Foodservice Equipment Reports

Choosing Room Service Carts

Room service meal delivery carts have become a commodity in the healthcare foodservice industry. Manufacturers offer carts in all shapes and sizes with varying standard features and a slew of optional items.

To help you choose the right cart, a handful of operators have offered tips on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the models they use.

Features to consider include tray capacities, wheels, and doors. Overall construction of the cart and ease of maintenance should also factor into your final decision.

Tray Talk

Before you begin shopping, take the time to do your homework and understand what you need in a cart, said Joan Dolezal, director of food and nutrition services, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa.

For starters, she said, measure your existing trays. Not all trays fit on the tray slides, especially the fancier room service trays with tall handles or sides.

Next, use the operation’s bed count to determine how many carts you’ll need and how many trays they will each hold. Manufacturers typically offer models that fit six, eight, or 10 trays. Also, clock the travel time to the furthest bed to figure out how many meals can travel on the cart and still maintain the appropriate temperature.

At her 691-bed hospital, Dolezal uses a 10-tray cart for meal deliveries. The stainless steel cart holds two 14” x 18” or 15” x 20” trays on each tray slide, making for a deeper cart. For operators interested in a smaller footprint, single tray slides are available. Dolezal said she prefers double tray slides, though, because it makes for a shorter cart in terms of height.

Tray slides are available nonadjustable or adjustable. If you opt for nonadjustable, make sure the tray slide will accommodate your tallest menu item. Dolezal said she uses carts with welded tray slides because her staff travels up and down ramps and off and on carpeting. The anchored tray slides help reduce rattling and make for a quieter cart.

Benefits of adjustable tray slides include easy cleaning and the ability to accommodate menu items of various heights.

More Size Concerns

Take note of the height of your staff members when determining what size cart you need.

Cheryl Fisher, foodservice manager and registered dietician at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon, Ind., said she carefully considered her staff when choosing a cart.

“I have mostly shorter women who work in the department,” she said. “Many carts are way too tall for the ladies to see over.”

Fisher uses a 10-tray, stainless steel cart that stands a little over 37” tall for her 25-bed hospital. The only drawback of the shorter cart comes at cleaning time, she said. Some staff members with bad knees have a hard time kneeling down to sanitize the carts.

Other measurements to take before finalizing your cart size include storage space in the kitchen and on the patient floors, hallways and other pathways, ramps, and elevators.

Wheel Issues

For many operators, wheel quality played a key role in choosing a cart. Manufacturers offer carts with four wheels that swivel or two wheels that swivel and two that are fixed. Also, some manufacturers attach wheels directly to the cart while others attach them to a chassis.

Dolezal uses carts with four 6” casters that swivel, leading to ultimate maneuverability. She said some operators prefer two fixed wheels because it helps the cart stay in place. She also paid close attention to how quiet the wheels rolled.

“When we go into the patient areas, we look for quiet carts,” Dolezal said. “Usually, the bigger and the softer the wheels, the quieter they are.”

Tony Almeida, director of food and nutrition at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., also agreed quiet wheels are a key feature.

“We are not a carpeted facility so we have to have rubber wheels to reduce the noise,” he said. “Because they’re constantly on the move, noise is our biggest issue.”

Almeida uses 8-tray, stainless carts with four wheels that swivel for his 606-bed hospital.

Fisher also recommended opting for four wheels that swivel. If only two wheels swivel, she said, staff has to push the cart from a certain direction. She also said to consider whether you want brakes on the wheels.

Door Options

After deciding on your cart size and wheels, consider what type of door will fit your needs. Manufacturers offer open carts, open carts with slip covers, and one door or pass-through door models.

Fisher chose an enclosed cart for her operation. The door swings 270° and uses a magnet to remain in an opened position. In the future, she might choose an open cart, she said. An enclosed cart means staff doesn’t have to cover every food item, such as a piece of pie or salad, but an open cart makes for easier cleaning.

Almeida said he uses open carts because they are more cost effective and space efficient (no need for room to open and close doors). In addition, he said, carts without doors are a lighter weight.

“Sometimes the size of the cart is too big or too heavy,” Almeida said. “You have employees that just do this all day. They make 15 or 20 trips a day. They get tired.”

When the hospital first introduced room service, he said, the staff used nylon slip covers to enclose the carts. But the covers didn’t hold up well and often needed to be replaced.

More Features

When choosing a cart, note that manufacturers offer certain features standard while others sell the same features as optional only. These features range from push handles to corner bumpers and wrap around bumpers to drains. One, two, three, or four-sided top rails can also be added.

Sue Cacioppo, tray line manager at Northwest Community Healthcare, Arlington Heights, Ill., uses 10-tray, stainless steel carts without handles at the 496-bed hospital.

“We did not get handles, which make the carts harder to maneuver,” she said. “It’s always a sanitation issue. Handles are harder to keep sanitized.”

If you opt for handles, Dolezal recommended looking into whether they’re ergonomic. She also suggested bumpers to reduce the risk of damage should the cart happen to get pushed into something.

Fisher said if she were to change anything about her carts, she would add drains.

“Mine do not have a drain so, you have to wipe the cart to get all the water out of the bottom,” she said. The kitchen has a washing area where staff can hose the carts clean. Meanwhile, the carts are wiped down with spray sanitizer after each use.

Fisher also added that top rails come in handy. “It’s nice when pushing but it’s also nice when stacking trays on top, or anything extra, to keep things from falling off,” she said.

If after all these options you’re still looking for more in a cart, consider having one custom designed.

Richard Tallinger, MCFE, CHM, CPFM, assistant director of food services, Texas Children’s Hospital, said he had a standard cart re-engineered for the new 90-bed Pavilion for Women, which will focus on prenatal care.

“We designed in a spot on the top for air pots,” Tallinger said about the 6-tray cart. “We can ship soup, coffee, and tea upstairs hot and in bulk and dish out the product right at the patient’s door.”

Along with an air pot rail, the cart sports a condiment drawer. Plus, the stainless steel cart was coated with vinyl to give it a wood grain look.

Lasting Carts

Operators offered a handful of tips on what qualities to note in craftsmanship, as well as what maintenance to expect with carts.

When it comes to the overall cart construction, manufacturers offer varying grades of stainless steel as well as plastic. Cacioppo recommended opting for high-grade stainless steel for its sturdiness and ease of cleaning.

“Some carts that we looked at were a lower grade stainless steel and those start to discolor after a while,” she said. The carts she uses are 18-ga. stainless steel.  

Other tips from the industry included checking whether the material will dent, chip or peel easily; looking for smooth services without crevices, which may collect food or soil particles; and noting whether the inside edges are rolled and therefore very smooth to the touch. Also, check how quietly the wheels and door latches work and how well the door stays latched.

As for maintenance, look for parts that are removable for thorough cleaning, said Kris Schroeder, administrative director support services, Swedish Health Services, Seattle. At her new 80-bed hospital, she uses custom-designed, five-tray carts with ergonomically placed handles.

“In the past, the hospital has used carts that collected a lot of dirt in the wheel bearings,” she said. “They needed to be tipped over and cleaned and the wheels re-greased. Following that maintenance, they were like new.”

While some operators, such as Schroeder, fix up the wheels, others replace them.

“If there’s any maintenance, it’s to exchange the wheels and just put new ones on,” Dolezal said about the carts she chose. “That’s basically for ease of movement and quiet.”

Other maintenance issues mentioned were broken nylon washers on cart doors, broken door magnets, and broken brakes.

Trial Run

After reviewing your options, if you’re still unsure of what cart to choose, consider giving a few models a trial run.

“When we started this program, this was not the cart that we started with,” Almeida said. “We had a couple different kinds of carts going and so, through a process of elimination, everybody really liked these.”

Almeida said if he was to change anything, he would opt for a wider cart.

“If it was just a little bit wider, we could put two trays in sideways,” he said. “Sometimes, there might be nine trays going up to a single unit based on the volume that you’re getting.”

Schroeder agreed to test carts before making a purchase. “Involve the staff in trying it out and doing several test runs,” she said. “Then listen very carefully to their feedback.”

Room Service Carts

This is a sampling of manufacturers. For a more complete listing, go to our online Buyers Guide.

Aladdin Temp-Rite




Eagle Group

FWE Food Warming Equipment



New Age Industrial

Lockwood USA

Piper Products

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