WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / Buying Guides / Guide to Chafing Dishes

Guide to Chafing Dishes

What is a chafing dish? Chafing dishes, also known as chafers, are the perfect way to serve hot food at your banquet, buffet, or catered event. They come in various shapes and sizes, and feature a range of finishes and cover types. Depending on the type of chafer you select, the heat source may differ as well. From traditional chafers to flame-free electric and induction chafers, this guide is sure to help you choose the perfect chafing dish for your foodservice operation.

Shapes and Types

The most common chafer shape is rectangular or round. However, alternate shapes are available for a variety of purposes. Main entrees are generally served from an oval chafing dish or rectangular chafing dish, while sides and desserts are often served from round models.

Economy Chafer Rectangular: One of the most standard dish shapes, a rectangular chafing dish is commonly used for main entrees. An oblong chafer is less common, and used for appetizers and sides.

Round Chafer Round: Another popular chafing dish shape, a round chafer is commonly used for side dishes, sauces, and desserts. A half-round chafer is used for appetizers and sides.

Deluxe Oval Oval: Offering a more contemporary look than a rectangular chafer, an oval chafing dish is commonly used for main entrees.

Marmite/Soup Marmite / Soup: A marmite, or soup, chafer is commonly used to hold warm soup, stews, sauce, gravies, hot cereals, and other liquids.

Square Square: A less common shape, square chafing dishes are used for appetizers and sides.

Drop-In Drop In Chafer: A drop in chafer dish is permanently installed on your serving countertop or tabletop. It provides an upscale presentation at your hotel continental breakfast station, buffet, and other on site, permanently installed food service station.

Chafer Griddle Chafer Griddle: Chafer griddles are ideal for keeping already cooked food items such as pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, and meat hot while being served. Place one at your buffet, hotel, and other catered cooking event to help emit the scent of food to entice diners!

Coffee Chafer Urn Coffee Chafer Urn: A popular serving option at hotels, buffets, and catered events, coffee chafer urns are used to hold and dispense coffee and other popular hot beverages. Avoid lukewarm liquid temperatures with one of these beverage chafers.

Cover Types

Hinged, lift off, and roll top lids are popular chafer top styles. Keep the crowd you are serving in mind when choosing a lid type. Roll top lids make it easy for customers to serve themselves at buffets, while lift off covers make a nice presentation at events where servers are dishing out entrees to guests.

Lift Off Cover Lift Off and Dome Covers: This lid type can be lifted off of the chafer completely and features a handle located on the top of the lid. Many chafers have a cover holder that is integral to the unit.

Roll Top Cover Retractable / Roll Top Cover: This lid type is ideal for buffet displays because customers do not need to hold the lid or even remove it. This cover generally has a front handle for easy use. For two sided service, choose a model that can retract on both sides. Many retractable covers have a 90 degree and 180 degree opening for serving versatility. Slide locks help keep the lid in place. Keep in mind that roll tops that don't flip down 180 degrees are ideal only for one sided service.

Hinged Cover Hinged Cover: A hinged cover gives you the look of a lift off unit without the hassle of having to completely remove and replace the lid. Many models offer a stay-open feature at 45 and 90 degree angles, and there are hinged covers that double as lift off lids for more versatility. Some hinged covers have hydraulic, or slow-moving, hinges rather than regular hinges. While many covers with this type of hinge can also be set at a 45 or 90 degree angle during serving, they offer the extra benefit of closing quietly and gently if one of your guests releases the handle without closing the lid. This helps preserve your dining atmosphere and causes less wear and tear on the cover.

Glass Top Cover Glass Top Cover: A glass top lid features a clear window, allowing you to easily monitor your culinary creations without lifting the lid. This cover type also provides visual interest to attract hungry diners. An oval chafing dish with glass lid for example, can be used to serve the main entrees of a course and heat will not be lost since the glass top doesn’t need to be opened to know what’s inside.

Covered Handles Covered Handles: Look for lids with coated handles for server safety and convenience. Covered handles are often constructed or coated with nylon and similar materials to stay cool to the touch for safe handling. They also provide an easy grip.

Standard Sizes

Full Size Full Size Chafing Dish: Generally rectangular in shape, full size chafers have an 8 to 9 quart capacity.

Half Size Half Size Chafing Dish: A small chafing dish, like a half size, is usually square or rectangular, and has a 4 to 5 quart capacity.

2/3 Size Chafing Dish: Round and square in shape, 2/3 size chafers have a 5 to 6 quart capacity.

Fuel vs. Electric Heat

Fuel Fuel: Fuel chafers utilize Sterno fuel cans or other gel chafing fuel and wick fuel to keep the chafer water dish heated. View our Chafing Fuel Buying Guide for step by step instructions on how to choose and use chafing gel. We even carry eco-friendly fuel.

Electric Electric: Electric chafers are great for outdoor events, as they are easier to use than chafing fuel in the event of windy or inclement weather. They're also ideal for indoor use when you don't want to deal with the hazards of flame. Keep in mind that these do require access to an electric outlet, so plan accordingly for catered events to avoid cord hazards.

Chafer Heater Electric chafer heaters and accessories are a great way to convert your fuel chafer to an electric unit! Our universal electric chafer heater can be used with most standard chafers. Additionally, you can choose a full size electric chafer warmer pan to replace your water pan to serve as a free-standing warming unit.

Induction Induction: This new, innovative cooking and holding method eliminates the hassle, expense, and potential hazards of chafer fuel. Induction chafers are designed for use with drop-in induction ranges, drop-in buffet induction warmers, or induction buffet tables to heat the unit, rather than utilizing a heated water pan. Because this only heats the chafer and the area surrounding it, induction ready cookware eliminates the hazard of burns and fire. Induction chafers also provide best-in-class heat distribution with no hot or cold spots, and they allow you to maintain a constant temperature for longer periods of time than other, traditional chafers.


Mirror Polish Finish Mirror Polish Finish: A mirror finish provides a shiny, reflective appearance. This finish provides superior shine for an attractive display at any event.

Mirror Polish Finish Satin Finish: A satin finish is smooth to the touch, and not reflective. It provides an upscale appearance without the shine.

Mirror Polish Finish Matte Finish: A matte finish features a dull surface that is not particularly shiny or reflective.

Mirror Polish Finish Brass Trim: Brass trim adds a subtle yet sophisticated appeal to your chafer. The dark yellow accents stand out against the silver chafing dishes for a memorable presentation.

Mirror Polish Finish Gold Trim: Gold colored trim adds a hint of sophistication and elegance to your chafer. The gold accents stand out against the chafer's silver body for a striking presentation.

Mirror Polish Finish Chrome Trim: A high polish chrome trimmed chafer provides a sleek, modern look.

Mirror Polish Finish Hammered Copper: This finish has a dimpled texture, with the appearance of hand hammered copper. It provides an elegant display at weddings, receptions, and anniversaries.

Caring for Your Chafer

Chafer Box Chafer Storage and Transport: Protect your chafing unit from bumps and dings during transport with a chafer box. These durable boxes are the worry-free way to store and transport your chafer. These boxes feature heavy duty, impact resistant plastic. Sturdy handles make for easy lifting and handling. Look for nestable and stackable units for convenient storage.

Cleaning Cloth Cleaning and Polishing: For an upscale appearance, keep your chafer exterior polished and looking brand new. Microfiber polishing cloths are gentle and won't scratch your chafer surface. They'll leave your chafing dish shining and looking like new, so keep a cloth on hand for quick polishes at any buffet or catered event. Be sure to check out our Stainless Steel Care Guide and polishes designed specifically for stainless steel.


View these videos for more info on how to use your chafer:

How To Use a Chafer Chafer Accessories Review Universal Electric Chafer Heater

Subscribe now for great deals and industry tips! Sign up for our mailing list to have weekly discounts and industry knowledge sent right to your inbox.

Food Service Resources

Tips, guides, & advice

Explore Resources
  • Visa
  • Discover
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Paypal