Caterers aren't asking that equipment be fancy-they just want products that are durable and easy to use, says Bob Beebe, product director at The Garland Group, based in Freeland, Pa.

EASY HEATING A popular oven for off-premise catering, his company's half-size convection oven is small but can be used with electricity or gas, Beebe says. To please end-users, "we came out with a new set of controls for our convection ovens last year," he notes. "A lot of kitchen equipment manufacturers, including Garland, have been criticized by customers who say that the equipment we make is good, but hard to figure out. So we've redesigned our controls to make them easy to understand and use."

Convection ovens don't need to be handled with kid gloves, Beebe says, but he does discourage spraying the inside with a hose. "They're not waterproof." Instead, he recommends wiping the units down with a spray cleaner.

When renting a convection oven or other unit that can be used with both electricity and gas, "make sure to contact us early to allow extra time for converting equipment to field conditions," says Reid Spaulding, sales manager for Los Angeles-based B + B Restaurant and Bakery Equipment. He recommends contacting the supplier or rental house at least one week before the event.

GETTING THERE Getting the equipment to the event site easily is another priority for caterers, says John Lau, general manager at Ace Fixture Co., a restaurant equip ment distributor based in Anaheim, Calif. To simplify transport, he says that Grillco offers a barbecue grill with trailer mounts. "You can hook it up to a truck, so there's no loading or unloading, and it's big enough to roast a whole pig."

When food is prepared off-site, Lau recommends carrying it to the event in insulated transport cabinets, such as those offered by Cambro. "They're especially suitable for outdoor events with limited cooking facilities. Food can be prepared in advance and then taken to the site in steam tables or food pans that sit inside of the transport cabinets."

Similarly, Alto-Shaam offers a series of electric holding cabinets featuring halo-heat. "Halo-heat is a thermal cable within the walls of the cabinet, wrapped back and forth for even distribution of heat," says Judy Nagel, national sales manager for the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based food-service equipment manufacturer. She likens the technology to that of a heating blanket. "It's especially suitable when you want to stay ahead of the crowd, preparing food in advance and keeping it warm, without drying it out."

SAFE AND SOUND To prevent flare-ups and ease cleanup, Jeffrey Foxe, manager of product planning for Magikitch'n, Quakertown, Pa., says the company's catering charbroiler has a water tub. "It's a drawer that you fill with water. Oil and grease will fall into the water, rather than collect at the bottom of the pan, preventing flare-ups."

Options for the charbroiler include a steam pan-"so you can cook and hold food or cook and steam food at the same time"-and a griddle, as well as different types of hoods, Foxe says, adding that the product is NSF-approved.

To gain approval by NSF International (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation), a product must be easy to clean, corrosion-resistant, nontoxic and free of areas where bacteria can hide. "Some zones and states require that approval," Foxe says.

Resources: Ace Fixture Co., 714/635-0680; Alto-Shaam, 262/251-3800; B + B Restaurant and Bakery Equipment, 323/735-1561; The Garland Group, 570/636-1000; Magikitch'n, 215/536-8140