FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates to food service and food presentation, and more particularly to apparatuses for supporting and displaying food-containing trays.
In the food service or catering arts, it is customary to provide various functional and aesthetically acceptable tabletop structures for displaying trays of food. Often times such structures have been used to provide a large number of food choices on a relatively small tabletop area. Over a century ago, Hansen, in U.S. Pat. No. 494,704 proposed a table top stand for displaying a number of food trays in an axially and radially spaced apart manner upon a number of platform holders rotatably mounted to a central standard or post. More recently, O'Brien, in U.S. Pat. No. 5,335,803 proposed a lazy susan-type rotatable support platter concentrically mounted about the umbrella pole of a patio table. Both patents are incorporated herein by this reference.
These prior devices can suffer from various problems. Typically, food support trays such as pots, plates and bowls are made of smooth and hard materials such as porcelain or stainless steel. As such, there can be low friction between the tray and the platform supporting it. During use, such trays are often subjected to dynamic lateral forces such as when a person is trying to scrape out the last burnt residue of au gratin potatoes. Such forces can lead to movement or dumping of the tray off of the platform. Often times, trays carry hot food and are themselves dangerously hot. Therefore, it can be difficult for the user to attempt to steady the tray during the application of such forces. Another problem with prior rotating food displays is that the act of revolving the platform can impart centrifugal forces on the food-carrying tray which can lead to the dumping of the tray or causing a user to attempt to steady a hot tray. Often a user will act impulsively and may attempt to contact a hot tray with his or her bare hands leading to burns. Dumping of the trays can lead to spilling or splashing of hot food items onto persons, where if they do not cause burns, can certainly ruin an enjoyable meal, regardless of the quality of the au gratin potatoes.
Another problem with prior devices is that they typically do not readily allow rapid adjustment in order to accommodate a wide variety of tray shapes and sizes without the use of tools. Caterers and other food providers would prefer to use a single piece of equipment which can be readily adapted to different types of events, number of guests, and types of food. Also, it is of particular interest to provide the ability to quickly and easily remove unused platforms which would tend to detract from the aesthetics of the display indicating missing items or obstructing the view of other trays. Such platforms could also interfere with the movement of adjacent trays. Also, when a portion of the system becomes inoperative, it is difficult for the untrained person to quickly repair the portion, often leading to removal of it, and for possible aesthetic reasons the entire emplacement of good and bad fixtures.
Another potential problem is that food service workers can be relatively unskilled and work in positions where there is rapid turnover and little time for training. Therefore, many prior devices can be too difficult to reconfigure without tools and/or special knowledge or skill at using them.
Therefore, there is a need for an apparatus which minimizes or eliminates some of the above described problems with existing food displays.
The exemplary embodiments provide an improved adjustable food tray support apparatus. Some embodiments provide a number of tray support booms rotatably and removably mounted axially adjacent to one another on a standard. Some embodiments provide a means for allowing differently sized and shaped food trays to be used on the same support boom. Some embodiments provide a support boom having an inwardly deflectable tray carrying platform. Some embodiments provide a decoratively camouflaged boom manipulating handle.
In some embodiments there is provided an apparatus for movably supporting a food tray having a center of gravity, said apparatus comprises: a substantially stationary base structure; a support boom which comprises: a bearing structure movably secured to said base structure; a platform shaped and dimensioned to support said tray, said platform having a distal section; a rigid beam having a proximal end portion secured to said bearing structure, and a distal end portion secured to said distal section at a point located distally from said center of gravity; whereby said platform has a proximal section located proximately to said center which deflects downwardly in response to a sufficient weight of said tray and its contents.
In some embodiments said platform is secured to said beam in absence of a substantial structural connection between said platform and said beam located proximally from said center of gravity.
In some embodiments said platform comprises a closed ring having a most distal section secured to said beam. In some embodiments said beam comprises a stop surface to prevent deflection of said proximal section beyond a given distance. In some embodiments said boom further comprises a handle extending downwardly from a medial portion of said beam. In some embodiments said handle is camouflaged as a plant appendage. In some embodiments said base structure comprises a post having a substantially cylindrical outer surface and wherein said bearing structure rotatably engages said outer surface. In some embodiments said bearing structure comprises a sleeve having an axial bore shaped and dimensioned to intimately and rotatably engage said substantially cylindrical outer surface of said post. In some embodiments said post defines an interior lumen extending from a top end opening to a bottom end opening, said lumen being shaped and dimensioned to allow passage of an umbrella pole therethrough. In some embodiments said base structure consists of an umbrella pole. In some embodiments said apparatus further comprises a plurality of said supports booms axially spaced apart upon said post and being independently rotatable. In some embodiments said apparatus further comprises a at least one spacer sleeve having an axial bore shaped and dimensioned to intimately and rotatably engage a substantially cylindrical outer surface of said post. In some embodiments a top end of said post is threaded. In some embodiments the apparatus further comprises a top cap comprising a tray supporting pedestal formed thereon. In some embodiments said platform is hingedly connected to said beam such that said platform deflects toward said post under the force of a given weight. In some embodiments said platform is biased toward a horizontal orientation.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In some embodiments there is provided that in a rotatable food tray support apparatus comprising a support boom movably attached to a standard wherein said boom comprises a rigid beam secured to a platform for supporting a tray having a center of gravity, an improvement which comprises: said platform being hingedly secured to said beam at a point a greater radial distance form said standard than said center of gravity.
FIG. 1 is a diagrammatical perspective view of an exemplary embodiment of an adjustable table-top food tray display apparatus.
FIG. 2 is a diagrammatical perspective view of an exemplary embodiment of food tray display apparatus having an umbrella pole mounted through it.
FIG. 3 is a diagrammatical elevational, partial cutaway view of a support boom of the apparatus of FIG. 1 and showing a decorative handle.
FIG. 4 is a diagrammatical elevational, partial cutaway view of a support boom under the weight of a heavy food tray.
FIG. 5 is a diagrammatical elevational, cross-sectional view of a number of axially stacked booms and spacers on a post.
DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 6 is a diagrammatical elevational, view of a support boom according to an alternate embodiment providing a heater.
Referring now to the drawing there is shown in FIGS. 1-3 an exemplary embodiment of a tabletop food tray support apparatus 1 having a plurality of support booms 2 each rotatably and removably mounted upon a vertical support post 5 extending upwardly from a base 6. Each boom is formed from a durable, rigid, formable material such as steel, and is adapted have a platform 13 for movably carrying a food tray 7 (as shown in FIG. 3) thereon. An end cap 17 can be provided to rotatably support a top mounted platform coaxial with the post 5. As shown in FIG. 3, the post can have a central lumen 4 which can allow the insertion of an umbrella pole 38 as part of a patio table as shown in FIG. 2. Alternately, individual booms 2 can be mounted about the umbrella pole such that the umbrella pole takes on the role of the support post.
As shown in FIG. 3, each support boom 2 is composed of an oblong, rigid support beam 8 of given length having a distal end portion 9 and a proximal end portion 10. The proximal end attaches to a bearing structure 12 by welding or other durable fastening means. The bearing releasably and rotatively mounts to the post 5 and provides the boom with an axis of rotation 26. The distal end portion attaches to a platform 13 by welding or other durable fastening means. The platform is adapted to carry a food containing tray 14 selected from a plurality of different food tray types such as pots, pans, serving plates, platters and the like, or similar objects. The upper surface of the platform can be textured 3 to increase static friction between the platform and tray. Such texturing is preferred over bonding a layer of high friction material such as rubber in order to maintain durability and ease of cleaning.
The platform 13 is advantageously formed by a substantially planar ring 15 oriented substantially horizontally to contact a substantially planar bottom 16 of the tray 14. The distal end portion 9 of the beam 8 has an upturned prong 18 which attaches to a distal section 19 of the ring thereby spacing the platform a vertical height h above the beam.
Each boom 2 is further formed to have a boom manipulating handle 21 extending downwardly below the beam 8 from a location a radial distance Lrh out from the rotation axis 26 thereby providing a convenient and temperature-safe grasping point for users and an adequate moment arm for forces applied at the handle. As shown, the handle can be camouflaged by being shaped into a bunch of grapes, leaves, some other plant appendage or some other decorative disguise.
Referring to FIGS. 3 and 4, the bearing structure 12 can be formed by a sleeve-shaped body 22 having a substantially cylindrical axial bore 23 sized to be intimately, rotatably and removably engaged by the substantially cylindrical outer surface of the post 5. The bore terminates in circular openings at the top 24 and bottom 25 ends of the sleeve and defines the axis of rotation 26 for the boom. A number of booms can be stacked upon the post in a vertically adjacent manner as shown in FIG. 1. In this way, each of the booms so stacked can move independently of the other booms. The booms can be of varying radial lengths to reduce interference among axially adjacent booms. Friction between adjacent sleeves has not been found to be a problem given the large moment provided by the handle located out toward the distal end of the beam. Alternately, a nylon washer 28 can be attached to the sleeve around the bottom opening 25 to act as a low-friction spacer between adjacent sleeves allowing smoother movement.
As shown in FIG. 4, the ring-shaped steel platform 13 at a distal section 19 can be welded to the distal end of the steel beam prong 18 which is a radial distance Dra from the axis of rotation 26. This is significant because it allows the center of mass C of a food laden tray 11 to be located at a shorter radial distance Drc from the rotational axis 26 than the point of attachment. The substantially rigid, but structurally elastic connection between the platform and beam allows the platform to deflect toward the axis 26 under the weight W of the food laden tray 11 thereby orienting the platform at an angle A to the horizontal, causing the proximal part 27 of the tray to sink lower than its distal part 29 from the original position shown on dotted lines.
The deflection causes the platform to provide added resistance to movement of the tray radially outward from the axis. In other words, the platform changes its orientation under the weight of the tray to provide a centripetal force component to the angularly moving, revolving tray, thereby helping to prevent dislodgement of the tray from the platform during rotational movement of the boom due to centrifugal forces.
It should be noted that in order to achieve the above safety function, the center of mass of the tray is located closer to the rotational axis than the point or points of attachment between the platform and beam. There is no substantial attachment between the platform and the beam at a point closer to the rotation axis than the center of gravity. In this way, the attachment between platform and the beam can be said to be in absence of any substantial attachment closer to the axis than the tray's center of gravity. The words “substantial attachment” are used to mean a structurally significant attachment made to provide structural support to the normally horizontal orientation of the platform. By simply welding the beam to the distal-most section of the platform, the platform is free to deflect inwardly toward the support post.
It should be noted that the structurally elastic single distal attachment point provides the structural equivalent of a biased hinge connection between the platform and beam, where the platform is biased toward a horizontal orientation and that biasing force can be overcome by a sufficient moment applied to the platform, typically provided by the weight of a food laden tray set upon the platform.
Another advantage of providing a single attachment between the platform and the beam made of metal, is that less heat will be conducted to the handle:
The vertical height h spacing of the platform above the beam is selected so that when the platform is placed under the stress of a given weight W, a proximal section 20 of the ring can contact the rigid beam at a stop surface thereby preventing further deflection of the platform. In most applications this feature can prevent any significant elastic strain in the boom leading to over-tipping of the tray.
In addition, as shown in FIG. 5, a number of spacer sleeves 30,31 of various axial heights Ha1, Ha2 can be provided to further axially space apart adjacent booms 32,33 thereby making the location of the booms axially adjustable. The use of the spacer sleeves combined with providing a number of booms having different radial length beams allows for infinite configuration of the support apparatus accommodating settings having a range of tray sizes and shapes. A boom can be provided having a closed top end 34 as shown in FIG. 1. Alternately, an end cap 35 can be provided having a top mounted platform or pedestal 36. Further, the end cap and top end of the post can be correspondingly threaded 37 to prevent unwanted disassembly of the display during transport.
An advantage of the above apparatus is that it can be quickly and easily reconfigured by relatively unskilled workers by simply restacking booms of different sizes. Extra booms can be easily removed and replaced by less unsightly spacer sleeves. Another advantage is that the entire apparatus is disassembleable and provides hard surfaces for easy cleaning.
Another advantage of using the ring-shaped platform is that it allows for the unobstructed application of heat to the center undersurface of the tray being supported. For example, as shown in FIG. 6, there is shown an alternate embodiment of a support boom 41 having a rigid beam 42 having a distal end portion 43 having an upwardly projecting prong 44 attached to a distal section 45 of a platform 46 for supporting a food tray 47. A heater support plate 48 is secured to a medial portion 49 of the beam and is so located to carry a portable heating device 50 such as a STERNO brand portable heating fuel can which is commercially available from the Candle Corporation of America company of Des Plaines, Ill. The plate can be located directly below the central hole 51 in the ring. The ring itself can be coated with a layer of heat resistant and heat insulating material such as ceramic. This material can have a surface textured to increase static friction between the platform and tray.
While the exemplary embodiments have been described, modifications can be made and other embodiments may be devised without departing from the spirit of the invention and the scope of the appended claims.