WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / Cooking Equipment / Types of Food Wells

Types of Food Wells

Buffets and self-service lines are practical methods for delivering large quantities of food to numerous people over an extended period of time, and every setup needs an assortment of food wells to function effectively. Food wells are available in multiple sizes, shapes, and styles to suit different circumstances, but the general idea is to provide open food storage while keeping product at safe temperatures.

Why Use Food / Soup Wells?

  • Food wells allow you to display your business's delicious food selection for all customers to see. By giving people a clear view of what they have to choose from, you'll encourage them to explore the entirety of your available menu.
  • Food wells will keep your product at safe temperatures to prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria that might cause serious harm to customers and place you in violation of health codes.
  • While they're commonly thought of as front-of-house equipment, food wells can also be used in the back of the house at prep stations and chef tables.
  • What Makes Food Wells Better Than Other Alternatives?

    In a similar vein, you'll also find countertop warmers and chafers. While these pieces of equipment are effective for holding and warming food while remaining accessible, they come with notable drawbacks when compared to food wells.

    Chafers and single warmers make a lot of sense for caterers thanks to their portability, but they are difficult to fit into an establishment that requires everyday spaces for product. Food wells offer a permanent solution that requires only cleaning and occasional maintenance, as opposed to repeated setup and organization. A permanent fixture like a food well table also presents your establishment as more professional and polished.

What Establishments Benefit From Food Wells?

Given the popularity of buffets and self-service food establishments today, it’s no surprise that plenty of locations can frequently utilize food wells as part of their regular services. Establishments that can benefit from food wells include: 

  • School cafeterias: Due to multiple eating periods and frequently rotating, diverse menus that consist of numerous foods, both hot and cold, schools should consider food wells as absolute must-have pieces of equipment.
  • Buffet-style restaurants: Perhaps the most frequent users of assorted food wells, buffet-style restaurants will likely put hundreds of hours worth of usage into food wells in just a few months. Product often sits for several hours of the day, which necessitates proper food safety precautions. 
  • Banquet halls: When it comes to hosting events, weddings, and special dinners, banquet halls need to be prepared to meet client demand if they’re hosting caterers or administering their own food services. 
  • Soup kitchens: Soup kitchens and other food pantries can distribute hundreds of meals per day, which also means that they need to ensure safe food lines for the recipients. Food wells can ensure a warm meal for people who need it. 

Other places you’re likely to spot hot or cold food wells include fast-casual restaurants, hotels, sit-down restaurants with salad bars, grocery stores, and delis.

Hot Food Wells

Hot food wells accommodate various foods that are meant to be served and eaten while warm, so these units will keep your product at a desirable, safe temperature that wards off bacterial proliferation.
Restaurant Equipment

Drop-In Hot Food Wells

  • Drop-in hot food wells are designed to allow for easy placement in buffet tables. The pans sit flush with the table, which prevents messy spills, provides a clean appearance, and allows patrons to clearly see the contents.
  • You’ll find one-well and multi-compartment models available, as some hold full-sized, half-sized, or extra large-sized pans.
  • Many wells are insulated to ensure accurate long-term holding temperatures and energy-efficient operation.
  • Drop-ins are typically preferred due to lower cost and ease of installation.
Restaurant Equipment

Bottom-Mounted Hot Food Wells

  • Bottom-mounted hot food wells allow you to create a visually appealing food station on a countertop or table to serve vegetables, hot entrees, sides, and other meal accompaniments. 
  • Each food well is designed to install directly into your countertops to reduce clutter and maintain a flat and uniform look.
  • You can easily control each well for precise heating and warming thanks to the heating elements built into their bodies. 
  • Like drop-ins, you’ll find several different sizes available for bottom-mounted food wells to accommodate half- or full-size food pans.
Restaurant Equipment

Induction-Ready Hot Food Wells

  • As a subset of drop-in food wells, induction-ready food wells utilize specialized technology to create quicker, more efficient heat. 
  • Induction food wells operate dry, which means that you do not need to add water. This design streamlines the process and makes cleanup easier. 
  • No heat is produced unless an induction-ready pan is on the unit. Only the pan and food get hot, never the drop-in surface, which makes this method safer than others. 
  • Digital controls make setup an intuitive user experience. 

Hot Food Well Purchasing Considerations

If you've zeroed in on hot food wells, here are some factors to consider before landing on your final choice:

Control Types

Restaurant Equipment

Infinite Controls

  • Include temperature knobs that simply range between "Low" and "High"
  • Ideal for operations that don’t need much sophistication
  • Lacks the advanced controls for managing complex foods
Restaurant Equipment

Thermostatic Controls

  • Offer more precision for specific temperatures and timing cycles
  • Flexibility for frequent adjustments to holding temperatures
  • High upfront cost
Restaurant Equipment

Digital Controls

  • Most precise temperature control with easy-to-read displays 
  • Mount displays away from the unit to prevent tampering and wear 
  • Less common and more expensive 
Drains or No Drains

You'll find several models that come equipped with drains, which allow staff to easily drain excess water at the end of the day, thus making cleanup much simpler. That said, if you do not have an existing setup to adapt, then you may need to run new plumbing through your establishment to properly hook up the food well drains, resulting in higher upfront costs.

Auto-Fill Feature

While an increasing number of pans can operate wet or dry, most models still need water to ensure gentle, even heating. Getting and maintaining the proper level of water can be a time-consuming hassle, especially if you have a lot of wells, which makes auto-fill a good option. These models connect into your plumbing and automatically regulate the water level. Installation costs a little extra, but it can save your establishment a lot of money over the course of the unit's lifespan.

Cold Food Wells

Cold food wells house items that are typically raw, pre-cooked, or more desirable when chilled. Salad ingredients often come to mind with this variation, as well as desserts and even seafood.
Restaurant Equipment

Ice-Cooled Drop-In Food Wells

  • Ice-cooled drop-in food wells are simple, yet efficient, ways to keep your fruits, desserts, and deli meats at safe temperatures.
  • These units require only ice, so you don’t need to worry about electrical connections and the costs that they bring.
  • Insulated, stainless steel walls get the most out of the ice, as you’ll get superior temperature retention wherever you put them.
  • Multiple sizes are available to suit your preferred capacity and layout needs.


Restaurant Equipment

Refrigerated Food Wells

  • If you’d prefer to avoid the frequent attention and cleanup that ice-cooled food wells require, refrigerated drop-in food wells offer a more convenient solution.
  • These wells utilize a compressor to circulate refrigerant around the food pans to keep the food inside chilled for hours at a time.
  • These units mount into wood or metal countertops.
  • Some refrigerated wells also utilize forced air to create a cool air curtain over the top of the food.
  • Recessed units are available to prevent food contamination.
  • You can find several sizes and shapes available, such as curved and slim.


Cold Food Well Purchasing Considerations

Cold food wells also have several facets to think about as you work through the decision-making process, including:
Restaurant Equipment

Display Style

You’ll find that cold food wells come in more styles than other variations.

  • Slanted options are popular, as they offer better views of the product while allowing excess water to naturally slide toward the installed drain (if applicable).
  • If you have semi-circle countertops or something similar, curved wells are an ideal fit.
  • You can also find slim lines for sleeker presentation, or to accommodate smaller countertops.

Cooling Method for Refrigerated Cold Food Wells

Restaurant Equipment

Cold Wall

  • Greater output potential to meet a wider range of demands
  • Generate steady temperatures via conductive cooling of the food well directly
  • Require a greater initial investment than forced air systems
Restaurant Equipment

Forced Air

  • Most cost-effective cold food well
  • Relies on systems which cycles cold air through the system, which dries out foods
  • More expensive to operate and maintain
Allocate a warming space for your soups, stews, chowders, and sauces with a drop-in soup well. Because units typically sit flush with the table, soup wells reduce the amount of equipment located on a table or countertop, which increases convenience and creates a more professional look. You'll find various options available, including different sizes and models with drains.
Restaurant Equipment

Standard Soup Wells

Typical soup wells utilize standard electric heating elements to perform their function, as the wattage can range up to, and beyond, 800 watts. The higher wattage you have, the better your warmer will be able to heat various product quickly and efficiently. 

It's important to note that standard warmers are not built to bring chilled food back up to safe temperatures. Instead, their primary purpose is to hold prepared, already-warm food at the desired temperature. 

Restaurant Equipment


You might see some warmers branded as rethermalizers, which might beg the question, “What’s the difference?”

Rethermalizers are designed to bring chilled, prepared food to desirable, safe temperatures, which other warmers do not accomplish as well. Rethermalizers will also hold your product at a stable temperature, effectively making them a useful, multifaceted product.

Restaurant Equipment

Induction Soup Wells

Induction cooking has taken a stronger hold in kitchen environments, as it concentrates on heating an object directly via electromagnetic currents. This technology has made its way to soup wells!

  • This innovation makes cooking quicker and more energy-efficient, and now you can bring that to your soup warmers.
  • It improves the safety of the cooking apparatus and its surrounding area because the heat focuses entirely on the pot.
  • Induction-ready soup wells have the potential to present notable savings in the long term.
  • These units usually cost more money upfront than traditional warmers.
  • It also requires special, magnetized cookware that conducts the heat.
Restaurant Equipment

Dual Temperature Food Wells

When your menu changes daily and you don’t have space to implement different types of food wells, dual temperature models provide adequate flexibility. You’ll keep your equipment inventory in check while limiting spending costs. 

  • Each food well has a dedicated heating system for hot entrees, appetizers, and sauces, while the compressor can work to pump chilling refrigerant for salads, fruits, and other cold food items. 
  • Several dual temp units are drop-in style to ease installation.
  • Some sport a sloped design to drain excess liquids away from the food.

Food Well Accessories

To create the most efficient, well-constructed setup possible, you may want to consider a variety of available food well accessories to aid in installation or operation. Examples include:
Restaurant Equipment

Covers and Lids

  • Protect foods from germs, debris, and contaminants
  • Help with temperature retention
Restaurant Equipment

Mounting Kits

  • Allow for easy installation of food wells into tabletops
  • Create a defined border between well and medium
Restaurant Equipment

Adapter Bars

  • Allow for customized setups
  • Accomodate fractional pans of different sizes
Restaurant Equipment

False Bottoms

  • Provide a platform for loose ice
  • Includes perofrations to drain water and prevent ice buildup
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

Related Resources

Restaurant Equipment Certification Marks Explained

In the foodservice industry, sanitation and safety are extremely important. To keep equipment operators and end consumers safe, several certifying and testing agencies exist to work with manufacturers and verify that the restaurant equipment and smallwares they produce meet specific requirements. You can recognize products that meet these requirements by certain symbols found on the equipment or in its specification sheet. We will discuss some of the most common third-party testing agencies and directives, their importance, and how they may affect your business.

The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures

The top priority in a commercial kitchen is understanding and enforcing food safety temperatures. Neglecting them can put customers at serious risk of contracting foodborne illnesses. To ensure food safety , foodservice operators and handlers must understand the temperature danger zone and its impacts. We'll explain the danger zone temperature range, which foods are most at risk, and how to prevent food from lingering at hazardous temperatures. Shop All Kitchen Thermometers Click below to learn about the temperature danger zone: Why Is the Danger Zone Important? How Long Food Can Stay in the Danger Zone How to Hold Cold Food How to Hold Hot Food Danger Zone FAQs What Is the Danger Zone for Food? The danger zone refers to the temperature ran

How to Start a Buffet

Buffets are a popular type of restaurant in the United States and can be found across the country in a variety of forms. The amount of food they need to produce presents many unique goals and challenges, differentiating them from other types of restaurants. As a result, there are some differences when opening a buffet as opposed to opening a traditional restaurant . Below, we'll break down everything you need to know about buffets, such as how they make money, the different types of buffets, and the steps you need to follow to open your own. What Is a Buffet? A buffet, also known as an "All You Can Eat" restaurant, is a type of restaurant where customers pay a fixed price to fill their plates with as much food as they'd like. Most buffets a

Join Our Mailing List

Receive coupon codes and more right to your inbox.

Recipe converter
WebstaurantStore blog
Videos of demonstrations, how-tos and more