Cocktail-Focused Glassware

BackyardParty-cocktailsTo support burgeoning adult beverage programs, many restaurants are investing in cocktail-specific glassware. Photo by Benjamin Toombs, Bargreen Ellingson.Classic, speakeasy-era cocktails and modern mixology continue to serve as the driving trend in glassware these days, all of the tabletop experts interviewed say. "Mixology is still huge, it's not even a trend anymore," Crocetti says. "The re-emergence of speakeasy, properly made cocktails started several years ago, but they get better and better every year."

"People seem to want to go over the top a little," Tucker says of the New York market. "Instead of just serving a cool cocktail in an ornate, vintage or interesting glass, they are also serving it on a tray with a juicer, or a half a quartino or chilled mini shaker and strainer, for the leftovers. This creates an impression of giving people more while being able to charge more for the drink at the same time." Serving the main drink in smaller martini and rocks glasses with extra on the side also helps prevent the cocktail from getting watered down.

On the craft beer front, operators are carefully selecting the right glasses for the right beers — such as pilsners for pilsners; pints for ales, stouts and ambers; and snifters for Belgians. Some go a step further, using tulip glasses for Scottish ales and goblets or oversized, thick-rimmed wine glasses for even stronger Belgians. Irey says he's seen an influx of the ginger beer-based Moscow Mule served in chilled copper mugs.

When it comes to wine glasses, traditional, sophisticated and beautiful is better these days, according to Kroner.

Stemless and smaller wine glasses are on the way out, as wine flights seem to have been replaced by more unique whiskey or scotch flights.

Tucker has seen some cases of highly decorated crystal glassware, like a "high-end version of old-school Chinese restaurant stemware," she says. Think arctic-cut crystal, but very heavy.

BackyardParty-beer-pourThe popularity of craft beers continues to prompt operators to invest in specialty glassware to help sell the value of these premium pours.Traditional water glasses, like stemless wine glasses, seem to have been replaced with smaller, simple Collins or bistro glasses as more restaurants serve chilled, filtered, ice-free water in plain jugs left on the table for guests to pour themselves. Crocetti says he's seen some restaurants use glasses made from the bottom portion of wine bottles in different colors, like green, amber and blue. "These glasses are very durable, thicker. They feel cool in your hands, and they add a splash of color to the table," he says.

Some health-focused restaurants serve full juice bottles at the table during breakfast, brunch and lunch in addition to water, says Tucker. "The big thing has been juicing, and now it's trendy to take a trip to these restaurants whether it's to make your own juice or buy juice from popular juice places around the city."

Simple, Stable Silverware

When it comes to flatware, the simpler, even duller or more matte, the better to go along with the casual, rustic look, Crocetti says.

Those looking to experiment further, though, are going for throwback patterns like hammered and baguette — with a round handle base and line down the middle — as well as copper, rose-colored and blackened flatware, according to Johnson.

In general, though, less is more. "A lot of restaurants are not using the salad fork – just a dinner fork, spoon and knife and that's it," she says.

Tucker says she still sees the use of interesting, artistic steak knives featuring handles decorated with mother of pearl or glass. One restaurant has experimented with off-center, architecturally different cutlery, but this has yet to fully catch on.

"I think people are diversifying their flatware with steak knives in particular because it's easier to upgrade with just a single item," Tucker says. "You can make a bold statement with something unique and different without going over budget."

Bare-Is-Better Tables

News flash: tablecloths are out. Even at some four-star restaurants, they are way out. What's in? Bare, wooden or rustic tabletops, minimally set.

Boathouse-white-bowlMany restaurants, like Boathouse 19 in Tacoma, Wash., no longer use white table cloths and instead use more rustic-looking wood tables. "Restaurants are letting the customer dictate the meal," Tucker says. "The table is set simply in general because the restaurant is waiting to hear what the customer wants. So you won't necessarily see a wine glass, for instance, because you don't know if your customer wants wine or a cocktail."

Less linen has also stemmed from an effort to be "green," Tucker points out. "People seem to be all about what's eco-friendly, and from a holistic-cost point of view, doing laundry every day is expensive — plus it's wrapped in plastic film and touched by a lot of people, and there are many chemicals involved. A lot of customers are really going against it." While some linen is used for napkins — in white and black — other restaurants have opted for the simple bar or dish towel look.

Customers in the L.A. area are also "catering to the customer's order and experience," Johnson says. "You might see a mason jar with a candle in it, or just water glasses, napkin and silverware, but that's it. There is often no salt or pepper because the chef has already seasoned the food properly."

Irey says he still sees place mats from time to time, especially the woven look. But again, less is more.

"Our linen business is nowhere near where it used to be," says Kroner. "The naked or blank tabletop look is so much more natural, and it can be found at both casual and upscale restaurants." In many cases, bare tables show off handmade woodworking or other furniture artistry, she adds.

From the cronut craze to ramen burgers, food trucks, dim sum and à la carte service, food now influences tabletop in different ways, namely by dialing everything down to a more casual, back-to-basics approach. Forget about the traditional. Color, rustic, unique and eclectic mark this year's biggest tabletop trends.

"Every chef feels a little more empowered when they see their options for tabletop," Tucker says. Simple, earthy plates in neutral tones only help showcase the beauty and authenticity of the food they serve. "It inspires them to be more creative than they ever were." In this era of the celebrity chef, prettily presented dishes only help to elevate this glamour.

"You don't have to redo your whole restaurant to stay ahead of competition," Tucker says. "By simply upgrading the bar program, serving a cool new cocktail in a cool glass, using a unique steak knife or a few pottery plates, people will notice."

Regional Trends

What’s big in tabletop from coast to coast

  • East: Unique, individual and family-style serving vessels; cocktail trays
  • West: Special glasses for craft beer; pottery plates; baguette flatware
  • Midwest: Functional, unique pieces and platters; earthy, colorful plates for different ethnic cuisines


What’s Hot — and What’s Not — in Tabletop

What’s In What’s Out
Earth-colored and ceramic plates Stark white plates
Circular, off-shapes Geometric shapes and perfect squares
9-inch “small” plates    12-inch traditional plates
Bare tables    Tablecloths
Mini cast iron and copper servers Boring bowls or loaded-up dinner plates
Unique baskets or wood boards Big breadbaskets
Traditional, finer wine glasses Stemless and flight glasses
Black napkins or bar towels White linen
Simple, stable pieces Multiple-course silverware
Cocktail- and beer-focused glasses One size fits all
Mason jars for apps and drinks Traditional bowls, plates and glasses