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The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.

etiquette scholar / dining etiquette / table setting / dinnerware / buying dinnerware

Purchasing Dinnerware

At the table, dinnerware is the first item that meets the diners' eyes. Consider the following factors before making your dinnerware purchase.

How Will the Dinnerware Be Used?

Will the dinnerware be for everyday use or for special occasions.

Daily Use: Dinnerware used daily is subject to chips, cracks, and fractures. In the order of damage resistance, porcelain is the hardest ceramic, bone china is the strongest, followed by stoneware, semiporcelain, ironstone, creamware, and majolica or faience. Microwave oven and dishwasher safety are also concerns.

When one set of dinnerware is selected to meet all dining needs, the most versatile choice is plain white dinnerware. Plain, white dinnerware:

  • Showcases food;
  • Used by most restaurants;
  • Easy to coordinate;
  • Inexpensive to produce;
  • Safe in a microwave oven (as long as it has no metallic ornamentation); and
  • Will not fade in a diswasher drying cycle.

If you prefer colorful dinnerware, a pattern depicted in one or two colors is easier to coordinate and probably less expensive than dinnerware with metal ornamentation or multiple colors.

For fun, keep brightly colored majolica or faience, pottery reserved for occasional use at the informal table setting. Majolica and faience chip easily, so treat them carefully.

Dinnerware selected for special occasions is usually ornamented with precious metals. Gold, silver, and platinum create an elegant ambience, but cannot be used in a microwave oven, and should be hand-washing.

The most formal dinnerware pattern is one ornamented with a solid-color border trimmed with precious metal, such as cobalt blue edged with gold. For a dramatic pattern, choose a contrast of vibrant colors: dinnerware ornamented with Chinese red and black or a sophisticated combination of colors, such as gray, black, and gold.

You may also select dinnerware in a color associated with several holidays; for example, green-rimmed plates will do for St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. When theme-related dinnerware is selected, salad plates are less costly to purchase than dinner plates and offer the same impact.

Choosing the Right Dinnerware Pattern

To choose a pattern category, review home decor magazines and visit furniture stores and antique shops. Select a traditional pattern that allows for various options, from informal to elegant, seasonal, or daily use.

Dinnerware patters fall into three types of design:

  1. Romantic;
  2. Classic; and
  3. Modern.

Romantic patterns are reminiscent of living things, such as birds, shells, flowers, and fruit. The ornamentation is curvilinear and compliments flatware, stemware, and furnishings decorated with rounded motifs.

Classic designs are adapted from historical periods, such as the straight lines of neoclassic designs or the curving asymmetry of rococo. When a classic pattern includes both geometric and curving lines, accent the dominant line in the flatware, stemware, and furnishings.

Modern patterns are abstract in concept and often depict geometric motifs that look well with flatware, stemware, and furniture designed with straight lines.

Choosing the Shape of the Plates

Plates are divided into rim or coupe shapes. To make the right decision regarding the shape, simulate a full table setting in the store.

Rim-shaped plates originated in Europe. In the West, food portions are cut into bite-size pieces at the table, and the rim-shaped plate is made with a well that collects the juices that flow from the food.

Coupe-shaped plates have no rim and accommodate the way food is cooked and served in the East. In the East food is cut into bite-size pieces in the kitchen and cooked quickly over high heat.

To allow space for the courses on one plate, the diameter of the coupe-shaped dinner plate is approximately 1 inch larger than that of the rim-shaped dinner plate.

Balancing Simple and Ornate Dinnerware Decoration

Reach a balance between simple and ornate patterns. Keep the ratio two-to-one. Accent two ornate patterns with one plain design, or contrast two simple designs with an elaborate pattern.

Matched Set or Mix-and-Match Patterns?

A matched set of dinnerware provides a foundation for the table setting but confines you to a single look. A mix of dinnerware patterns makes entertaining more flexible, but many people are unsure how to create the best mix.

Begin with the dinner plate. The main course is the focal point of the menu. Accordingly, the dinner plate is the plate around which the soup, salad, and dessert plates are mixed and matched.

The exception is the cup and saucer. When beverages are served at the table, use cups and saucers that match the dinner plate. But when beverages are served away from the table, an assortment of patterns adds interest to the occasion.

Color is the common denominator. It is easy to mix and match when colors are blended within a given harmony, such as a mix of blue patterns or a match of gold decoration. But when a particular color is unavailable, mix it with a contrasting shade in a solid color. And if all else fails, mix the pattern with clear glass plates.

To avoid distracting the eye, at a formal table the dinnerware pattern is the same for each course, and the entire table is laid with like pieces. But at an informal table where fewer courses are served, the table setting is uncluttered, and a mix of patterns adds interest to the meal, as does a different pattern at each cover.

Coordinating the Textures of Dinnerware, Stemware, and Flatware

Smooth surfaces, such as porcelain, combine well with fine textures, such as silver, crystal, brass, lacquer, and tightly woven linens. Coarse finishes, such as pottery, coordinate well with heavy tableware, such as pewter, thick glass, wood, and loosely woven textiles.

Quality

Proportion, balance, and craftsmanship are the criteria of quality dinnerware. The plates lie flat on the table and the rims are not warped. The handles are wide enough for a comfortable grip, and the cups rest securely and evenly on the saucers. The glaze does not have spots, is free of pinholes or bubbles, and is not too thin in one area, creating a matte look. The color tones of each piece are consistent. The lids fit tightly.

How Many Place Settings to Buy

The term place setting denotes the number of pieces required to set a place at the table. Dinnerware is available in three-, four-, and five-piece or more place settings. Lids and saucers are counted as separate pieces. A three-piece place setting consists of dinner plate, cup, and saucer. A four-piece setting contains dinner plate, cup, saucer, and salad plate. A five-piece place setting includes dinner plate, cup, saucer, salad plate, and bread-and-butter plate or soup bowl. English dinnerware firms often make a seven-piece place setting that consists of dinner plate, salad plate, breadĀ­and-butter plate, cup, saucer, and cream soup bowl and stand or soup cup and saucer.

The number of place settings to buy depends on the size of your family and your plans for entertainment. Although eight place settings will provide a couple or a single person with several days of use, a large family may use an entire set in one day. Twelve place settings will entertain more people with the same effort expended as it takes to have two couples to dinner.

A Dinnerware Starter Set

A set of dinnerware prepackaged with twenty pieces in a box is known as a starter Jet, a unit comprising of four dinner plates, four salad plates, four cups and saucers, and four soup-cereal bowls. Although a starter set may offer bread-and-butter plates instead of soup-cereal bowls, when a choice is offered, choose soup-cereal bowls, which provide more versatility than bread-and-butter plates. Starter sets are made for people with simple dining requirements, such as a student or a newly-wed couple. The unit does not include serveware.

Serveware

When eight or twelve place settings of dinnerware are ordered at one time, the set often includes matching serveware.

A forty-five piece set for eight contains dinner plates, salad plates, cups and saucers, bread-and-butter plates or soup-cereal bowls, plus four matching pieces of serveware: a medium-size platter, open vegetable bowl, covered sugar bowl, and creamer.

A ninety-six piece set of dinnerware for twelve contains dinner plates, salad plates, bread-and-butter plates, cups and saucers, soup bowls, and fruit saucers, plus matching serveware, such as a large platter, mediumĀ­-size platter, open vegetable bowl, covered casserole, gravy boat with stand, sugar bowl with lid, creamer, coffeepot, and salt and pepper shakers.

A Completer Set

Many times five pieces of matching serveware are available for purchase separate from a starter set, dinnerware known as a completer set. Completer sets vary in content: for example, a medium-size round platter, open vegetable bowl, covered sugar bowl, and creamer; or an oval platter, two vegetable bowls, gravy boat, and butter dish.

Open Stock

When dinnerware is available for individual purchase rather than by the place setting. Open stock does not mean a pattern is available indefinitely. Once demand for a pattern ceases, the manufacturer cannot afford to actively continue production. When the dinnerware firm states it will not discontinue a pattern, it means they will make it available only when enough orders have accumulated to make production profitable.

When a discontinued pattern is no longer available, inquire if a few pieces are available for purchase at the factory. If not, extend an incomplete set with dinnerware made by another manufacturer in a similar design. Or match an incomplete set with a pattern in a solid color.

The Cost of Replacements

Some dinnerware, such as majolica and faience, chips easily. Moreover, imported dinnerware is more expensive to replace than domestic dinnerware. Purchase extras of pieces frequently used, such as dinner plates and cups and saucers.

Because precious metals scratch easily, plates ornamented with gold, silver, or platinum in the center of the well are prone to marks from normal use of a dinner knife. When replacements are not available, mix the patterns with solid-color dinnerware.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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