Dishing It Out - Foodservice Dinnerware Buying Guide

Dishing It Out - Foodservice Dinnerware Buying Guide 

Every dish you set before a customer is part of your story. Yes, you are serving the food, but what it is presented on (or in) helps to set the scene. With so many choices available, how do you choose the right dinnerware for your dining tables or bars?  

When deciding on your tableware every operation needs to consider the following basic factors: Budget, material, quantity and space. 

There is always a budget. Don’t start shopping without one. There isn’t any sense pining for a set of plates that will leave you in the red for years. 

Preferred material comes down to your operation.  What do you need your dishes to do for you? To present a 6 course Prix Fixe menu, all-day breakfast, be responsible for safely serving a family of 4 on a patio or deliver lunch to 300 elementary school kids every day. How about getting packed up and moved on-site for event catering or for special occasion dinner parties?

Repeatedly running through a commercial dishwasher is also part of the material consideration. Metal accents that may be appealing for your dessert plates may not be dishwasher safe and do you want to be handwashing and sanitizing dishes during a busy service? 

The amount of space you have - front of house and back of house - is a key consideration in determining the size of dinnerware pieces that works best for your business.

Budget 

Dinnerware is a necessary but never ending expense of any foodservice business. Yes, your initial investment will be the largest but it’s inevitable you will need more.  No matter how careful your staff is, dishes will get dropped, banged, broken and damaged. Maybe you expand your dining room or add a patio.  Or changes to your menu offering require new dishes. 

There is a large range in options from a dollar perspective.  

Dinnerware Materials 

Bone China 

A classic choice. Bone china provides a chef with a blank canvas. Its delicate appearance suits a fine dining establishment beautifully. But don’t let its delicate appearance fool you, bone china is sturdy stuff. It’s vitrified, meaning the pieces are heated to the point that they are rendered impenetrable to water and bacteria and therefore sanitary and suitable for foodservice use, dishwasher and microwave safe.  

A high alumina content in china offers increased strength and chip or breakage resistance, creating a durable final product. Bone china is a type of porcelain that is traditionally made with animal bone ash. Remember to steer clear if you’re running a vegan operation.

China and Fine China 

A type of porcelain, china and fine china is made from a clay that is vitrified to produce a non-porous pottery. It can be molded into many different shapes and textures but does not contain any bone ash. Less expensive than bone china but still offering durability as well as being dishwasher and microwave safe, china and fine china is a choice for many restaurants and cafes. 

Porcelain  

Porcelain is non-porous pottery made from a combination of feldspar, quartz and kaolin. Porcelain dinnerware is heavier than china and while it is less expensive, it is more susceptible to chipping and breakage and therefore may need more frequent replacement.

NOTE: China or porcelain are words that are sometimes used interchangeably. Porcelain’s slightly different manufacturing process makes it the more affordable option of the two. 

Stoneware 

Stoneware offers purchasers a bit more artistic variety in finishes and glazes than porcelain. With more colours to choose from, you can get the creative juices flowing alongside the gastric juices and drive the ambience of your table setting. It’s a great option for casual dinnerware and can handle the microwave and is dishwasher safe.  Many operators love to mix and match using stoneware; a rustic salad plate to contrast with plain white china dinnerware.

Stoneware is made of an expansion of clay, stone, and flint, making each piece unique and is valued for its sturdiness and simple manufacturing. Stoneware is only partially vitrified which means you’ll want to avoid soaking it in water. With its more porous nature, longer durations in water can lead to chipping and breakage. Stoneware is clay-based and heavier than porcelain, but it’s less likely to scratch. 

Earthenware 

Earthenware is quite rustic; terra-cotta is an example of this style. It is one of the least expensive but least durable options for dinnerware. The pieces are porous and need to be glazed to be waterproof. Pieces of earthenware are to be hand-washed only and should be fully dried before storing. Any fault in the glazing could offer a potential place for bacterial build up if stored away damp. 

Melamine 

Melamine is a nitrogen-based compound used to manufacture plastic dishware. Melamine pieces are incredibly durable, lightweight, perfect for indoor and outdoor entertaining and come in a multitude of colours and patterns. Melamine plates are stain and scratch-resistant and a great choice for fast paced, casual restaurants. 

The styles, shapes, colours and textures of today’s melamine selection have elevated this dinnerware choice to wider variety of foodservice establishments as many manufacturers produce convincing melamine replacements for wood, slate and even stoneware. 

There have been some concerns raised about the use of melamine in dishware. People want to know, is it safe? According to FDA testing, the short answer is yes, it is safe.  However, it is recommended to not microwave plastics unless specified as microwave-safe.

Glass 

There are two types of glass used to make dinnerware. Tempered glass is the process where the product is heated to a high temperature then plunged quickly to a low temperature. This makes the glass stronger and resistant to chipping and cracking. Although inexpensive, it can be scratched or etched over time under repeated usage. 

Vitrified glass dinnerware is glass fired at high temperatures to make it nonporous and extremely durable. Microwave and dishwasher safe this type of dinnerware lasts a long time. Corelle is a residential brand using this material. 

Available in many colours, shapes and textures. 

Bamboo 

Bamboo dinnerware pieces are great biodegradable, light weight, eco-friendly serving options. There are disposable styles meant for one-time use, but you can now easily find more long-lasting products that can be washed and re-used; though their life-span is usually thought to be less than a year. This type of dinnerware is a kid-friendly, sturdy alternative to classic porcelain or stoneware.  

Bamboo is a renewable resource and single-use styles can be dropped into the composter when you’re done with them. 

These products are easy to stack, store and carry, which is a huge bonus for catering/mobile operations. Bamboo fiber is also known to have antibacterial properties, so no bacterial buildup. Some brands are even offering dishwasher safe bamboo products. 

DINNERWARE MATERIALS COMPARISON

MaterialCostDurabilityWeightDishwasher Safe
Bone China$$$$$*******yes
China (Fine China)$$$$*******yes
Porcelain$$$*******yes
Stoneware$$$********yes
Earthenware$$******no
Melamine$$$******depends on brand
Glass$$$******yes
Bamboo$$***depends on brand

 

 

Quantity - How much do I need? 

Commercial dinnerware is often packaged by the dozen and sold in minimum order quantities. A good rule of thumb is to have 3 of the most popular dinnerware pieces per seat. Remember to take into account any pieces used for multiple menu items and amp up the number of pieces accordingly.  

Review menu and sales data to ensure your dinnerware supply meets your needs during peak times. Factor in washing, drying and cooling times to avoid stressing plates and bowls from extreme temperature fluctuations. 

Here’s a reference chart to help you determine how much of each piece of dinnerware you need for your type of foodservice business. The number is a factor that you can use to determine the number of each dinnerware piece you would need depending on your operation.

# of seats x factor = # of pieces to order

For example:  100 seat family restaurant needs to order dinner plates, 9" works well for their operation.  The factor from the chart below is 1.5.

100 seats x 1.5 = 150 pieces

Remember that pack sizes differ between manufacturers, but are typically by the dozen so order to the nearest dozen. 150 pieces = 13 DZ.

DINNERWARE ORDERING FACTORS

ITEM TYPESIZE CASUALFINE DININGBANQUETCATERING
Plate - Side5 1/2" - 7"1.5262
Plate - Side7 1/2" - 8"1.52-2
Plate - Dinner8 1/2" - 9 1/2"1.5222
Plate - Dinner9 3/4" - 10"1.5321.5
Plate - Dinner10 1/4" +22-2
Platter - Side7" - 10"10.5-1
Platter - Dinner11" - 15"11.50.51
Service Plate-1.51.5-1.5
Coffee/Tea Cup-3322
Saucer-3322
Mug-3322
Bouillon-11.51.51.5
Fruit Dish4 1/4" - 5"2362.5
Grapefruit Dish6"111.251
Bowl4"-7"110.51
Rimmed Bowl8" - 9/14"0.50.5-0.5
Coffee/Tea Pot-0.30.3-0.3
Creamer3 oz0.50.5-0.5

 

Space Considerations 

Table Sizes 

Think through your table sizes, dining room and patio and how much space each plate or bowl will need. If your table tops are on the smaller side, don’t opt for oversized main course plates and run the risk of crowding. Set your tables with your best-case scenario, meaning what do you hope your tables look like full. Include all dinnerware, glassware, cutlery, extras like bread baskets, condiment holders, salt and pepper and decorations. Is there room for an entrée plate, side plate (a la carte additions) and even an extra plate with sharables for each guest at that table? Use cut out pieces of parchment or cardboard to see how it all fits together. 

A slightly smaller dinner plate, even by 1” diameter could make a big difference. 

Storage 

Figure out how much storage space you have and if there are weight capacity issues to consider in the storage areas. Stacks upon stacks of restaurant dinnerware can be extremely heavy. 

If you are using or would like to use plate dispensers or dish caddies, ensure your dinnerware selection fits. 

How about dish racks? Does your current selection of dish racks meet the needs of your dinnerware so they are properly spaced to reduce bumping and rubbing during cleaning? How many plates or bowls can fit in a rack? Is the space used efficiently or will it mean more loads through the dishwasher? 

All of these seemingly simple considerations can save you time and money if thought through completely before purchasing. 

Replacement 

Understand that inevitably you will need to replace dinnerware pieces. Prevent increased costs and lag time by having extra new stock on hand. Ordering at the last minute can end up costing you more per piece.  Consider choosing a popular pattern that is always stocked. Pick colours and/or patterns that can be used interchangeably with multiple pieces without affecting the “feel” of your establishment.  

Remember, if your dinnerware comes with a warranty, file it away with copies of purchase receipts for easy reference. 

Balance the practical - budget, material, quantity and space - with the aesthetically pleasing and make your tables beautiful. 

Written by Breanne Baker

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