Sometimes restaurant chefs refer to pans they call hotel pans, even if the restaurant is not in a hotel. A hotel pan is the same as a steam table pan, counter pan, or service pan. They are the large rectangular pans that food is served out of when you are at a wedding reception, banquet, or eating from a buffet. They are not only used for these purposes, but are also used in the kitchen, such as to hold ingredients for a line cook. Basically, they are all-purpose pans that can be used for some cooking, storing, holding, etc.
Hotel pans are usually made out of stainless steel. Some large rectangular heat-proof and food-grade plastic containers might be called hotel pans as well. They come in eight standard sizes, according to length and width.
The standard size of a hotel or counter pan is about 12 by 20 inches, which will fit in openings of a steam-table or to insert in chafing dishes (“chafers”).
Hotel pans are available in various depths, such as 2 1/2, 4, 6, and 8 inches deep. They are sometimes identified by their depth, with a “200” meaning a 2-inch deep pan, a 400 meaning 4 inches deep, and so on. This practice stems from the original manufacturing practice of identifying stock sizes by these numbers.
Also, there are smaller sized pans that are called half pans, quarter pans, etc. based on their relationship to the standard sized pans. There are even pans that are 1/6 the size of the standard pan.
As to why these pans are called hotel pans, the name probably came from long ago, when hotel owners would serve their guest dinners at designated times, and everyone would eat at once, requiring the use of large pans for serving. Many hotel chefs served food in chafing dishes, as well.
This article contains one or more Amazon affiliate links. See full disclosure.