Dish It Up! How to Choose Dinnerware for Your Restaurant

From basic to elegant, the type of tableware you use says a lot about your restaurant. We asked pros for their insights on choosing the right dinnerware and flatware for the job and what mistakes to avoid (giant oversized plates, anyone?). Here's their advice.

Factors to Consider

  • Durability: Select tableware that's built to last as long as possible. Some restaurateurs like chip-resistant melamine tableware, which comes in styles and at price points that work for the concept and the budget.
  • Storage and cleaning: "If the storage or accessibility is crowded or inconvenient, dinnerware tends to suffer," says Michael Horst of St. Louis, a former chef who now provides consulting services to the restaurant industry. "Plan ahead for proper storage both front and back of the house." Review care instructions for washing and sanitizing the items you buy, and invest in the appropriate dish racks. "Often times, the wrong dish racks produce a lot of clanging and banging of dishes in the wash cycle." That increases chips and breakage — and decreases profits.
  • Inventory: "Remember that dishes will be in various stages of use — on the table, at the dish pit, on the line ready for use — throughout the meal," says Francois de Melogue, executive chef at Figue Mediterranean Restaurant in La Quinta, CA. If money's tight, purchase at least 1.5 times the total number of guests for your standard tableware like dinner plates, bread/dessert plates and flatware. Most restaurateurs suggest 2.5 times seating capacity.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Choosing form over function: Flatware that looks good but is hard to handle isn't going to delight diners. And huge plates that take up too much table space or are hard for servers to handle won't make meals more enjoyable, either. "Be analytical and remove the emotion," says Horst.
  • Ignoring the concept: "A beautiful and functional tabletop is essential," explains Lee Morcus, owner of Figue Mediterranean Restaurant. "It sets the stage. We spend hours upon hours selecting our tabletop." The goal is to choose dinnerware and cutlery that match your concept (family diner or exclusive boîte, for example) and adds to the visual appeal of your menu items. Be sure to loop the chef into the discussion.
  • Not considering replacement costs: "Dishes break and flatware disappears like socks in the dryer," Horst says. "Always plan on replacing." Avoid bargain buys, which are usually too cheap and flimsy or have a normal price out of your range. Same goes for clearance items, which are usually out of stock and therefore not replaceable.
  • Spending too much or too little: "Expensive doesn't always mean good," says Asana Nakornchai, owner and general manager of Bites Asian Tapas in Chicago. "But using cheap-looking dinnerware and flatware will send a certain impression to diners. Spend time at the beginning to find the design you like at a reasonable price."

Creating an appealing and functional combination of dinnerware and flatware results in a dining experience that pleases your guests and your bottom line.

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