Dinnerware Buying Guide

Choosing commercial chinaware and dinnerware comes down to style, price, durability and more.

In many ways, dinnerware is one of the hardest tasks for anyone opening a new restaurant. Initial considerations probably include: How durable? and How Much?

It's true that next to glassware, dinnerware is the most common tabletop item you'll have to replace in your restaurant. Breakage is bound to happen, but there are ways to minimize the occurrence by being a smart shopper. Pay close attention to material types, shapes and weights of your dinnerware—is it something your staff will be able to handle easily? Do you have the proper dishwashing racks and storage solutions to properly clean and maintain your investment? Higher initial costs could dissuade the price-conscious restaurateur, but if you're in it for the long haul, you soon realize that replacing your chinaware on a regular basis slowly eats away at your bottom line.

Your dinnerware is an extension of your brand and can really help to shape the culture and feel of your restaurant. We can't think of a more customer-facing item in your restaurant than the actual plates they'll be eating from. For example, if your restaurant is a casual eatery that specializes in farm-to-fork food, you might find that a simple, no-frills design works best for your rustic atmosphere. Conversely, a high-end dining hotspot in the middle of town might opt for sleek lines and more dramatic silhouettes.

Then comes plating. Before purchasing any dinnerware you should consider your menu items and what you intend to serve. Presentation is key to making a good impression for customers, and plating can mean all the difference between a $7 appetizer and a $12 one. Plus, consider how plating affects your portion control as well. Put a small portion on a large plate and your customer might feel cheated, but serve it on an appropriately-sized dish to showcase the food and you'll keep customers coming back for more.

In this buying guide we'll walk you through the types of commercial chinaware and dinnerware, from stoneware all the way to melamine.

Dinnerware comes in a variety of materials and styles, and finding the right one for your business is a balance between durability and design. Plates don't just evoke the culture and feel of your restaurant; they can also do wonders in making your food shine. However, in a commercial setting you can't afford to invest in dinnerware that isn't made to last. Most chinaware is dishwasher safe, but more manufacturers are adding microwave and oven safe as well; all of these factors are important to learn prior to purchasing.

Also, look for chinaware with a high alumina content, a component that helps stiffen melted glaze and stabilizes and hardens the fired glaze, making for a more durable piece of china. Also keep an eye out for fully vitrified ceramics, which refer to ceramics that will absorb less than .2% of its own weight, will not absorb odors or moisture; these ceramics will ensure your chinaware looks as good as it did on the day you bought it. Due to these inherent compositional and firing differences amongst chinaware, you'll quickly discover subtle differences within color. A "white" plate varies greatly from brand to brand—some brands may even market several different "whites" for you to choose from.

Bone China

Bone china is the strongest of the chinaware options, but you'll also find it's the costliest. The quality of bone china is determined by the total amount of bone ash included in its composition. Lightweight with a lustrous appearance, you can often see light pass right through bone china. Not only that, but the thin edges of bone china give the impression of being more delicate, despite its extreme durability. But we caution you. The beauty and strength of bone china commands high prices, and this chinaware will be your most expensive option.


The majority of commercial chinaware is made out of porcelain. Porcelain is lightweight and similar to bone china in appearance, but it's much more cost-effective. For extra durability, look for dishes that are fully vitrified and feature a high alumina content. Safe for dishwasher use and offered in a variety of attractive shapes and styles, you'll love the versatility and affordability of porcelain dinnerware.



Fired at extremely high temperatures, you'll love the durability of stoneware dinnerware. Stoneware comes in a variety of styles, including natural, "earthy" pieces or specially-glazed pieces that create a smoother look. Stoneware becomes vitrified during the second firing. But with strength, comes weight, and these heavy-duty pieces could add weight to server's trays and increase risk of spills.


Earthenware plates speak to the type of clay used. The most commonly found clay in nature, earthenware has the lowest firing temperature of either porcelain or stoneware. What it lacks in the durability of stoneware, it makes up for in budget-friendly prices. Earthenware tends to be thinner than its stoneware counterpart, making it more lightweight (your servers will thank you).


When melamine was first introduced to the food service industry in the 1990s, fans loved the durability of the product, making it a sensible alternative to more breakable chinaware options. And by "broken chinaware" we're not just talking about a plate split in two—chips, scratches and other disfiguring marks makes a poor presentation to customers (so think twice about serving that chipped plate). Dishwasher safe and lightweight, melamine dinnerware was easy to wash, serve and store, making it perfect for those who were tired of replacing broken dinnerware.

Recently there have also been growing concerns about melamine leaching into the food. Melamine dinnerware is made of plastic construction, specifically it is a chemical compound that when combined with formaldehyde it produces a very durable plastic. The chances of that chemical leaching into food increases when exposed to extreme temperatures (160° or higher), but the FDA has confirmed that "melamine does not migrate from melamine-formaldehyde tableware into most foods." While dishwasher safe, best to be safe than sorry and keep those melamine plates out of the microwave oven.

In an industry where presentation is almost as important as taste, the brightly colored and 'plastic-looking' dinnerware meant that melamine was often regulated to high-volume, casual restaurants. Today's melamine, however, is unlike the melamine from twenty or even ten years ago. Many manufacturers like Carlisle are making commercial melamine that convincingly passes for wood and even stoneware. These new melamine offerings are still dishwasher safe and lightweight—and virtually indestructible. Free from the breakage worries of traditional china, melamine makes the perfect option for outdoor patios, poolside cabanas and catered events.

Polycarbonate Dinnerware

Like melamine, polycarbonate dinnerware is made of a highly-durable plastic resin designed to withstand breakage. Perfect for schools, hospitals and other institutions, polycarbonate dinnerware such as plates, bowls, cups, platters and more has you covered.

Cast Iron

Cast iron serveware is becoming popular in new restaurant concepts. These oven-to-table dishes make it easy to bake the food and deliver it to the customer in a single dish—no more transferring food to plates, which increases the risk of the entrée becoming cold.

Glass Dinnerware

For classic and elegant dinnerware, look to glass. The natural, translucent quality of glass plates well with a variety of foods--enhancing your dish without distracting from it. With countless styles, colors, shapes and sizes to choose from, you can find the perfect glass dinnerware to catch the eye and enhance your plated offerings.

So you've done your homework and found a highly durable, sensible option for your restaurant. Now's the fun part—design. Not only are your dishes an extension of your restaurant and brand, but they also serve a very important purpose. Consider your options thoughtfully before purchasing, and even better, have your menu in hand. Plate entrées on appropriate dishes to really make them shine.

Rolled Edge

Popular for its durability and dependability, rolled edge plates feature a classic look that can withstand the styles of time.

Narrow Rim

Exactly as the name implies, narrow rim plates feature a smaller outer rim, maximizing the surface area of the plate itself for large entrées.

Wide Rim

Wide rim plates draw attention towards the center of the plate, making it an ideal choice for expertly plated courses.


Often utilized in fine dining settings, embossed chinaware features delicate embellishments on the plates for added sophistication.

Banded China

Often utilized in fine dining settings, embossed chinaware features delicate embellishments on the plates for added sophistication.


Fiestaware commonly refers to bright, colorful dishes that are often mixed and matched at the table. Often you'll see fiestaware in Mexican and other Latin restaurant concepts.

When shopping for dinnerware, start with the basic place setting and move from there.

Dinner Plate

Dinner Plate

In many ways, the style of your dinner plate may set the mood for your entire tabletop collection. When it comes to restaurants, plating your dish is almost as important as how it tastes. They say we eat with our eyes first, right? Think carefully about your menu before purchasing your dinner plate, because it's not unusual to be seated at a large party and see various entrees plated on specific plates unique to that dish. Pasta dishes with rich sauces do well in large, wide bowls, while steaks are more easily cut from a flatter plate.

Bread and Butter Plate

Bread and Butter Plate

If your restaurant serves any type of bread and butter, flatbread, or other small appetizer courses for the meal, considers adding bread and butter plates to your tabletop presentation. If used for bread and butter, these small plates are placed to the left of the fork and are often accompanied by a small butter knife.

Salad Plate

Salad Plate

Larger than a Bread and Butter Plate, but smaller than a plate used for a main entrée, salad plates are primarily used for just that--salad. Sized accordingly to course size, plating your salads on these aptly-named plates should make your dish look full.

Soup Bowl

Soup Bowl

Soup bowls serve a primary, but important purpose--soup. You'd be hard-pressed to serve a soup course in anything besides a soup bowl, so if you anticipate these options on your menu then you'd better stock up.

Dessert Plate

Dessert Plate

The size and style of your dessert plate will vary, depending on what you'll be serving. While most dessert plates accommodate menu staples like cheesecake, consider additional chinaware for items like crème brulee, which are traditionally baked in a ramekin. Seasonal desserts like cobblers and crisps also do well either served in small ramekin-style dishes or on plates (accompanied with a scoop or two of ice cream). Consider your dessert thoughtfully—your plates should make it shine!

Teacup and Saucer

Teacup and Saucer

Not just for a breakfast or brunch service! Teacups and saucers add an elegant touch to any tabletop setting, and you'll find that many of your guests will request these hot beverages either with their meal or as an accompaniment to their dessert.

Additional Serveware

Perfect for appetizers and other shared plates, consider what types of serveware you'll need to best highlight your menu items. For example, a dish which utilizes various house made condiments would do well accompanied with small ramekins.

What good is your investment if it breaks almost instantly? The cost of replacing your dishes on a regular basis adds up quickly, and that's not even considering the strain on environmental and energy resources.

When it comes to commercial chinaware, preventing broken plates is just half of the battle. Maintaining aesthetically-pleasing dinnerware free from scratches, discoloration and chipping is key to providing diners with the best experience possible. The appearance of your dinnerware reflects on your business, and could affect customer perceptions in a negative way. A chipped plate might as well be a broken plate—don't expect to serve any customer-facing dishes on it.

Choosing appropriate chinaware for your business will help with overall durability, but you'll need to train staff (both front of house and back) on proper chinaware handling to really succeed. Protect your investment by reducing the amount of exposure your chinaware faces with metal trays, metal utensils, etc.—this should minimize the appearance of scratches and other metal markings. Avoid pouring cold beverages in hot, fresh from the washer, mugs; the temperature shock may cause stress fractures and increase chances of breakage. Stains and discoloration can be avoided by cleaning china immediately after use, and refraining from stacking hot, wet dishes together which wears the glaze prematurely.

Training will be key to maximizing the life of your investment. Talk with your staff and train them to properly care for your dishes to avoid practices such as:

  • Overloading bus trays
  • Allowing dirty dishes to pile up
  • Using abrasive scouring pads to clean dishes
  • Stacking dishes without drying them first
  • Stacking dishes more than 16 inches high

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