‘Bang on’: tableware takes a theatrical hammering

With the Drayton Manor rollercoaster operating just a stone’s throw away, it was appropriate that drama was centre table at the 2017 CESA LET Forum.  On display was a plethora of product launches, from buffet displays and tableware to gadgets and gizmos, designed to create theatre on the table, and help give foodservice operators that touch of difference.  Alongside were innovative kitchen equipment concepts, including compact hot holding bins, sous vide baths, multi-functional slicers and dicers and wifi-based temperature logging systems. This was a record-breaking Forum attended by almost 100 delegates, representing 25 different distributors, there to check out the latest ideas from 19 leading suppliers.   Described by several as ‘a bit like speed dating’, the format saw each group of delegates spend 25 minutes with each exhibitor company, getting hands-on experience of their new product launches.

Brian Honeyford, purchasing manager of Brakes Catering Equipment, described the Forum’s format as “The future of interaction between suppliers and distributors.”  He added, “The 25 minutes with each company is bang on, it’s just enough to get the information you need.  The value is in getting close up and seeing the products – products you might not know about – and finding out where to go to source something a bit different.”

Neville Singer of The DRH Collection said, “It’s all about talking to the right people.  We always pick up business from the Forum.  It’s fantastic.”

Stephen Goodliff, the chair of the CESA LET Group, was delighted with the feedback from both delegates and exhibitors.  “There’s a continuing drive from operators to find something different,” he said.  “The Forum helps sales people find the products their customers are looking for.”

Award Winners

On April 25th CESA hosted the LET Awards dinner, which included a charity race night that raised £1,105 for St John’s Ambulance.  The Distributor Cup, for the distributor who has done most to support sales of light equipment and tableware, was awarded to Alliance Disposables Limited.  For the second year running, the Sales Professional of the Year Award went to Adrian Domagala of Global FSE.  The Donald Bird Award is named in memory of one of the industry’s great supporters and characters, and commemorates significant contributions to light equipment and tableware.  This year’s recipients were Charles and David Grunwerg of I.Grunwerg Ltd.

At the end of the Forum delegates voted for their favourite featured product.  This year the winner was FEM for its Cubic range, a versatile, eye-catching modular buffet display system that operators can adapt to their changing needs.

Trending at the LET Forum 2017

Front of house

Hammered: a lot of metal products are getting a hammering: from cutlery to crates, hammered finishes are in.

Copper: still having its moment, though perhaps not quite as dominant, but now with variations on the theme – including spun copper, antique copper and gun metal copper.

Buffet display: more and more products are being launched to feed the demand.  At the 2017 Forum, many were focused on building height – both for theatre and to fit more display area into a compact footprint.

Coffee buzz: as espresso menus get ever-more exotic, equipment suppliers are meeting the demand with specialist products such as cortado-sized cups.

Natural colours: greys, taupes, whites…. although no-one mentioned the ‘b’ word (beige), there were naturals everywhere – from pepper mills to plates to milk-shake mixers.

Cocktails:  they’ve always been theatrical, but now mixologists are looking for equipment to help them make a point of difference.  Suppliers are helping to maximise cocktail bar theatre – with products like branded barware and extendable spoons.

Casual dining: it’s still the big growth area and is driving demand for that elusive point of difference.  As one delegate said: “Casual makes it sound lazy, but it’s actually really carefully worked out!”

Crushed cups and corn on the cob holders with faces: just two of the many new and inventive product ranges set to catch the eye and shout ‘I’m different.’

Mini serving ware: tiny frying pans, petite saucepans and compact pots are still popular for adding a touch of table theatre.

Breakfast: part of the reason for the surge in buffet products, lots of breakfast buffet products were on display, as well as a wide range of tea and coffee dispensers.

Infusers: not just for tea, but also for cold drinks.  Infusion is a technique that’s gaining in popularity.

Upmarket tableware: increasingly in demand.  Consumers understand quality and operators are moving upmarket – for example, with hand-blown glassware – to meet their expectations.

On the other hand…

Polycarbonate glassware: is increasingly replacing traditional glass, from hotel guest rooms to pubs and bars.  It’s not just safer, it’s also practical and durable.

Blended drinks: cocktails, shakes, smoothies: they’re all on the up.  Suppliers are developing new products to meet the demand – for example, shake mixers designed to cope with non-dairy milk shakes.

Sharing dishes: consumers are getting into sharing their plates.  Which means platters for holding the shared plates are getting bigger!

Wood: still a fashion statement.  Bespoke or branded wood platters are making waves with the chains.  Operators are also buying better quality wood products – they’ve learnt that cheaper ones don’t last.

Touchy-feely: lots of tableware is getting a textured finish, from cutlery to crockery, literally bringing that touch of difference.

Sushi: There’s also a big move of sushi into pubs, bars and restaurants.

In the kitchen:

Sous vide: it continues to grow as more and more caterers, both large and small, understand the technology and the benefits.

Toasters: the slots are getting wider, to accommodate artisan breads.

Wifi data logging: more and more operators are replacing time-consuming paper-based logging with automatic systems for recording and collating data such as fridge temperatures.

Slice and dice: plenty of new kit to prep vegetables and cooked meats.

The LET Forum product review…

Clifton Food Range

Featured product: a folding, slide-back lid for sous vide baths – it means you don’t have to find a place to put your bath lid when you open it up.  Clifton’s most popular product is the portable immersion circulator – which can turn a gastronorm container into a sous vide bath.  Its newest product is the sauce bottle warmer – it keeps bottled sauces warm and ready to pour, in prime condition.


Featured product: the stainless steel double boiler is available in 9 litre and 15 litre working capacities (a 5 litre version is on the way).  Usually double boilers are aluminium – this version is induction compatible and has a spout to let out steam and for topping up the water.  Other new products include ash wood boards, in a variety of shapes, 18/10 stainless steel cutlery for children, and glasses made by Weck.

DKB Household

Featured product: Sherwood Mills, manufactured by Cole and Mason, have a sleek design offering a modern take on the classic wooden salt and pepper mills.  Available in two colours, Sherwood Forest (dark) and Sherwood Sand (light), and three sizes, 200mm, 165mm and 125mm.  Also on show were several new designs of acrylic and stainless steel salt and pepper mills.

The DRH Collection

Featured product: the Infuse Teapot Range by BIA consists of five differently coloured, 55cl / 20oz, ceramic teapots – each one comes with a stainless steel lid and infuser.  DRH also displayed a selection of Oriental styled ranges, mixing patterns and colours, as well as three new colours in the company’s egg coddler range.  Playing off the massive trend of anything gin-related, the Manhattan Gin Glass by Anton Studio Designs, feature a deep bowl and a heavy, curvaceous base.


Featured product: the Dualit Cino milk steamer creates professionally frothed and steamed milk for hot drinks and has a built in scale monitor. It can also be used to make perfect scrambled eggs! Also new is the 2in1 Toastie & Waffle Maker. With one plate for toasties and one for waffles, it can make toasties and waffles at the same time, thanks to the slot selector switch. It has two cooking plates and runs off of a single 13 amp supply.  Dualit’s 11 litre spun copper Hotpot soup kettle can be used with either wet or dry heat and incorporates a double pole variable simmerstat.


Featured product: Rosetto’s drinks infuser is the latest addition to its buffet display range.  It features a perforated central tube to hold sliced or crushed fruit that infuses their flavours into the water.  Eddingtons recently merged with Gilberts Food Service and displayed products from both companies’ portfolios, including the latest in the Lodge range of cookware.  The mini Lodge range, despite being made of cast iron, is dishwasher safe.


Featured product:  the new 12-sided cafetière is made of 18/10 stainless steel, features a double filter and double-walled body for superior brewing and heat retention, with a hollow handle that stays cool. It is available in 3, 6 and 8 cup sizes.  Elia Fine Crystal glassware features contemporary and classic designs ensuring that wine takes centre stage, enhancing both the aroma and flavour.  Each piece is hand-crafted and mouth-blown.


Featured product: the Cubic buffet display system from Spanish manufacturer Pujadas is modular, so operators can create (and change) their own eye-catching display.  FEM also launched Pujadas cookware, natural wood finish laminate trays from Cambro, a new tomato saber from Prince Castle and a range of modular, compact hot holding bins.


Featured product: the company’s new vacuum insulated kettle keeps water hot for hours.  Other new products included the Duchess range of tea and coffee pots, a copper cafetière, new copper and stainless steel vacuum carafe servers, manual coffee grinders, individual coffee servers and the Kristo cooler core jug.  Also shown were Yin and Yang cutlery with black or white handles.


Featured product: a cast aluminium grill tray which is light, practical, safe, versatile, cost effective and easy to carry.  Other new products include teak tableware serving boards – attractive, light and available in a variety of styles, sizes and shapes.  Opinel’s range of steak knives features wooden handles in sixteen different colours.  Ictc’s oversize wood platters are designed to accommodate sharing dishes.


Featured product: Metcalfe’s Nemco Easy Chopper 3 is an all-in-one, heavy duty manual unit for chopping, slicing and wedging.  Colour coordinated blocks have a removable membrane for easy cleaning.  Roband drinks mixers, for shakes, are available in new colours and they have a combined beater impeller for soft scoop swirl ice cream shakes.  The mixer’s speed can be varied to cope with non-dairy milk shakes.

Mitchell & Cooper

Featured product: the Nemox Gelato 4K can make ice cream, sorbet, frozen yoghurt and granita.  It has a density control unit, so chefs can walk away and leave it to do its work.  When the correct consistency is reached, the unit stops.  If the consistency level drops, the unit restarts, so quality is ensured.  The user can adjust the consistency control to suit taste.  Also new were Chroma knives, designed by F.A. Porsche, and Vitrionix knives with Fibrox handles.


Featured products: coloured coffee cups and mugs available in a range of sizes, designed to accommodate the latest coffee trends – such as flat whites, cortados and piccolos – as well as the classics such as espressos and lattes.  Keeping with the coffee shop theme, the new range of coloured jugs are designed for stylish and practical efficiency when used by baristas to froth and pour milk. There is also a new range of coffee glasses for serving coffees such as cortados.

Pro Foodservice Reps Ltd

Featured product: Mercer’s silicon plating tools are designed to help make great tasting dishes look great on the plate.  The Mercer plating tool app shows how to use them.  Also new are Züm chefs’ knives, which aim to combine the best of both worlds: an Asian grip and profile with German steel.  PFR showed products from American Metalcraft, including the VidaCasa hot or cold cells, which are an alternative to chafers for buffets, and a range of porcelain products from French company Revol, including striking ‘crushed’ cups.

Row & Sons

Featured product: the company’s bespoke steak board concept has a beech surround with rebates, a knife slot, and a black Roweca insert.  The Roweca insert is made of recycled paper and resin, is heat resistant to 176°C and dishwasher safe.  Bespoke wood products with logos or special design features are popular with chains looking to stand out by bringing their brand and theatre to the table.  Also on show were classic butchers’ blocks – popular in restaurants, and first made by the company in 1880!

Signature FSE

Featured product: the Revolution mandolin from De Buyer can handle a wide range of different cuts easily, including cubes, diamonds, julienne and waffle, as well as plain or crinkle cuts.  Also new were the latest additions to the Pinti Inox range of stone washed cutlery, with laser-etched designs that add texture to the finish.  The Marlux range of salt and pepper mills includes wood, acrylic and stainless steel models.


Featured product: the new Nordic range of buffet and counter display products combine simple, clean lines and functionality with a chunky, rustic look.  The Nordic crate, for condiments or presenting food, was mounted on a small display table.  T&G also showed new colours in its range of salt and pepper mills, plus “Opera” mills, available in antique beech or ash.  Opera features the CrushGrind ceramic mechanism, which effortlessly grinds not only salt and pepper but also whole dried herbs and spices.


Featured product: a cooking oil tester that tells the user when oil needs changing or topping up.  The ergonomic grip and screen make it easy to use – simply immerse the probe in the oil, stir and wait for the screen to go green (good), amber (will need changing soon) or red (time to change).  The unit helps maintain flavour and consistency and can lower running costs.

Thunder Group

Featured product: the unbreakable polycarbonate shot glass represented the company’s full polycarbonate glassware range.  A safe, durable, cost effective and attractive alternative to glass, it’s good for 2,000 washes in the glasswasher.  As a relatively new company in the UK, all of Thunder Group’s products are new to the market.  They include melamine tableware, polycarbonate containers and a big choice of Asian cookery products.

Feedback from the Forum floor:


“We want to understand products and find new suppliers.  The forum lets us see hands-on what’s available in the market, and how it matches what our customers are looking for,” Yi Liu, Cateringbase.

“It’s so much easier when you see products in the flesh, rather than looking at a brochure or online.  Customers ask questions like ‘where is the on/off switch?’ or ‘how chunky is it?’ You can’t always tell from a picture.  If you’ve actually seen the product and you know your client, it’s easier to know if it will fit,” Deborah Segovia, Equip to Cook.

“The Forum is great because you have time given to you, a dedicated 25 minutes.  Broadening our knowledge helps us to be responsive to customer needs – both in terms of what products are out there, and who to go to for them,”  Donna Baker, Alliance.

“The format works well, it’s like speed dating – people really talk to each other,” Jodie Musgrove, Brakes Catering Equipment.


“The quality of the delegates and the companies they represent are just what we are looking for,” Bob Molnar, Testo.

“Brilliant.  We get to spend time with the sales people who are selling our products,” Colin Hutchinson, Thunder Group.

“This year we had a lot more regional distributors, alongside the nationals, which is great,” Vincenzo Gonnella, Row & Sons.

“It’s good to see so many of the right people in just one and half days,” Charlotte Deykin, PFR.

“It’s vibrant, full of interaction, people seem open minded and they’re asking the right questions,” James Carter, Ictc.

“The best ever, with lots of new people,” Martin Shaw, FEM.

“A great networking event and a great place to get questions answered – for both suppliers and distributors!” Ian Roach, Dualit

“The interaction is great – as well as meeting up with distributors, some for the first time, it’s a great way to discuss what products they are looking for,” Amy Manaton, DKB Household.

The Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) is the authoritative voice of the catering equipment industry, representing over 190 companies who supply, service and maintain all types of commercial catering equipment – from utensils to full kitchen schemes.  For more information on CESA visit www.cesa.org.uk