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Tray Dispenser and Dish Caddy Buying Guide

Tray Dispenser and Dish Caddy Buying Guide

Dish caddies, plate dispensers, and tray carts are essential for high volume service areas like buffets, cafeterias, dining halls, or even catered events. Not only do they keep your china dinnerware and food trays organized, but different types of dish dispensers let you store, transport, and dispense clean dishes in a safe, sanitary manner.

Dish Dispenser Applications

Your business has its own set of needs and challenges, so you will want to choose a plate dispenser that fits the application where it will be used. For example, if you run a large buffet you probably already have built-in counters with space to install permanent drop-in dinner plate holders. On the other hand, if you operate an event venue your space likely needs to be versatile and your dish holders may need to operate as storage, transportation, and dispensing units.

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Freestanding / Mobile Dish Dispensers

This type of dish dispenser consists of a base with casters and one or more wells to hold your plates or dishes. You will want to choose a freestanding plate dispenser for mobile buffet setups, temporary catering lines, or for applications where you also need a solution for transporting your dinnerware. This type of plate dispenser can also be used in the back of the house if you need to safely transport clean plates from the dishroom to a plating area.

Business types: caterers, event venues, cafeterias, and hospitality.

Lakeside 401125 Unheated Drop In Dish Dispenser for 10 1/4

Drop-In Dish Dispensers

Dispensers that are installed directly into a counter require a permanent cabinet, but offer the benefit of a sleek, professional look for front of the house use. Choose this type drop-in dish dispenser if your business has a permanent buffet setup, has the space for stationary plate dispensers, and utilizes other methods for transporting dinnerware.

Business types: restaurants with permanent buffets, and cafeterias

APW Wyott Lowerator L-10 Unheated Drop-In Dish Dispenser for 9 1/4

Dish Caddy Types

Open Dish Caddies

Dish dispensers that have open tubes or wells are great for a variety of applications.

Benefits of open dish caddies:

  • Easier to clean, maintain, and adjust
  • Easily see how many plates are left in the dispenser at any given time
  • Great for high volume establishments

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Shielded/Enclosed Dish Dispensers

The sleek sides of enclosed dish dispensers look great in applications where you want a more upscale appearance.

Benefits of shielded dish dispensers:

  • Help to keep your plates concealed and protected from contaminants and breakage
  • Have a more decorative appearance as a step between open units and drop-in units

APW Wyott Lowerator HML2-10 Mobile Enclosed Heated Two Tube Dish Dispenser for 9 1/4

Heated Plate Dispensers

You will want to use a heated plate dispenser if keeping food hot is a problem for your business. A unit like a Lakeside plate warmer might be a great addition to your buffet or catering service!

Benefits of heated plate holders:

  • A good choice for any business that need to keep food hot between the plating area and the dining room
  • Using a restaurant plate warmer can help upgrade customer experience

Types of Cafeteria Tray Dispensers

These are the major types of foodservice tray dispensers to help guide your search.

Freestanding Tray Dispensers

This type of tray dispenser mirrors the style of freestanding plate dispensers. They are available in open or enclosed styles, and you can even choose a tray dispenser that comes with built-in napkin dispensers and silverware bins for quick tray set up in a fast-paced environment.

Drop-In Cafeteria Tray Dispensers

Just like drop-in plate dispensers, a drop-in tray dispenser mounts in your existing countertop. They are great for high volume venues with plenty of cabinet and counter space available to set up your tray dispensing system.

Cafeteria Tray Dollies / Caddies

If you do not need to dispense trays but merely store them or move them from one place to another, a tray dolly might be the perfect choice. Tray dollies tend to have large tray capacities and are designed specifically to make the task of storing and transporting large numbers of cafeteria trays easier.

When you are choosing a cafeteria tray dispenser, you'll want to look at most of the major considerations for plate and dish dispensers. In many ways, tray dispensers look and work just like plate dispensers. Because of this, you can follow the same logic when considering your tray dispenser's application, type, and sizing requirements.

Specialty Dispenser Types

Some of your applications may not be suited to a standard free standing or drop-in plate dispenser. If that is the case, it may be time for you to look into a special dispenser that is designed for your particular job.

APW Wyott Lowerator CTRS-2020-5 Mobile Open Combination 20

Combination Glass Rack and Saucer Dispensers

This type of dispenser combines a 20” x 20” glass rack dispenser with a free standing plate dispenser in one convenient unit. They are designed to hold coffee cups and saucers at the same time so you can easily store, transport, and dispense the necessities for a hot beverage station without the need for two separate carts.

Lakeside 7500 Duo-Therm™ Heated Two Stack Plate Dispenser for 7

Pellet Dispensers

If your location offers tray service, you may be using a pellet system to keep plates of food hot until they reach your customers or patients. If you use a lot of pellets, then you may want to invest in a dedicated, heated pellet dispenser to keep your pellets hot and handy for staff members who are plating meals.

How to Size Plate and Dish Dispensers

Follow these four simple steps to find the plate dispenser size that will best fit your needs!

1. Choose Plate Dispenser Well Shape

Plate and dish dispensers are available with wells in several shapes to match up with the china that you are using. There are styles available to accommodate round plates, oval platters, or square plates and dishes.

2. Choose Plate Dispenser Well Diameter

You will want to purchase the smallest size dispenser that fits your china. Before choosing the dimensions of your plate dispenser's wells, you will need to know the actual dimensions of the different types of china that you want to store and dispense. To find this information, you may need to physically measure the dinnerware for accuracy.

Also keep in mind that there are two types of wells that you can choose from - standard wells with a fixed size, and adjustable wells that can be modified in the field to hold different sizes of dinnerware. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks.

Note that some tableware varies very slightly in size from one piece to another. You will want to allow for this when purchasing dispensers for your dinnerware. Lakeside, for example, recommends allowing for a 1/8" variance from the specified dimensions of your china to be sure that the dispensers you choose will be a good fit.

Adjustable Plate Dispensers

  • Adjustable to fit different sizes of china
  • Allows you to use the same dispenser for many plates
  • Ideal for businesses that change china often

APW Wyott HTL2-10 Trendline Mobile Heated Two Tube Dish Dispenser for 9 1/4

Standard Plate Dispensers

  • Features a fixed diameter for a specific plate size
  • Lower cost plate dispensing option
  • Ideal for businesses that use the same china

3. Choose Dish Dispenser China Capacity

To find out how many plates the unit you choose will hold, you may need to stack and measure your china. If you do not have your china on hand yet, the manufacturer's specifications of the plates you've chosen may help you estimate.

Most standard plate dispensers can hold a stack of plates up to 25" high. If you need an ADA height model, though, the capacity may be limited to 22" high.

4. Choose Number of Plate Dispenser Compartments

Plate dispensers come with different numbers of wells to meet different capacity needs. Most drop-in dispensers come as single wells and you can purchase the number that you need to outfit your buffet line.

For free standing plate dispensers, you have a few more options. You can purchase a single, double, triple, or quadruple well model. If you choose an adjustable plate dispenser with multiple wells you could use the unit to hold and dispense plates of different sizes at the same time.

Additional Dish Dispenser Considerations

At this point, you probably know what type of dish dispenser you need but there are just a couple last details that you may want to think about.

Counter Cut-Outs

Drop-in dish dispensers require cut-outs in the countertop. Make sure that you can accommodate the cut-out requirements if you choose a drop-in unit.

If you are replacing one type of drop-in dispenser with another, you may need adapter rings for proper installation. Carefully check the specifications of the unit you choose to purchase and compare them with your existing counter cut-out to see if you need a dish dispenser adapter ring.

ADA Height Plate Dispensers

If your buffets are ADA height, you may need ADA height plate dispensers to fit properly when installed in your cabinetry.


If dispensing plates evenly is a priority, you may want to choose a self-leveling dispenser. This feature keeps the plates or dishes level during storage and dispensing for a professional appearance and to protect your dinnerware from breakage.


A spring loaded plate dispenser uses springs that slowly lift the plates toward the top of the well so that they are always easy to reach. Different manufacturers use different spring designs, and some also make dispensers that let you easily attach and detach springs for quick height adjustments.

Dish Dispenser Well Covers

You may want to purchase a cover for each well. These covers protect the dishes from contaminants and also keep the heat inside the wells of heated units so that they can operate more efficiently and safely.

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