Foodservice Utility Carts Buying Guide

Foodservice Utility Carts Buying Guide

From bussing tables to transporting cleaning equipment at end of shift, stocking product, and transferring food from freezers and fridges to kitchen appliances, utility service carts are a must for any kitchen. They're also great for hotel room service, replenishing buffets, or stocking shelves. So, it should come as no surprise that you'll be needing one or more for your foodservice venue.

But not all commercial utility carts are the same. They come in a variety of sizes with different configurations so it's important to get to know the details so you can make an informed decision about what to get for your venue.

This buyer's guide will lead you through the various types of commercial utility carts, uses, styles, accessories, and more to help you make an informed decision and ask the right questions when you're ready to make a purchase.

Types of Foodservice Utility Carts

Types of Utility Carts Used in Foodservice

First and most important, you need to ask yourself what you'll be using the utility cart for and how will it help you in your day-to-day business. By narrowing down how different operations rely on commercial utility carts you'll be able to see how they can be used for your establishment.

Kitchens rely on utility service carts for moving food from one area to another, but they also serve a wider range of uses from receiving product and transporting it to shelves, freezers, and refrigerators to transferring food from one end of the kitchen to the other or back of house to front of house, or visa versa. In a pinch, utility carts can also be a portable kitchen island.

Bussing – restaurant utility carts are great for bussing tables. Some are specifically made for bussing and come with buckets or can be purchased separately.  There are also additional accessories like flatware boxes and wastebaskets available.

Transport – utility carts can transport everything from dishes to cutlery, prepared food, and menu prep from one area to another in the kitchen. They're great for putting pots, pans, and dishes into service areas or storage. There are so many creative ways to use these carts for transporting as well.

Hospitality – Hotels rely on utility carts for room service. In this industry, service carts are also popular. These restaurant equipment beverage carts generally have a drop-leaf serving area and pullout drawer. They're ideal for bringing coffee into meeting rooms and are available to blend in with the room's décor (e.g., can look like wood).

A meal delivery cart with enclosed shelves is another option often used by hospitals and for catering as they keep prepared meals hot until delivered to their destination.

Meal delivery carts 

Receiving – Utility carts are extremely useful for receiving deliveries and shuttling them to various areas of your business. They're great for food order deliveries allowing you to take them into the kitchen to stock shelves, put in fridges, etc.

Cafeterias use dish carts in schools and hospitals to secure plates and cups. These carts have shelves and fit the trays so patrons can slide them into the cart when they're done eating. The carts are easily moved into the kitchen to clean the dishes and replaced with a new cart or emptied and returned to the dining area.

Foodservice carts come in many different sizes, with or without enclosed doors, various numbers of shelves, and more. Here are some cart features to consider.

Utility Cart Capacity

Capacity for a utility cart means the weight capacity or load capacity.  If the weight capacity of a utility cart is 400 lb, that cart can hold a total of 400 lb.  Remember when considering total load capacity of a cart that the load should be evenly distributed over all of its shelves for safety but also for the durability of your cart.

For example, your cart handle hold 400 lb and has three shelves.  Therefore each shelf can hold up to 133 lb.  

Load capacities are divided into three main categories: light, medium and heavy-duty.

A lightweight utility cart can carry 300 lb or less and is the perfect size for catering, bussing, or cleaning.

A medium, or standard cart can carry 300-600 lb and can be used for transporting heavier loads including dishware and glassware for set up and clean up, receiving and general transport between work stations.

A heavy-duty cart can carry more than 600 lb and used for receiving, transport of dishes, glasses and flatware, stocking and transport of weighty items between areas in your operation.

If you have a small footprint in your kitchen or venue you might opt for a folding cart that can be neatly stored when not in use. They free up storage space but many carry heavy items like large pots of soup or chafers. 

Utility Cart Materials

Metal versus plastic utility carts – what to choose? This often comes down to a combination of personal preference and what the cart will be used for.

Plastic utility carts usually cost less than metal carts and are lighter too. Some will show stains but many have stain resistance and resist scratches and chips. A popular choice with many foodservice operators.

Metal utility carts are rust-resistant because they're made from stainless steel but they can dent and can show scratches. However, the thickness of the metal determines durability and metal carts can be stronger than plastic. They come in a wide range of configurations and can be more aesthetically pleasing than plastic.

Utility Cart Wheels and Casters

Most commercial utility carts come with casters. These are wheels with additional metal configurations attached allowing them to do more than a wheel on its own.

Swivel casters can rotate up 360 degrees and some can lock in place. They come are made from different materials including hard and soft rubber.

Carts generally come with the rolling mechanism but these can be replaced and sometimes wear out over time. If you need new ones you can choose from a variety of casters or wheels, some made for specific uses. You'll also want to decide if you want brakes and whether you need swivel or fixed rolling capabilities.

If you have various flooring materials in your business, choose casters that can easily transition between hard to soft floors.

You can also get non-marking cart casters that prevent damage on linoleum, wood, and tile floors. Commercial carts that have casters with bumpers protect against scuffs on furniture, walls, and doors.

Utility Cart Wheels and Casters

Utility Cart Shelves

Utility carts can have anywhere from two to four shelves.

Remember that clearance between two shelves will be greater than a cart with three or four shelves as cart are typically all similar in total height. To decide on how many shelves you need to think about the size of the items you'll be transporting and make sure they'll fit on the shelves. Kitchen utility carts should be chosen to work with the bins and storage containers you prefer (including height clearance).

Enclosed carts may have all the shelves behind doors or a shelf exposed plus some inside the doors. As mentioned above, these can be used to deliver food in cafeterias and hospital settings but they can also be beneficial for transporting cleaning supplies or bus boxes to hide them from patrons in front of house.

Some carts have lipped shelves.  Lips can be on one, two, three or all sides of the shelf to prevent slipping of contents during transport and also helpful for containing spilled contents.  When determining the height clearance between shelves, take into account the height of the lip.

Some carts have grooves near the perimeter of the shelves, again helpful for containing spills without affecting the ease of moving contents on and off the shelves.

Adjustable heights of shelves could be an important feature to consider for your foodservice business, but not all carts have adjustable shelves.

Closed side utility cart

Utility Cart Handles

There are two types of handles on utility carts – horizontal and vertical. 

Horizontal handles, as the name implies, are in-line or slightly lower than to top shelf of the cart. The distance the handle extends from the cart is a key consideration as this determines the ease you can walk while pushing the cart in front of you without hitting the bottom shelf with your feet.

Vertical handles are generally found on metal carts and heavy-duty plastic carts or those with heavier capacities. Again, as the name implied, these handles are taller than the top shelf of the cart.  Remember to consider the total height of the cart including the handle if storing the cart while not in use is important in your operation.

The vertical design is great for ergonomic use ensuring people can push the cart comfortably no matter their height. This is great if the cart is being used for long periods and heavy loads.

Some handles are a combination of horizonal and vertical with the handle coming out at an upward angle from the top shelf of the cart.

Foodservice Utility Cart Handles

Utility Cart Accessories

The ability to attach accessories to utility carts is a key consideration for many foodservice operations.

Service cart bins, also called garbage bins can be attached or hooked onto utility carts.  Yes, they can be used for garbage but can also be use for storing tools and supplies to have close at hand and reduce trips.

These cart bins can also be used for cutlery and can be helpful for organizing during bussing tables.

Some utility carts also have holders moulded into the top shelf for holding supplies like thermometers, labels, pens and markers - important to have close at hand when receiving and moving food supplies to their proper storage location.

Accessories for Foodservice Utility Carts

Other considerations when choosing a utility cart

Keep in mind that utility carts can be purchases assembled or unassembled.  The unassembled versions are typically cheaper, but determine your available labour and the cost to you having an employee put the cart together.

Unassembled Foodservice Utility Cart

No matter your foodservice business, big or small, a utility cart takes a load off and keeps things moving.  Your staff (and their backs) will thank you.

Written by Suzanne Boles

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Types of foodservice utility carts