Cheers! Restaurant Drinkware Buying Guide

How to choose the best drinkware for your foodservice operation

Drinkware is more than just a vessel for conveying liquids. It is an expression of your restaurant’s brand and the kind of beverage experience a guest can expect. A place that serves drinks in large plastic tumblers, for instance, is likely to offer a very different sort of service than one with swan-necked crystal decanters.

Form and function meet in the glass, and restaurant glassware has to do more than just look pretty. It has to enhance the drinking experience through its shape and texture. It has to be durable, safe and economical too.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of glasses to choose from. Decide which is best for you with this buying guide.

Various restaurant drinkware

Types of Drinkware

Beverage glasses

A beverage glass of some sort goes on every table so a variety of capacities and styles are necessary to accommodate water, pop, juice, milk, iced tea and even smoothies.

The tall, flat-bottomed, smooth-sided tumbler is the workhorse of the dining room, whether high end or low. It is used for everything from water to soda to iced tea. Design is usually simple and materials durable, hard-wearing and affordable.

Smaller tumblers are ideal for juice—and for little hands in family restaurants. A finer-dining establishment may prefer goblets to serve water instead—the stems add a sense of airiness and elegance to the table. 

Assortment of beverages in a variety of glasses


Wine glasses

Although most people recommend choosing different wine glasses for red and white wine, there is such a thing as a universal wine glass. Even the famed wine critic Jancis Robinson has designed one. It should have an egg-shaped bowl big enough to enhance wine’s aromas, as well as a stem long enough to grip properly and a nice, smooth lip that doesn’t impede wine flow.

But if your establishment is serious about wine, you’ll want to offer, at the very least, glasses for red and white wine. Red wine glasses are larger and more bulbous, providing more surface area for the wine to release its complex aromas while gentling alcohol and tannins. White wine glasses are smaller and narrower, concentrating the delicate aromas of most white varietals.

If your establishment is really serious about wine, and has plenty of budget, consider investing in varietal-specific glassware, which is designed to emphasize the flavours of certain wines. For instance, the wide, round bowl of the Burgundian glass is ideal for teasing out Pinot Noir’s complex but subtle aromas.

In addition, you will want to include small glasses for dessert wines, as well as special glasses for sparkling wines. These are typically served in tall, narrow glasses, often called champagne flutes to show off the bubbles, but connoisseurs prefer tulip-shaped white wine glasses, which enhance flavours, or coupes that invoke retro glamour.

Different wine in wine glasses


Beer glasses

The popularity of craft beer has been accompanied by an increase in specialty beer glasses for serving all those ales, lagers, saisons, porters and witbiers.

If you serve beer, start with a classic pint glass, either a stange, which has a straight edge, or nonic, which has a bulge near the top to improve grip and make them easier to stack.

Also consider beer goblets, which have short, wide stems and thick walls, and are perfect for heavy Belgian ales and other sipping beers.

Sturdy beer mugs and steins, meanwhile, are all about presentation and make good keepsakes. They are functional, too: The thick glass keeps the beer cold and the handle prevents your hand from warming the beer.

Two other styles to consider are the tulip (also known as a Belgian beer glass), whose curved body and flared rim are versatile enough for everything from IPA to stout, and the tall, tapered pilsner.

Learn more details about Types of Beer Glasses and Beer Mugs

Assortment of beer mugs and glasses


Bar and Cocktail glasses

No part of drinking life is as dependent on stylish glassware as cocktail culture. Many types of cocktails are easily identified simply by the bar or cocktail glasses.

For many years, drinks served “up” (without ice) were offered in the V-shaped, stemmed Martini glass James Bond made famous. It’s more fashionable now to use the wide, elegantly curved coupe or the smaller, narrower Nick and Nora, named for the main characters of The Thin Man book and movies.

For straight spirits or cocktails served on ice, you need a rocks, lowball or Old Fashioned glass. It should be wide enough to accommodate today’s bigger ice cubes and spheres.

Drinks “lengthened” with soda, like the Tom Collins or Paloma, should be served in the tall, narrow Collins or highball glass. You will also need small, flat-bottomed shot glasses for single shots of spirits or mixed shooters.

There are also many, many specialty glasses designed for specific drinks, including copper mugs for Moscow Mules, pewter tumblers for mint juleps, tiki mugs for Mai Tais, Margarita glasses for frozen drinks, and glass mugs for specialty coffees.

For more details check out our Cocktail Glasses Buying Guide.

Assortment of cocktail glasses

Glassware by the numbers - how many glasses should you have?

Once you’ve decided what you need, there’s the question of how much. It depends on what kind of establishment you run, the kind of drinks you serve and how many seats your restaurants has.

There are numerous ordering calculators online, but the basic rule is to multiply the number of seats by the “ordering factor,” which is determined by the consumer trends in your restaurant.

The bare minimum is at least two to three glasses for every seat in your restaurant. But you will want more than the bare minimum, perhaps a lot more, especially if you operate at high volume.

In a casual restaurant, where prices are lower, guests are more likely to order a second glass of wine or pint of beer. On the other hand, a high-end, wine-focused restaurant will need to be able to put several stems at once on the table for formal dinners. Both need more than the minimum glassware.

Something else to consider is the speed and capacity of your commercial dishwasher. How many racks can it clean per hour? What is the wait time between washing it and being able to use it again?

Here’s a reference chart to help you determine how much of each glass type you need for your foodservice business. The number is a factor that you can use to determine the number of each glassware 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 juice glasses.  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.


Juice 1.5 1.5 1.5
Long Drink / Highball 1.5 1.5 1.5
Cooler / Beverage 3 3 3
Rocks 3 3 3
Double Old Fashioned 3 3 3
Water 3 3 3
Wine - Large 1.5 1.5 1
Wine - Small 1 1.5 1.5
Beer 3 3 3
Martini 0.5 1 1.5
Margarita 0.5 1 1.5
Flute 1 1 0.5
Shot Glass 0.5 0.5 1.5
Carafe 0.5 0.5 0.5
Pitcher 0.5 0.5 0.5


Drinkware Materials

The strongest glassware will withstand dishwashers, servers and everyday use, and can help preserve your bottom line. But when it comes to durability, not all glassware is created equal.

Annealed glass is the least expensive of the three most common types of commercial glass. It is designed to withstand sudden temperature changes. But when it does break, it shatters into dangerously sharp shards.

Fully tempered glass is more expensive, but stronger and less likely to break. When it does, it crumbles into chunks rather than shards.

Rim-tempered glass falls between the two, both pricewise and in terms of strength, and is a good option for restaurateurs on a budget.

There are other materials on opposite ends of the presentation (and cost) scale.

For casual use, styrene acrylonitrile resin (SAN) is a durable, PBA-free plastic that can be safely cleaned in a dishwasher. Polycarbonate is another durable plastic, but can scratch easily and is not recommended for hot beverages.

The finest glassware is made of crystal, or increasingly, crystallin, which is made without lead. Crystal is beautiful, clear, delicate and the ideal material for fine wines.

Variety of cocktail and hard liquor drinkware

Care and maintenance of drinkware and glassware

Glass is breakable, and as it disappears, so can your budget.

There are three main reasons glass breaks: accidental drops; mechanical shock, the repeated small bumps that weaken the glass over time; and thermal shock, the sudden changes in temperature that come from, for instance, pouring cold liquid into a hot glass straight from the dishwasher.

To reduce mechanical shock, avoid putting silverware in glasses, knocking the bowls of wine glasses together, stacking non-stackable glasses or hitting the lip of a beer glass against the tap. And remember: Stemmed glasses require different racks than tumblers do.

To avoid thermal shock, give glasses plenty of time to cool after removing them from the dishwasher, and don’t plunge cold glasses into hot water. And never use a glass as an ice scoop.

Finally, always handle glasses gently, and immediately remove any scratched, cracked or chipped glassware from service.

Written by Joanne Sasvari

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Need help shopping for other tableware items?  We can help!  Check out our Foodservice Dinnerware Buying Guide and our Foodservice Flatware Buying Guide.