Types: Tabletop place settings include dinnerware, glassware and flatware.
Capacities/Footprints: The smallest plates, used for bread and butter, typically measure 5 to 6 inches in diameter. The next size, dessert plates, have a diameter of 7 inches, while salad plates are 8 inches. Luncheon plates measure 9 inches; dinner plates are generally 10 inches; service plates measure 12 inches, and charger plates are typically 13½ inches in diameter. Other factors influencing place-setting footprints include the glassware and number of utensils required.
Manufacturing Method: Dinnerware can be made from a variety of materials, including china, melamine, porcelain, glass, earthenware, stoneware and polycarbonate. China and porcelain are ceramic materials — essentially baked clay — and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Firing or vitrifying further hardens china and porcelain dinnerware, making the surface nonporous for greater food safety. Porcelain's china clay and stone make it fine-grained and sturdy. Bone china, a thin, lightweight and durable material, is made of clay mixed with bone ash or calcium phosphate for a more translucent and whiter appearance. Some dinnerware incorporates alpha alumina to increase strength and reduce the thickness of individual pieces. Colors or patterns are applied before firing.
Glass dinnerware, which is more likely to be used for accent pieces than for whole place settings, is made from tempered glass for chip resistance and durability.
Glassware materials range from plastic to lead crystal. Glass itself can be hand blown into specialty shapes, but most glasses are molded and tempered to increase their strength and durability. Glass can be etched or frosted for a custom appearance. Wine glasses for fine-dining establishments are usually made of lead crystal, as its porous nature enhances the bouquet and flavor of wine. Fine-lead crystal pieces may be hand blown or machine molded, then etched or decorated by hand.
Flatware is the most popular item purchased by operators because it often needs replacing after being accidently thrown in the trash. It can be stamped or forged. Most flatware is made from stainless steel alloys that contain chrome and nickel. Some have satin- or gold-trimmed handles. Although alloys with as little as 13 percent chrome are available, such flatware pieces can bend easily. Steel with 18 percent chrome, however, can rust or appear somewhat gray after use. Higher-quality flatware also contains either 8 percent or 10 percent nickel. Nickel adds corrosion resistance and a silverlike finish, so operators who want more strength and a lustrous appearance should look for 18/8 or 18/10 flatware.
Standard Features: Dinnerware is available with either narrow or wide rims and with shallow or deep wells. Nontraditional shapes, such as squares, ovals, triangles and hexagons, have increased in demand. Some dinnerware lines take the shape of foods like chili peppers and olives for serving appetizers. Dinnerware and glassware are available in stackable designs to save space. Dishwasher- and microwave-safe dinnerware and glassware typically help cut costs. Highlights of gold or copper on flatware add luster, though some manufacturers recommend washing these pieces by hand. Table knives are available with solid or hollow handles. Hammered finishes provide a noteworthy sheen. Custom etching or silk-screening is available for most dinnerware and glassware, and custom designs or imprints are available for flatware pieces.
Key Kitchen Applications: The tabletop is one of the customer's first impressions of an operation. Consequently, the settings, including plates, glassware and silverware, should project a favorable and enticing appearance.
Purchasing Guidelines: In the past, an operator commonly purchased tableware in an amount equal to two and a half times the restaurant's seating capacity. A few years ago, this amount dropped to one and a half. Today, it is common for operators to purchase tableware in amounts equal to seating capacity.
Maintenance Requirements: To avoid breakage, operators should use proper dish and glass racks to protect dinnerware and glassware. Glassware pieces should not be stacked directly on top of each other. Soak sinks should be properly lined to avoid breakage.
Food Safety and Sanitation Essentials: Check stoneware content to ensure that lead-free decorations and glazes have been used. Nonporous china best prevents cross-contamination. Dishes that are not dried properly can compromise food safety.