Whether you're running a food delivery business, local restaurant or takeout place or you just want to deliver some food to your friends and family you might want to know how to keep food hot for delivery.
Food delivery is a huge business and companies have been keeping food both hot and cold so they can deliver it to their customers for decades.
This means there are lots of different solutions out there to keep food hot so you can deliver it to your customers. You just need to choose the best option for you.
In this article we are going to break it down into 2 main sections. First we will look at keeping food hot in a vehicle (car or motorbike) and then we will look at individual food packaging that can keep food hot for delivery.
Both of these should be used in conjunction with each other. You want good food packaging that will trap the heat as well as a good way to keep it hot in your vehicle, especially if you are doing multiple deliveries.
How To Keep Food Hot For Delivery In Your Vehicle
Whether you're driving a car, truck or motorbike or even if you're on a push bike you'll want a way to both stow the food so it doesn't slide around and get messy and you'll also want to keep the food as hot as possible so it's the right temperature when delivered to the customer.
1. Use a Hard Cooler
If you're in a car, van or truck when delivering your food then a hard cooler is one of the best ways to keep food hot for a long period of time.
While we usually associate coolers with keeping things cold, the same insulation can trap in the heat of food keeping it hot as well.
Hard coolers can be inexpensive and you can use a cheap styrofoam cooler or a good cheap plastic cooler like the Coleman Xtreme Cooler to put your food in to keep it hot.
Alternatively if you've got a bigger budget then a more expensive roto-molded cooler like the Yeti cooler or the more affordable Lifetime cooler will insulated even better and keep your food hotter for longer.
To keep food hotter for longer it's a good idea to add a layer of aluminum foil to the inside of your cooler. It traps heat which I explain in more detail in my article on how to keep food hot in a cooler.
2. Use a Soft Cooler
If you're riding a motorbike or push bike then a hard cooler is going to be too difficult to use and many delivery drivers opt for soft coolers they can strap onto their bike or wear on their backs.
It's becoming more and more common to see delivery drivers on motorbikes with a cooler bag on their bag keeping someone's food warm.
Soft coolers are more lightweight that hard sided coolers and some of them even have a foil lining which is great for trapping in the heat.
Generally speaking they aren't as good as hard coolers at keeping food hot and won't be as effective on long trips but they still do a great job for short trips.
There are variants like Nylon coolers which let some steam escape of vinyl coolers which traps in steam and there are also variances in whether it's top loading or side loading.
You'll see a lot of pizza companies using soft coolers with a side opening. The cardboard boxes trap in the heat (which we will talk about) then the cooler bag also traps in the heat. Great for short delivery trips.
See the best soft coolers for ice retention
3. Keep Hot and Cold Food Separated
When you're doing your deliveries you'll want to make sure that you keep hot and cold food separated as much as possible. Ideally in different coolers where possible.
Otherwise the cold drinks will steal heat from the hot food and everything will end up lukewarm and unsatisfactory.
So keep your cool stuff in a cold cooler (preferably with some ice bricks or something to keep the temperature down) and keep your hot food in a hot cooler (ideally with something to keep it hot).
4. Add Hot Water Bottles, Heat Packs or Hot Bricks
A lot of people just rely on the the food to keep itself hot and in many cases this is going to be good enough. Most deliveries will be fairly quick so food won't have a long time to cool down.
But if you're doing a lot of deliveries, delivering light food that doesn't hold heat well or you're going a long distance then you may want to add something hot into your hard or soft cooler in order to keep the food hot for longer.
Hot water bottles filled with boiling water are a super simple way to add a lot of heat into your cooler and if placed underneath and on top of your food it can keep it really hot for a long period of time.
You can also use heat packs filled with rice or wheat that you can simply microwave up to a high heat before putting in your cooler.
For longer heat you can put bricks in the oven to make heat bricks. Wrap them in a towel and they will radiate heat for hours keeping your food hot for ages. Definitely long enough to do your delivery.
5. Portable 12V Food Warmer
You could also consider a portable 12V food warmer that is designed to keep food hot in a car.
The downside of these is that they are generally fairly small and so while they may work for one meal they might not work for multiple deliveries.
They are also generally average quality and not super durable so if you're going to be using them a lot they can be prone to breaking.
6. Cambros Food Warmer
Cambros make food warmers for storing hot food on the go or in the kitchen.
Some of their products are powered and can keep things hot, but these run of 110V or 240V and so don't usually work in cars.
They also have unpowered options which are basically like coolers but are designed to stack food easier and better which can make them a lot more convenient for delivering hot food.
7. RediHeat Bags With Heating Element
RediHeat Bags are unique option in that they are a soft cooler bag but inside the cooler bag is a heating element.
You can plug it in at the restaurant or shop and it takes about 8-10 minutes for the heating pad to get hot, or about 4-5 minutes if it's already warm from a previous delivery.
You can get it hot in the shop while you wait for the food to be ready then it quickly disconnects and the hot plate inside radiates heat for a while, keeping your takeaway food extra hot.
The plug stays in store and you can quickly plug back in while you're waiting for your next delivery. They comes in multiple shapes and sizes and this is a cool powered option that is lighter and more convenient than hot water bottles or hot bricks.
Types of Product Packaging To Keep Food Hot For Delivery
If you're trying to keep food hot for delivery you'll also want to consider what packaging you use for your food.
You want it to present well, be easy to use for the customer as well as keep your food hot and not make a mess.
Cardboard is starting to become more and more popular for takeaway food and delivery and is seen as one of the greenest options for food containers.
It can be recycled and it also isn't plastic, which a lot of people are trying to avoid these days.
Cardboard is also a good insulator and traps heat fairly well so it'll help to keep your food hot for longer.
It's not perfect and some more recent studies show paper products and cardboard may leech chemicals into food so that's something to be aware of.
Aluminum Foil Trays/Containers
Aluminum is a great reflector of heat radiation and it's also generally considered food safe so it can be a great way to package food and keep it hot for delivery.
The downside of aluminum trays is they don't look particularly fancy and for some foods that need an airtight container they just won't do the trick.
But some some types of food an aluminum tray or container is the perfect option.
Some food, like soups or curries, are going to be best served in plastic containers.
Plastic containers are cheap and come in many different shapes and sizes. Plastic is a good insulator but generally take away plastic containers are so thin they don't do a great job at insulating and keeping food hot for delivery.
So you'll want to combine them with some other way to keep food hot.
Thermal Paper Bags
Whether you've got some loose items you want to keep hot or you want to put your food items inside a large insulating bag then thermal paper bags are made from cardboard with a layer of aluminum that reflects back heat.
If you're using plastic containers that don't keep heat very well then putting them in one of these bags can really help them stay hot longer.
While styrofoam containers are great insulators and great at keeping food hot they are being used less and less often.
They cause a lot of waste, are not seen as being environmentally friendly and there is some evidence styrofoam may leech cancer causing chemicals into hot food/drinks.
So while these can be a cheap disposable option for keeping food hot for delivery they are being used less and less and are not appreciated by customers.
Simply wrapping food in foil is a great way to trap in heat. It both stops steam escaping (which takes a lot of heat with it) and it traps heat radiation.
It's often expected that some food items like burritos will come in aluminum foil and given how cheap it is you can use it for a variety of different food or even add a layer over the top of plastic or paper containers to trap in heat if you want to.