Warm chips are better. Whether served plain in a basket with salsa on the side, or covered with melted cheese and assorted toppings, tortilla and nacho chips are extremely popular menu items that boost check averages and provide good margins for operators. They are popular in Mexican, fast casual, family style, and take out restaurants, as well as bars, stadiums, theaters, and even convenience stores. While many customers are content to eat them right out of the bag, almost everyone agrees that warm chips have a crispier crunch, fresher flavor, and enhanced aroma.
Warming chips on an a la carte basis using an oven or cheesemelter is time consuming and can result in overbrowned or burnt chips. Commercial chip warmers are specialized holding units. They typically feature electric heating elements with gentle forced air to circulate heat around the holding cabinet. They maintain temperatures between 90 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Capacities range from about 20 to 50 gallons of chips.
A key feature of commercial chip warmers is “first in, first out” service. Chips are loaded from above and dispensed from below. This ensures that chips being served are fresh and have had ample time to warm. When considering a purchase, think about your kitchen layout and whether it makes sense to have a front loading, top loading, or rear loading machine. If choosing a top loading chip warmer, make sure there is enough room above the unit to lift and open the hinged door.
Most commercial chip warmers are manufactured from stainless steel and may include insulated walls to retain heat and reduce energy costs. Magnetic latches on loading and dispensing doors are a nice feature for easy access and to help keep doors shut for heat retention. Many models have a grated floor to allow small pieces of broken chips, excess salt, and crumbs to fall out into a crumb tray below. Carter Hoffman manufactures commercial chip warmers in multiple sizes and configurations.
For front-of-the-house applications, several manufacturers offer heated chip merchandisers. These usually feature clear front and side panels, interior lighting, and attractive signage to display the chips and promote impulse purchases.