Restaurant owners understand the importance of holding temperatures and how short the window is to keep warm foods at proper temperatures. When foods fall below proper temperatures, the risk of foodborne illness and of dissatisfied customers increases. Commercial heat lamps act as a warming agent – with temperatures not high enough to continue cooking – that keeps prepared foods at the perfect temperatures for a short time until ready to be served to customers. Heat lamps should not be used for extended holding to prevent drying out product from the dry heat that is emitted from heat lamps. Because of this, heat lamps are ideal for buffet lines, expo counters, carving stations, and more.


Types of Heat Lamps 

Heat lamps are available in a variety of styles, mounting types, and sizes depending on the application of the product. The application of the heat lamp will decide what model is best for your operations, but it is important to note that heat lamps are intended for warming foods with a small surface area for short periods of time. Dense foods are best to be held in holding cabinets or drawer warmers. 

Hanging Heat Lamps: As the name suggests, hanging heat lamps hang suspended in the kitchen on low-hanging ceilings, walls, or mounts. These bulb warmer models are preferred over a buffet line or expo counter and are hardwired in so cannot be moved.

Countertop Heat Lamps: An economy choice, these warmers are perfect for giving your dish a boost. Countertop bulb warmers are not as efficient and do not emit as much heat as strip warmers. However, bulb warmers are convenient because they can be moved and plugged in elsewhere.

Mounted on a stand for stability, countertop bulb warmers are constructed for pans of food to slide right under the bulbs. Adjustable stands allow for control over the heat emitted.  

Strip Heat Lamps: Strip heat lamps feature one or more rows of heating elements in a long metal housing. Reflectors inside of the housing intensify the distributed heat to the food. These lamps boast consistent heat patterns which means no cold spots!


Benefits: Keep in Mind:
Hanging Heat Lamps

-Reliable and consistent 

-Preferred for bullet lines or expo counters 

-Cannot be moved 

-Makes it difficult to rearrange kitchen if ever needed 

Countertop Heat Lamps

-Economical choice 

-Units also produce light to show off product – a great option for the front of the house! 

-Can be moved 

-Small holding area 

-Low-intensity heat 

Strip Heat Lamps

-Efficient and more intense heating 

-Evenly distributed heat 

-Most models are hardwired (freestanding models are not) 

-Intensity of the heat can dry out food – only use on food for very short periods of time 

Mounting Styles 

  • Suspended: These units generally feature multiple bulbs on suspension bars to provide heat to large areas such as buffet lines. These typically need to be hardwired for installation. 
  • Stand: Stands give stability to the supported bulbs. These warmers are typically designed with the ability to slide food pans directly under the bulbs. 
  • Clamp: Create a carving station or customized display with clamp-on mounted bulbs. These units can be mounted to a table or countertop or in some cases, the included base. 


Heat lamps are relatively easy to operate due to simple controls. Most units utilize either a toggle on/off switch or an infinite switch for variable temperature control. Side-mounted controls are easier to install than units with remote controls, however, the control box is more exposed to the unit’s heat which can shorten product life. Remote controls give users the ability to install the control box anywhere, usually meaning that the unit will last longer without the damage from the heat on the control box. 

Final Thoughts 

Extend the life of your foods with commercial heat lamps! Central offers a wide range of colors, shapes, and styles at affordable prices. Need to hold large amounts of foods? Check out our buying guide on holding cabinets 

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