items. Made of brushed stainless steel, the product's simple style makes it suitable for many different applications. What's more, "the [matte] finish helps maintain a clean look without fingerprint smudges," noted one judge. Shakers come in a variety of different shapes, including round, teardrop, oval, square and cone shaped. The pieces are also available with a cool steel-blue finish, achieved through torching.

Judges loved the "awesome look and feel" of our next winner, Rosseto's line of Cast Iron Tea Pots. Colorful, high-quality, Japanese-style cast-iron tea pots are just the thing for serving loose leaf tea prepared in personal serving portions. Stainless steel strainers eliminate the need for tea bags by allowing tea leaves to tumble during the steeping process, extracting maximum flavor from your brew. The pots come in three sizes (10 oz., 16 oz. and 18 oz.) and in multiple colors.




One of the brightest ideas (literally) among the Tabletop competitors was a way for operators to cut costs and labor while building ambience, in the form of Platinum Rechargeable Candles and Charger from Smart Candle. The rechargeable LEDs generate a long-lasting "flame" that simulates the random flicker of real candles, minus the mess, expense and potential fire hazard that comes with wax or liquid-fuel lights. The easy-to-use charging system allows you to charge 12-unit sets of Smart Candles on up to four connecting bases. The overall lifespan of each lamp is about 10,500 hours, the company says. Candles are available in a variety of colors, plus in a molded ivory silicone version that looks like the real McCoy.

Moving from candles to dinnerware, judges were equally appreciative of the unusual organic shapes and "clean" lines of Essentials, a recently introduced porcelain collection from German manufacturer Tafelstern, distributed in this country by Bauscher USA. Each plate, bowl and platter, created in hard white porcelain, features leaf-like lines and curves for a contemporary tabletop inspired by nature. Some plates, for example, fan out in imitation of ginkgo leaves, while the edges and rims of other dishes curl up to form endive leaf-inspired "boats."

When it came to Tabletop/Servingware, the judges were tough graders. We put the final winner, from The Vollrath Co., into use on our very own buffet table, from which we served lunch to our hard-working experts. The easy-to-assemble Mobile Breath Guard is ideal for single- or double-sided buffets. Adjustable from 14¼" to 25¼" in height on brushed stainless steel posts, the unit features an adjustable curved acrylic panel that can be tilted to the ideal angle for shielding most countertop serving pieces, chafers and warmers. The guard fits atop a rugged matte-black powder-coated steel base and comes in three standard widths: 3" , 4" and 5". "The versatility is great," one judge said.

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