3 Essential Tools Your Cafeteria Needs

Efficient and organized behind-the-scenes operations are crucial for a smooth-running cafeteria. This is especially true for school cafeterias, which require budget-friendly, durable, easy-to-clean, and safe equipment to feed and serve students.

There are three essential tools every cafeteria must have to ensure it runs without any hitches: thermal cabinets, insulated food carriers, and the right kind of shelving. In this guide, the foodservice experts at Metro walk you through the critical tools your cafeteria needs and show you how to choose the best ones for your operation. 

Graphic displaying a women wearing an apron serving food to a girl. The left side reads, "Tools your Cafeteria Needs"

Thermal Cabinets

When the bell rings for lunch, you want the food you’re serving to be hot and fresh, even when it's been prepared earlier. High-performance thermal holding cabinets make this possible.

Heated cabinets keep everything at safe temperatures required by food-safety regulations and allow you to promptly serve all students. This is why they are an essential piece of school kitchen equipment.

It takes well-insulated cabinets with precision temperature control and a wide range of features to get the job done properly. Here are some features to look for when choosing the right holding cabinet for your facility:

  • Low-temp alarm for safety
  • High-performance airflow design for more uniform temperature distribution
  • Setting saver to maintain consistency
  • Ergonomic, top-mounted controls which improve access and are easier to clean
  • Slides with a universal option to maximize sheet pan capacity
  • Stainless steel or aluminum construction for durability

Unsure which Metro thermal cabinet is right for your cafeteria? Our cabinet selection guide allows you to compare all C5 cabinet models. 

Insulated Food Carriers

Consumables must stay at safe temperatures to prevent illness. This is easier to accomplish when food can be held in thermal cabinets within your kitchen, but it can be more challenging when prepared food requires transport. In addition to keeping food at safe temperatures, food carriers must be easy to move.

Solve this problem with lightweight insulated food carriers that maintain food safety temperatures and offer maximum capacity without causing the cafeteria staff to have a sore back. A dolly accessory can ease the burden, rolling quietly along flooring surfaces.

Some other features to consider when choosing insulated food carriers for your school cafeteria are:

  • Insulative properties to keep food safe for 5+ hours
  • Ergonomic handle design for easy lift, move and carry
  • Lightweight, yet durable construction for long-lasting durability
  • Easy to clean
  • Stack-ability for easy transport and storage(when not in use)

Metro Mightlite insulated food carriers are made from an advanced polymer foam that has an incredible strength-to-weight ratio, making them 60% lighter than other insulated food carriers. EPP also has exceptional temperature retention, might means Mightylite can keep your food hot and fresh for up to five hours. 


Shelving systems that work with the flow of your space while providing accessible storage and the option for mobility can significantly improve efficiency. But not just any shelving will do in a busy school cafeteria. The right shelving is a crucial tool for keeping food, ingredients, and kitchen materials organized and off the floor, making it easier to comply with health and safety codes.

Like any important kitchen appliance, shelves should also be easy to clean and withstand various cleaning products. Units should feature robust corners and frames and durable finishes that resist corrosion and rust. Corrosion resistance benefits a cafeteria's bottom line because a resistant shelf lasts longer and is easier to maintain.

In short? School cafeterias need shelving that's corrosion-proof, stable, and able to safely hold up to 2,000 pounds (0.91 tons) per unit—critical in a fast-paced environment.

Here’s what to look for in high-quality kitchen shelving for your cafeteria:

  • Interchangeable posts and shelves for convenient customization
  • Easy-clean surfaces (removable mats for the dishwasher)
  • Construction materials that are rust-resistant or 100-percent rust-proof
  • NSF Approved
  • Customizable with dividers, can racks, and wire baskets to maximize storage/organization
  • Enclosure panels for sides/back
  • Mobility via casters and stainless-steel handles (makes it easier to clean walls and floors)

While Cafeterias can utilize both traditional wire shelving and advanced plastic shelving , we recommend our MetroMax line for its versatility. All-plastic shelving is corrosion-proof and can still safely hold up to 2,000 pounds per shelving unit. Plastic shelving can even be used in  walk-in coolers and freezers

Wondering which Metro shelving is best for your cafeteria? Check out our shelving guide to compare all shelving types.

Ensure Your Cafeteria is Organized and Efficient with the Help of Metro

At Metro, we know how important it is for school cafeterias to remain organized to ensure efficiency and safety in the kitchen. That’s why we offer customized, cutting-edge solutions that work for your budget, space, and needs.

Wondering how Metro can help you improve the operations of your cafeteria? You can view all of our foodservice solutions on our website . Be sure also to check out our Kitchen Storage Makeover winners —in 2022, we gave Flanagan-Cornell Unit 74 in Illinois a cafeteria makeover.