Choose the right chafing dish for your need

Featured Tips

Whether you’re hosting a party at your home or you’re a caterer for a large event, selecting the right chafing dish allows you to keep your foods at the proper temperature for the duration of the event. When selecting chafing dishes, keep these aspects in mind:

  • Chafing Dish Shape

  • Size and Capacity

  • Price of Chafing Dish

  • Lid Type

  • Source of Heat

Using chafing containers can be overwhelming at first, but chafing your food is the best option for long events and large buffets. Read on for catering tips to select the right chafing dishes for your event needs.

Chafing Dish Shape

Chafing dishes come in a variety of shapes, and each unique shape is specially designed to hold certain foods for best results. Designating specific foods to each shape also helps the caterer to coach wait staff for serving.


rectangular chafing dish

rectangular chafing dish

fing dishes are the most common shape, and are best used to serve main entrees.


oval chafing dish

oval chafing dish

Also used for main entrees, oval chafing containers give a more elegant and decorative look. They are the preferred chafing dish for caterers at more formal events.


round chafing dish

round chafing dish

Typically smaller than their rectangular cousins, round chafing dishes are most often used for desserts, side dishes, and sauces to accompany main entrees. Side dishes and appetizers might also be served in a half-round chafing dish.

Marmite (Soup)

soup chafing dish

soup chafing dish

A marmite chafer is tall and narrow, specifically designed to hold soups, gravies, and sauces.


square chafing dish

square chafing dish

Square chafing containers are less popular and sometimes more difficult to find. They are used for side dishes and appetizers.

Drop In Chafer

drop in chafing dish

drop in chafing dish

For permanent food service venues, such as hotels and dining halls, drop in chafers are used to serve all types of food. They are typically rectangular, and are permanently installed on the counter which makes them a poor choice for mobile catering companies. For chafing dishes on the go, stick with the more traditional styles.

Chafers Size and Capacity

As a caterer, the biggest concern is serving the correct amount of food at its desired temperature. A thorough look at the size needed for your chafing dishes can help you achieve that. The standard sizes for chafers are: full size chafing dish, half size chafing dish, and round chafing dish.

A full size chafing dish holds 8-9 quarts at full capacity.

A half size chafing dish holds half of the full size, so 4-5 quarts.

Round chafing dishes vary slightly in size from 4-7 quarts, but should be clearly labeled when purchasing.

Price of Chafing Dish

It is important to keep your budget in mind as a caterer. Purchasing low quality chafing dishes will not lend good results, but overspending will eat into your profits as well.

Simple aluminum chafing dishes are the least expensive, and can be purchased with a variety of finishes to create an elegant look. Finishes will often include chrome, matte, gold trim, and gold handles. Chafing in any of these dishes will create a simple, but attractive look.

For caterers or party hosts with a higher budget, invest in chrome or stainless steel chafing containers with an added finish. This is among the top catering tips because the stainless steel is durable, and the added finish looks elegant and pricey without going over budget.

Lid Type

Chafing food dishes without a lid can be pointless, as the lid provides necessary heat retention for food safety. The proper cover can also help with presentation of your menu, as there’s nothing more dramatic than a big reveal of all your dishes at once.

Removable Lids

removable lids chafing dish

removable lids chafing dish

These liftoff covers have a handle and are the most common at most catering events. They allow for servers or guests to lift the cover themselves, and are best suited for food that does not need to be constantly covered. If the food is to remain uncovered after the meal begins, a traditional removable cover is perfect.

Retractable Lids

retractable lids chafing dish

retractable lids chafing dish

These lids allow guests to temporarily remove the cover themselves without using both hands to get their food. One of the top catering tips is to use a retractable lid instead of hiring additional wait staff to serve during a buffet meal. These types of lids are attractive and sleek, and make it easy for guests to serve themselves.

Hinged Lids

hinged lids chafing dish

hinged lids chafing dish

A durable hybrid of the removable and retractable lid types, this cover is lifted and held up by the guest while serving their food. It requires them to use one hand to hold up the lid of the chafing dishes, but they are still easier than holding a removable lid.

Source of Heat

How you choose to keep your food hot is just as important as the shape of the dish and the type of cover chosen for your chafing dishes. Read these catering tips for choosing the best hear source.

Fuel Heat

Chafers using fuel for heat will require several canisters with wicks to keep a flame ignited. The specially designed fuel burns at the perfect temperature to keep food hot without creating fires on the table. They can be risky, especially at events where children will be serving themselves. For outdoor events or children’s parties, stay away from fuel heat.

Electric Heat

The other alternative is electric heat. This heat source requires an electric outlet and extension cords, which can be difficult to obtain. If you’ll be hosting an event outdoors, opt for electric heat to avoid fires. Make sure you secure the power source before arriving, and make arrangements for additional extension cords if needed.
Use all of these catering tips to make your next food service event a success. When chafing, keep in mind the shape of the chafing dishes, the cost and capacity, and the cover for the chafing containers. We hope these tips have helped you select the perfect chafing containers for your needs!