When you’re opening a new restaurant, every element matters. The food, the décor, the furnishings, and the staff all tell the story of your brand and your mission. Included in these all-important elements is the dinnerware, which will showcase your food and present your chef’s culinary skills in the best light.
The Dinnerware Variety
For restaurateurs, chefs, and food aficionados, the choice of dinnerware can make the difference between a great presentation and a less impressive one. It’s an important component of the overall look of your dining room and sets a tone, which can be pleasing or off-putting. In your efforts to leave an everlasting impression on guests that dine at your restaurant, it’s important to find the perfect restaurant dinnerware.
When you’re shopping for dinnerware, whether casual or formal, there is a wide variety of dinnerware materials from which to choose. Porcelain, stoneware, bone china, wood, plastic, and other materials all have their own qualities, features and, drawbacks. To make the best decision, use this guide so you’ll be better educated when shopping for restaurant dinnerware.
Earthenware and Stoneware
Often less expensive than other types of dinnerware, earthenware is a type of ceramic that has been glazed and fired. It is what is typically used for hand-painted designs and has a thick, heavy, rustic look and feel. It’s not as durable and strong as other types of dinnerware and is prone to chipping. In addition, earthenware is often porous, which means it could stain or absorb liquid (so avoid leaving it submerged in water). Most glazed earthenware is dishwasher safe and can be used in the microwave.
Another type of fired ceramic dinnerware, stoneware is usually a little more durable than earthenware because the clay has glass material added to it for strength. The body of stoneware is thicker than finer materials like porcelain and china and can be finished with a variety of glaze textures, such as shiny, satin, or matte.
Both earthenware and stoneware are typically used in casual restaurants, and good-quality stoneware is very versatile to use and to maintain. It can go in the microwave, dishwasher, oven, and freezer and can make a colorful addition to your restaurant’s table settings.
Porcelain or China
Porcelain and china are both terms that refer to dinnerware made of fine-particle clay that is fired at a higher temperature. This makes the resulting dinnerware durable and nonporous. This process also allows the body of the dishes to be thinner and more delicately constructed, which gives it a translucent appearance and allows for aesthetic details to be incorporated into the design. Porcelain in particular has a more upscale look, lending itself to more formal restaurants.
In most cases, even the finest china is dishwasher-, microwave-, and oven-safe unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise. China that has a gold, silver or platinum border should not be microwaved, and lemon- or citrus-scented detergent might damage metal accents if placed in a dishwasher.
To create bone china, bone ash (which is actually made from animal bones) is combined with porcelain clay and fired at a slightly lower temperature than porcelain to produce a material that is very lightweight, translucent, and delicate in feel, with a milky appearance. Despite its fragile appearance, this is actually the strongest and most durable ceramic dinnerware. Most bone china is dishwasher safe and, unless it has metallic banding, it can go in the microwave and oven as well.
Bone china is expensive; however, despite the initial cost, it adds beauty and a sense of refinement to any restaurant table.
Vitrified glass is a type of glass – usually opaque in the case of dinnerware – that has been fired at an ultra-high temperature so that it is nonporous and extremely durable. The best-known vitrified glass dinnerware is Corelle, which is a trademarked glass laminate that is virtually indestructible—it will not break or chip even when dropped onto a hard floor. Vitrified glass is safe to use in the dishwasher and microwave, and is ideal for family-style restaurants where children will be handling the dinnerware.
If you constantly have to replace shattered china or porcelain dishware, switching to durable melamine may be the perfect solution for your establishment. Melamine is a smart choice for a variety of settings, especially restaurants that serve a high volume of customers. Because this unique material is both break-resistant and suitable for serving hot and cold foods, it provides restaurant owners with the flexibility they need for a variety of tasks.
Many reports have surfaced questioning the health hazards of melamine tableware. However, the FDA’s Safety and Risk Assessment of Melamine states that this type of plastic tableware is safe for use. The study concludes that the chemicals in melamine will not transfer into food product as long your food is not heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In other words, melamine is not suitable for the microwave or oven, and should not be heated with food on it.
Melamine tableware is dishwasher safe, and many lines of melamine dinnerware can handle heat that exceeds usual dishwasher water temperatures. And, thanks to melamine’s high heat-retaining properties, it dries faster than standard dishware.
Melamine is an insulator, not a conductor. This means that melamine stays cool to the touch when serving hot foods because the food does not change the temperature of the material itself. This protects restaurant servers and diners from burn hazards associated with hot plates and other servingware.
Commercial melamine dinnerware is designed to mimic the look of fine china and other ceramic dinnerware. Available in both solid colors and patterned designs, you’re sure to find a pattern to match your restaurant theme. You can find different lines of melamine in a range of prices, many of which are very affordable.
Plastic Dinnerware: Durable and Affordable
If you’re looking for more economical and lighter dishes for your restaurant, then plastic dinnerware may be the perfect solution. Plastic dinnerware is made of durable; shatter- and break-resistant polycarbonate or SAN plastic, and is particularly appropriate for a busy, casual restaurant. Colorful plastic dishes are available that mimic the look of china and will add a pop of color to your tabletop presentation. Choose from a wide range of colors, sizes, and styles to find something that complements the décor of your restaurant.
With wooden dinnerware, you can create a warm, friendly atmosphere for your restaurant. Wood dishes are made with woven wood that has been sealed with a lacquer, creating a break-resistant, dishwasher safe, non-absorbent plate or bowl. These all-purpose dishes can be used to serve hot and cold foods – salad, soup, main dishes, or desserts all look great on a wooden background. Wooden dishes are just right for diners, health food restaurants, and fast-casual establishments and they will give a warm and welcome feeling to your customers.
What Type of Dinnerware is Right for You
A number of factors go into the choice of restaurant dinnerware, including the ambiance you wish to project, your budget, and the intended use.
When your restaurant is still in the planning stages, it’s important that you consider what it is that you want to portray in your restaurant. Is it a fine dining or casual establishment? Are you aiming for refined and sophisticated, or fun and trendy? Is the atmosphere you’re seeking posh and sophisticated or warm and colorful? For a fine dining atmosphere, opt for porcelain or china plates, while for casual atmospheres, choose melamine or plastic dishes. To get a trendy feel, use square plates, and to create a more fun vibe, add a pop of color to the table.
So, for instance, if you’re planning to open a quaint little diner, or a bakery/coffee shop, classic white plates and coffee cups will do just fine. If your restaurant concept is ethnic, as in Mexican or Italian, you can opt for plates with bold colors and designs. You dinnerware should reflect your restaurant theme and compliment the overall design of your restaurant. Some commercial dinnerware can even be customized with your restaurants name and logo.
There’s no escaping the limitations of budgetary considerations when you’re opening a restaurant; however, even if you have a specific budget in mind, you should consider the value of all your purchases. Keep in mind that buying better and more durable pieces now, that are a little more expensive, could save you cash in the long run. Great quality china will not scratch as much when stacked, as the bottom is smooth and it is more resistant to markings left behind by flatware. Although restaurant dinnerware is generally priced higher than dishes used for the home, their heavy-duty durability is well-worth the investment. The reason commercial dishes are more expensive than those you might pick up for your own kitchen is that they are designed to withstand the wear and tear of restaurant use.
For the average restaurant, the dishes will be going from kitchen to table to ware-washing station and back again. There are exceptions, of course. If your restaurant will be offering a hot buffet, for instance, and some dishes will be served on hotplates, look into choosing dinnerware that can withstand the high heat. Shop for plates and bowls that are microwave-safe or oven-safe, which will be more durable and long lasting.
Certain restaurants – fish places, for instance – can use disposable dishes without turning off customers. If you do opt for disposable paper or plastic dinnerware, look for ones that can be recycled or composted. You can even purchase disposable dinnerware made from corn that is 100% compostable.
On the other hand, while some restaurant concepts can benefit from disposable dishes, like food trucks, or for catered functions such as barbeques, the cost of replacing paper plates continuously for years, is going to exceed the initial investment cost of non-disposable plates. So, even if you are opening a simple, casual soup and sandwich shop or a diner, other, non-disposable types of dinnerware may still be your best bet for a long-term investment.
When selecting your dinnerware, be sure to take the time to choose the right options that fit your restaurant’s concept. It’s important that your customers’ first impression – which takes in everything they see in your restaurant, including dinnerware – is a memorable one that leaves them eager to come back again and again.