Diners are demanding more from their buffets besides quality. They want innovations, instagram worthy settings, drama and style. Stepping in are companies with innovative buffet hardware. Vicki Williams explores the options open to restaurateurs and hoteliers.

Buffets are hugely popular with diners and therefore a big business for both hotels and restaurants. With diners wanting more than seafood on ice and hot food served in chafing dishes, it is not enough to just offer quality fare. In 2017, an Instagram worthy presentation has become just as important as the food. So what does the modern buffet table look like?

Focusing on innovative buffet hardware is Zieher. “Zieher stands for innovative design in tableware and buffets. The demands of gourmet restaurants and the best hotels worldwide serve as pulse generators and inspiration for new products. We use various, partially exotic materials, combined with high quality craftsmanship. Our imperative is to support our customers in serving their sophisticated guests in the best possible way and to create a unique experience for them,” explains Nikolan Dietz, marketing manager. Examples include its famous Skyline, (a tower presentation), and Donna, a plate with a distinctive “pillow-shape” that has been so successful it is now available in porcelain, glass and wood. While a new hot product is the basket and tray system, called Mercato.

Zieher stands for innovative design in tableware and buffets

Great expectations

“Guest’s expectations continue to grow in terms of food quality and presentation, with dozens of pictures uploaded to social media and being shared with hundreds of diners, further increasing expectations,” says Peggy Poon, spokesperson, Athena Tableware (HK).

As a result Poon says the appearance of the buffet table is driven by culinary design, “In 2017, food will be displayed in localised utensils, and the use of different materials such as wood, stone, clay, iron, copper will be seen besides the ordinary steel, glass and porcelain. Overall the buffet will be sophisticatedly decorated.” The extensive range of products from Athena reflects this with current in demand ranges, including the La Tapas (featuring black clay, with rugged shapes and outlines), and natural, wood textured bowls that are scratch proof, unbreakable and can be placed directly on ice for a unique presentation.

Technology is also playing its role. Gastros Switzerland focuses on heating solutions. Peter Cairoli, chief executive officer, says, “This includes the new InductWarm 130 Undercounter induction buffet solution. Tables and counters from different materials can be transformed into a heated buffet that keeps food warm up to 95°C on four different temperature levels. An induction device is installed underneath the surface, with a compatible dish on top, allowing for a customised counter and is suitable for glass, stone and wood.”

InductWarm 130 Undercounter induction buffet solution.

A sentiment shared by of Andy Mannhart, which has a sizeable range of buffet products including induction. Daniel Sutter, CEO, says, “We can offer over 100 flexible buffet design solutions, and this can include the in demand induction products with hidden units. We see fast changing trends especially on the design side in this sector. Therefore we will be faster with new products in the future, following trends which come also from the retail side. All combined with the newest technology.”

Limitless presentations

Alexandre Buytaert, executive chef, Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong, says given technology advancements and the range of products available buffet presentation is as limitless as the imagination. “There are no limits — all it takes is to stay logical to prevent confusion while adding an interesting touch with coherence. For example, some setups can be composed of commercial equipment that serve the purpose of displaying the food in which they were prepared, such as a KitchenAid blender, where the mixing bowl is placed on its side to display a dessert mousse or fruit salad.”

In terms of the wow factor at the hotel’s extremely popular Cafe Kool, Buytaert says, “I’d think that vertical display chillers as well as voluminous and sleek design containers for seafood displays with crushed ice will always make a strong statement. What’s essential for our guests as they enter is that they catch their first glimpse of food with excitement in an appealing and enticing environment which tells them generously: this food is all yours, help yourself and please enjoy it all.”

Additionally, he says with many reputable brands offering design solutions to hold foods at safe levels of cold and hot temperatures, and the use of various materials with the right mix of volume and height, it has never been easier to create an original, impressive, social media friendly buffet.

Martin Satow, executive sous chef, Grand Hyatt Singapore, agrees, “Our buffet presentation is one that is personal, interactive, and exciting, and seeks to stimulate all the guests’ senses. Our hotel’s flagship restaurant, mezza9 does not use chafing dishes that may come off as impersonal, we use kitchenware such as clay pots, small pans, woks, and wooden boards. Our restaurants have always been on the forefront of innovation and creativity but as much as we explore the current food trends, we are careful not to lose our identity.”

He adds, “The buffet (table) of 2017 is one that is lively and engages customers.”