Product Knowledge Guide: Flatware and Dinnerware

Although a restaurant's concept typically dictates the style of its tabletop décor, many chefs involved in the process like to put their own stamp on it. Creating a signature look may involve sourcing unique products from overseas or having a manufacturer make a custom piece.

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By working on the menu and building off of it for the tableware, operators can first decide what the various items will specifically be used for. By cutting down on SKUs for flatware and dinnerware up front, operators are more likely to fit in everything they will need.

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Flatware is an essential element of tabletops in foodservice operations. Along with dinnerware, these items help set the tone and atmosphere of a meal. For this reason, it is important to select the appropriate type that helps reflect the operation's ambiance.

Unlike china and dinnerware patterns, flatware patterns can be difficult to choose from because of the more limited selections and options.

End users continue to perceive heavier weight flatware as better quality. As a result, there has been an increase in the popularity of forged flatware carved from one piece of metal rather than the manufactured stamped variety. In terms of designs, today's operators seek patterns that look good but are not too busy.

The types of flatware include table setting spoons, forks, knives, steak knives and serving pieces.

Flatware is manufactured from a variety of materials. Type 304 stainless steel, also called 18/8 stainless steel, is used for the production of foodservice flatware and holloware containing 18 percent chrome and 8 percent nickel.

Type 403 stainless steel, or 18/0 type stainless steel, is used for the production of foodservice flatware and some holloware containing 18 percent chrome and no nickel. This is a more durable material.

The 13/0 HC is a type of stainless steel used for the production of foodservice dinner knife blades and steak knives containing 13 percent high carbon content chrome and no nickel. This is also referred to as Type 420 stainless steel.

Silverplate is 99.9 percent pure silver and is applied through the process of electroplating onto flatware and
holloware. This offers the advantages and look of sterling silver suitable for foodservice use.

Options for flatware include custom stamping or laser engraving the logo or name of a restaurant, bar or other establishment to offer personalization.

Operators can choose from a variety of flatware finishes, as well. A mirror finish is buffed, while a satin finish is brushed and less glossy. Flatware may also have a frosted finish. To accomplish this, utensils are put through a bead blasting procedure that gives the surface a matte appearance or the look of having been frosted in a freezer.

The types of dinnerware include plates, cups, saucers, bowls, platters, trays, ovenware and accessories.

Dinnerware can be manufactured with bone china, porcelain, stoneware, terra cotta and other options and made into a variety of shapes and sizes.

Depending on the product, the dinnerware can be fully vitrified to resist moisture absorption and increase durability. Other options for dinnerware include personalization with the logo or name of a restaurant, bar or establishment.

The importance of china cannot be overstated. Sturdiness, too, is important to operators. Some manufacturers will even duplicate their glass or china lines using acrylic on request.

One trend that hasn't changed is the seemingly never-ending array of plate shapes. These have become even more unique and abundant in recent years. Some manufacturers have taken plate shapes to a new level by offering unique textures that set the lines apart.

Plate size, too, is evolving. While resorts are more likely to use larger plates, miniature lines have become popular in upscale restaurants and hotel bars. This is in response to the trendy miniature meals, which most likely stem from the popularity of tapas. To accommodate these smaller portions, some operators use a 12-by-12-inch square plate as the base and put smaller dishes on top to hold the various food portions.

In addition to the use of smaller bowls and cups on today's tabletops, such as ramekins for smaller tastings and sauces, bowl shapes have become more varied. Today's lines are more wide open, curved and deeper with a wider edge.

When it comes to color preferences for china and dinnerware, the consensus color is still white, as it best showcases the meal. Along with colorless plates, more operators are seeking to add hand-painted bowls reminiscent of an Italian trattoria to their tables.

Common Applications

  • Flatware is used for dining service.
  • Steak knives are used to enhance the appearance of special protein selections.
  • Serving pieces used to upgrade buffetware layout, replacing plastic.

Specifying Considerations

  • Describe and have a good understanding of the menu to know what pieces are necessary.
  • The tabletop quality should match the operation's check average. For example, high-end restaurants, clubs, hotels and catering facilities typically utilize 18/10 flatware. The nickel in these items resists stains, corrosion and acids. This material also ensures that the utensil will retain luster throughout its service life.
  • Consider the budget and timeframe in which the items will be needed.
  • Look at the warewashing system, since certain flatware materials are not suitable for washing in certain types of machines.
  • Decide if price, durability, décor or warranty is the priority when specifying both flatware and dinnerware.
  • Look at the turns per night to determine how much tableware is necessary. For example, consultants recommend enough flatware on hand to accommodate two turns per night.
  • Although 18 chrome is of a lesser quality, different gauges are available for both restaurant and institutional use. This flatware is less costly and also resists corrosion.
  • Magnetic retrieval systems prevent these utensils from being thrown in the trash accidently.
  • Size and weight depend on an operator's budget and preferences. Manufacturers recommend choosing the metal first and then deciding on the flatware weight.
  • Before choosing a flatware design, it is recommended that dinnerware is chosen first. Manufacturers can provide flatware design samples that work best with plate patterns. Custom designs also are available.

Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • One common mistake is not ordering enough product for the operation, resulting in decreased efficiencies and speed of service. To determine how much flatware is needed, operators should take a look at the busiest time periods, calculate the number of meals and multiply this number by three. Foodservice operations should have 25 percent of the flatware in reserve. This will ensure that there is extra to accommodate busier periods as well as replacements for lost utensils. Extra flatware also is necessary to allow for washing time.
  • Another aspect operators overlook is not including replacement costs for these items into the budget.
  • The tableware materials need to match the operation's cleaning capabilities. For example, excessive bleach will discolor and rust 18/0 flatware, so a low-temp machine using this chemical is not recommended for these items.
  • Not fully understanding the operation's objectives or requirements can result in a tabletop that has less than stellar aesthetics.
  • High volume, fast turn operations, should avoid delicate items where breakage is more likely.

New & Notable Features

  • Among the new and notable features in flatware are high polished 18/8 stainless steel items that allow for added resistance to strong chemicals used in warewashing machines; satin finish metalware items to minimize or eliminate fingerprints on metalware; and compact size flatware.
  • Among the new and notable features on dinnerware are rustic textures, unusual shapes and bold colors.

When to Replace

  • Obvious scratches: Flatware or dinnerware with scratches that cannot be removed should be put out of service.
  • Worn/discolored ware: Replace flatware that looks worn or has lost its sheen, or dinnerware with glaze wearing off because it will compromise a tabletop.
  • Changing dinnerware: When a foodservice operator changes its plates, it's time to re-evaluate the flatware design.
  • Menu changes: Menu changes may require additional flatware pieces.
  • Broken handles: If steak knife handles come loose, replacement is necessary.
  • Chipping: If plates, bowls or other products are chipped, these should immediately be replaced.
  • Dinnerware markings: If excessive metal markings are evident on dinnerware, new items should be ordered as soon as possible.

Maintenance Musts

  • Use high temperature (180 degrees F) water to clean flatware.
  • Immediately remove flatware from the table and place it in soapy liquid to stop food and dressings from becoming attached to the metal for long periods.
  • Check the warewashing system's chemical mixture weekly to minimize the amount of chlorine used.
  • Do not use bleach on stainless steel.
  • Rinse and dry flatware standing up so chemical residue does not rest on the metal.
  • Store forks so the tines do not scratch knife blades.
  • Wipe the flatware with a clean, dry cloth prior to placing on the table or wrapping in a napkin.
  • To avoid breakage, operators should use proper dish and glass racks to protect dinnerware. Do not stack dinnerware more than 16 inches high.

Editor's Note: FE&S thanks Diana Dean of The Boelter Companies for helping with this story.

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