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Heat Lamp / Strip Warmer Buying Guide

Choosing the Best Heat Lamp for Your Restaurant

Most foodservice operations need some form of food warming equipment to keep the product at a safe temperature until it goes out to the customer, and if you operate a buffet, where large quantities of food are always kept on hand, proper food warming becomes even more vital. Because there are so many options available to you, it's important to know which is the best fit for your business.

How to Keep Food Warm

Food warmers can be divided into two basic types: strip warmers and bulb warmers. How to keep food warm for hours will largely depend on your application, so it's important to understand what strip and bulb warmers are intended to do.

  • Keep foods warm over short periods of time
  • Hold items with a fairly small surface area like French fries, chicken, breads, and veggies
  • Emit a dry heat which can rob products desired taste and texture if left under them for too long
  • Heat can't penetrate dense food like casseroles or mashed potatoes deep enough to effectively maintain safe temperatures

Types of Strip Warmers

Avantco 48 inch High Wattage Strip Warmer with Adjustable Infinite Controls - 120V, 1200W

Strip warmers consist of one or two rows of heating elements in a long metal housing, often with reflectors to enhance the heat and direct it down onto the food below. Some double units come with spacers between the heating elements - this means that the elements are set farther apart to increase the coverage area of your strip warmer. Typically strip warmers are used when you need to generate more intense heat than a bulb warmer, and their frames give them added durability.

Metal housings are available in several options. Aluminum is economical and lightweight, making it a good choice for startups. Powdercoated units offer a more durable option but without the additional cost of stainless steel. If you are looking for the most durable unit, then our stainless steel housings are a corrosion-resistant, sleek, professional choice for your business.

Choose from infrared strip warmers if you are looking for a powerful heat lamp that will keep food warm without drying it out. Since infrared heating transfers warmth to the food and not the surrounding air, it will keep your food looking and tasting fresher than the more economical non-infrared units.

Most of these units (with the exception of some free standing models) also require a hard wired electrical connection; they're designed to stay in one place, so you will probably need a qualified electrician to aid with installation.

Front of the House Strip Warmers

Lighted strip warmers are a perfect way to keep food hot on buffet lines, producing top heat to keep the product at the right temperature and light to show it off. And because buffet lines come in a wide range of sizes, strip warmers also feature plenty of different lengths to fit most any need. If you need a special color for your front of the house design, be sure to check out our selection of designer strip warmers which are available in a variety of colors.

Back of the House Strip Warmers

When mounted above a pickup shelf or staging area, a strip warmer is great for keeping plated food warm until it goes out to the customer. They also work equally well on fry dumps and similar applications. For tight places, narrow body strip warmers have a slim design that can easily be installed where space is at a premium.

Strip Warmer Elements

Strip warmers are available with a variety of different heating elements, so it's important to know which is best suited for your application.

Metal Sheathed / Calrod Elements

The most common type of strip warmer and the most economical choice, these are great for applications where you need a bit more heat than a bulb warmer, but not quite the level of output that you get with a ceramic element. Generally they need to be placed closer to the food than a ceramic unit (about 14" to 18", check the manufacturer's recommended mounting height) to provide proper heating.

ServIt SWI-36CP 36 inch High Wattage Strip Warmer with Adjustable Infinite Controls and Cord - 120V, 850W

Ceramic Elements

These elements generally have a larger surface area, higher wattage, and generate more intense heat than a standard metal sheathed unit. Because of this, ceramic warmers also need to be mounted a bit further above the food (about 18" to 24", check the manufacturer's recommended mounting height).

Hatco GRNM-36 Glo-Ray 36 inch Max Watt Narrow Infrared Food Warmer with Remote Toggle Controls - 1000W, 120V

Halogen Elements

Halogen elements may be a bigger initial investment for operators but they typically last longer. Not only that, halogen elements can be much more efficient so that you can keep food just as hot while keeping your energy bill down.

Strip Warmer Controls

Operating temperature is usually managed by either a toggle (on/off) switch or an infinite (variable temperature) control. These come in several configurations:

Side Mounted Controls

Since the control box is mounted on the side of the unit or built into the housing, installation is usually easier than a remote model. However, the control box is also more exposed to the warmer's heat, and can experience shorter product life. You can choose from either infinite or toggle styles.

Remote Controls

This configuration allows the user to place the control box wherever he/she desires, though this requires more involved installation than on a side mounted unit. However, the controls are located further from the main heat source and generally last longer. Infinite and toggle styles are also available in remote configurations.

Strip Warmer Accessories

Not every restaurant will use a strip warmer in the same way, and many manufacturers offer a number of accessories to give you more versatility:

Vollrath 44145 2 inch Infared Food Warmer Center Mount Bracket

Mounting Brackets

Typically, mounting brackets are used for mounting on an overshelf, above a food pickup area. Some units come with these while others are sold separately, so make sure to verify before purchasing.

APW Wyott 75901 Set of Support Chains for Calrod Overhead Warmers

Support Chains

When a warmer can't be mounted flush against another surface, support chains let you hang it from the ceiling.

APW Wyott 76200 Leg for Calrod Strip Warmers - For Portable Installation - 2/Set

Leg Stands:

Some warmers can be turned into freestanding units with a set of compatible legs. We also offer units that come with a stand already included, great for catering services that need a mobile strip warmer they can take to various functions.

High Wattage Strip Warmers

Drafty and heavily air-conditioned areas are not ideal for strip warmer installation, but some high wattage strip warmers can help to offset the faster heat loss that comes with these conditions if they must be used in such a location. These units usually come with ceramic elements. Many applications, though, will be served better by a light or medium-duty strip warmer.

Types of Bulb Warmers

Avantco W62 Aluminum Free Standing Heat Lamp with 2 Bulbs - 120V, 500W

Bulb warmers, or heat lamps, are the most economical choice in overhead heating and are used primarily in merchandising applications because in addition to warming, they produce light to present the product. The tradeoff is that bulb warmers generate less heat compared to strip units and can only cover a small area effectively, but for something like a carving station where the product just needs a little boost to keep it at a proper temperature until it's gone, this works just fine.

One other advantage of food service heat lamps is that most of them can be plugged into a standard outlet, unlike strip warmers. This makes it easy to quickly change up a display area, or to move the warmer as needed.

Front of the House Bulb Warmers

A food heat lamp can be used in a wide range of applications, from carving stations to buffet lines. Free standing units are perfect for catering operations, as you can easily transport them from place to place, while lighted display stations let you hold warm bags of French fries and other sides at concession stands and carnivals.

Back of the House Bulb Warmers

Generally speaking, food heating lamps are not as common back of the house, as strip warmers provide more durability, greater coverage, and higher heat intensity. However, they can still be used for holding small portion items, and food like a pan of French fries or chicken.

Lavex Janitorial 250 Watt Coated Infrared Heat Lamp Bulb

Heat Lamp Bulbs

One point to keep in mind about bulb warmers is that the bulbs can break. Teflon-coated bulbs are a good way to combat this (and many health code inspectors will only accept this kind), as they don't allow shards to fall all over the food when broken. We offer coated heat lamp bulbs in both red and clear options depending on your preference.

How to Mount Bulb Warmers

There are several different ways to mount your bulb warmer:

Avantco Carving Station Kit with 24 inch Stainless Steel Heat Lamp, Cutting Board, and Drip Pan- 120V, 250W

Clamp On / Screw On Bulb Warmers

Some bulb warmers can be mounted to a table or countertop using a clamp or screws. This is great if you want to create your own customized display area or carving station, and we also offer several models that come with a base included.

Avantco W61RD Red Free Standing Heat Lamp with 1 Bulb - 120V, 250W

Freestanding Bulb Warmers

These types of warmers come mounted on a stand to give stability. Often, the stand is designed so that you can slide a pan of food right under the bulb.

Nemco 6006-5 Suspension Bar Heat Lamp 5 Bulb - 120V

Suspended Bulb Warmers

Suspended units are generally used on buffet lines and self-serve areas in cafeterias and banquet halls. "Suspension bar" models feature multiple bulbs and cover a longer area, but like strip warmers, they usually need to be hard wired at installation.

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