How to Choose the Right Dinnerware
Selecting a new dinnerware set gives you the opportunity to purchase something both useful and beautiful. Whether you’re registering for a dinnerware set before a wedding, replacing your current dinnerware, or restocking after a move, investing time into finding the right set will allow you to enjoy your new dishes every day for years to come.
Figuring Out the Basics
- Evaluate your current dinnerware. Does it matter whether your new dinnerware matches your old stuff? If so, you’ll need to coordinate by material, color, or pattern. Unless you hate your current pieces, consider how you’re going to keep on using them.
- Define what range of uses your new pieces will have. For example, do you plan to use these dishes outdoors on a regular basis? If so, you may want to look into less common but unbreakable materials, such as metal or laminate. If you’ll only use a formal set during the holidays, you might want to coordinate with festive colors
- Decide whether you want sets or not. Dinnerware often comes in 5-piece (formal) and 4-piece (casual) sets. Consider whether you want all your dishes to match this way, as most retailers now offer dinnerware “open stock,” meaning that you can purchase individual pieces rather than sets. If you wish, you can mix and match different colors, patterns, textures and shapes.
- Decide whether you’re looking for casual or formal dinnerware. It’s probably not necessary to have a complete set of each, although it may be traditional. In theory, casual dinnerware is sturdy and designed for everyday use, while formal dinnerware is more delicate, but there’s a lot of overlap here. If you find a good pattern, you might well be able to purchase a single durable, elegant set.
- Choose your material based on durability, price, and intended use. Formal dinnerware is commonly made with bone china and porcelain; casual pieces may also be stoneware or earthenware.
– Porcelain is the hardest ceramic.
– Bone china is nearly as strong because it is fortified by ox-bone ash.
– Both types are relatively expensive, and are often not ideal for dishwasher or microwave use because they are harder to replace.
– Many manufacturers now offer dishwasher-, microwave-, and oven-safe bone china and porcelain.
– Casual dinnerware should be sturdy, dishwasher-safe, and microwaveable; ideally, it should also be oven-safe to 400-500F.
– Such pieces are traditionally most often made of stoneware or earthenware (cream ware, majolica, faience, delft), which are less sturdy and less expensive than bone china or porcelain.
– However, porcelain and inexpensive bone china casual dinnerware is becoming quite common.
Choosing Pieces You Love
- Choose your color scheme based on your needs and your room. Plain white dinnerware is always very popular, because it’s dishwasher safe, doesn’t fade, matches most décor, showcases food well, and never goes out of style. However, you can also coordinate with your dining room or kitchen by picking a color. Dishware can also be plain or patterned.
– If you have a brightly-colored dining room, neutral colors will complement it well.
– If you have neutral-colored décor, you can incorporate a bright color into your dishes that will bring out other aesthetic accents.
– When considering patterns, include some plain dinnerware with your patterns so they aren’t overwhelming.
– Note that many patterns are created with decals or transfers and should be hand washed to prevent fading or removal.
– Gold- or any other metal-lined patterns should not be used in the microwave.
- Choose shapes and textures, especially for accents. While smooth, round dishes are the most common and versatile, they can get boring. Your collection can be improved dramatically by adding a number of complementary pieces in dramatic shapes and textures. This is also a great time to consider some of the more unusual and dramatic materials and patterns.
For inspiration, look online and in magazines for Japanese table settings, where you’ll see a wide range of shapes, colors, and textures used regularly.
- Measure tables and storage spaces in order to choose appropriate sizes. While there are approximate standard sizes for most pieces, they do vary a lot.
If you are considering very large plates, be sure to measure the space inside your cabinets and dishwasher: a 12” plate will often not fit into a nominal 12” cabinet, for example.
Some people find that large plates encourage overeating, while others find elegance in a plate’s “negative space.”
- Consider whether you need serving pieces. For serving, you’ll want 2-3 dishes, 2 bowls, 1 covered casserole, 1 cake platter or stand, and 1 coffee/tea service. These dishes do not need to match one another, and are a great place to branch out into dramatic shapes, colors, and textures
Making Your Purchase
- Determine a budget for your purchases. Dinnerware needn’t be extremely pricey, but if you are buying a lot of pieces it will add up quickly. This is not a great place to be cheap, however. You hope to use these dishes every day for many years, so buy something you like and cut costs elsewhere.
- Select as many settings as the number of people you can imagine hosting for dinner. Usually, this means 12 servings, which covers a fair-sized party smoothly. If you’re on a budget, buy enough for the family and add to your collection later; in that case, be sure to buy pieces that are unlikely to be discontinued, or it can be very difficult to complete the set later.
- Research dinnerware retailers thoroughly. You’d be surprised how many seemingly reputable department stores and the like have many, many horrible reviews: dishes that took six months to arrive, were broken in shipping, were refused for returns, and so on. If you are registering, be extra-careful: some places are infamous for simply not honoring purchases on registries, and when people complain they just refund the purchaser anonymously to a credit card.