The tried-and-true stainless steel or silverplate chafing dish is here to stay. But caterers searching for variety are warming up to chafers made of unique materials and new ways of keeping food hot. Special Events Magazine serves up a sampling of tasty products and hot ideas.

MORE METALS

"The market for silver chafers is still strong," says Jack Luft, vice president of Lincolnwood, Ill.-based Hall's Rental Service. "But we are renting more chrome." The rental house recently added mirror-finish, chrome chafing dishes. According to Luft, the lower prices of copper chafers ("They can be half the price of silver") make them an attractive alternative.

At Unique Tabletop Rentals in Bellflower, Calif., "We have a line of chafers with wrought-iron bases," says partner Marjory Eggleston. "They're powder-coated to look rusted."

Another variation to the standard chafer, also available at Unique, is a hammered gunmetal model with a shiny finish. It, too, rests on a wrought-iron frame.

WOOD IS GOOD

Both The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Dallas-based Wyndham Anatole Hotel have added wooden chafers for outdoor functions. "The outside frame of these dishes is made of teak; the water pan and insert pan are made out of metal," says Hal Scott, director of banquet operations at the Wyndham Anatole.

KAP Banquet Products, based in Lecanto, Fla., offers teak chafers. Ken Pearce, owner and designer, says his chafers are especially good for outdoor functions because the wood casing makes them windproof, thus keeping food warm longer. "The best thing about them is they save about 25 percent on fuel cost," he says. "One hotel told me it saved $8,000 in one year on canned heat using five of these wooden chafers." Hotels cite savings in silver- polishing costs as another incentive for using wood chafers, he adds.

BEYOND CHAFERS

Instead of using chafing dishes at an outdoor event, The Breakers might keep seafood chowder in a large copper kettle that rests on a tripod, says Kevin Walters, vice president of food and beverage. "It helps create the beach experience."

"We put food on heated pewter platters," reports Jerry Edwards, CPCE, president of the National Association of Catering Executives and owner of catering company Chef's Expressions, based in Timonium, Md. "We just warm them up in the oven at 350 degrees for half an hour." He says the heated pans keep food toasty for about half an hour after coming out of the oven.

If food needs to stay warm for longer than 30 minutes, Walters recommends this rustic chafer alternative: "Arrange a few layers of bricks in a circle, place canned heat in the middle, and set a copper or cast-iron cooking skillet on top." Voila-you just created your own chafing dish.

Resources: The Breakers, 561/655-6611, www.thebreakers.com; Chef's Expressions, 410/561-2433, www.chefsexpressions.com; Hall's Rental Service, 847/982-9200; KAP Banquet Products, 888/611-7022; Unique Tabletop Rentals, 562/529-3632; Wyndham Anatole Hotel, 214/748-1200, www.wyndham.com