by Staff Writer
Your dinnerware is more than just a way to serve food; it complements the different meals you serve, expresses your style, and adds importance to your home dining experience. Whether you need formal place settings for a holiday dinner or you just want to choose plates for weeknight meals, this dinnerware buying guide explains your options, so you can find the dishes that suit your life.
Decide how much to buy: You generally want to have eight to 12 place settings. That way, you always have enough for visiting family or dinner parties. Many people like having both formal dinnerware for special occasions and casual dinnerware for everyday use, so be sure to consider whether you'll be likely to need both types before you shop.
Casual dinnerware pieces: Most casual dinnerware is sold as service for four. The basic set has 16 pieces and includes four dinner plates, four salad plates, four glasses, and four bowls. Some 16-piece sets exchange mugs for the glasses. A 20-piece set includes saucers. Larger sets, such as a 30-piece or 45-piece set, may provide service for six, eight, or 12, or they may include extra pieces, such as a second small bowl or serveware.
Formal dinnerware pieces: Formal dinnerware, often called fine china, regardless of its material, is commonly sold as service for four or service for eight. A basic five-piece place setting of formal dinnerware includes dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, cup, and saucer. Bigger formal sets may also include bread plates, dessert plates, and matching serveware pieces, such as a teapot or serving platter.
Choose your style: Shop for dinnerware that coordinates with the style of your table and dining room. If you feel unsure about what to style or pattern to choose in formal dinnerware, a simple design in ivory or white is a tasteful and versatile choice. The range of colors and designs in casual dinnerware is almost unlimited, so you can get as creative as you want. Some people enjoy buying two similar sets of dinnerware in complementary colors, so they can mix and match.
Consider the materials: The materials the dishes are made of will affect how formal they feel.
Casual materials: Pottery and stoneware dinnerware are great for either casual or formal place settings, depending on their color and design or how you decorate the table. Pottery dinnerware is clay that is fired at low temperatures. Stoneware dinnerware is clay that is fired at a high temperature to create a dense and scratch-resistant material. Melamine is made of plastic resin and is a popular choice for casual dinnerware.
Formal materials: Porcelain is a white variety of stoneware dinnerware that can be brittle or translucent. Bone china is porcelain made with bone ash and refined clay. It is very strong, very white, and translucent. Traditionally, the finest formal dinnerware is made of bone china.
Dinnerware care: You'll want to be aware of how to care for your dishes before you buy them, so you'll know what you're getting into.
Dishwasher: Casual dinnerware may be dishwasher-safe, but be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions before you put it in the dishwasher. All fine china dinnerware should be hand-washed and hand-dried.
Microwave: Be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions on all dinnerware before putting it in your microwave. The instructions may also be imprinted on the bottom of each piece. Never put any piece of dinnerware in a microwave oven if it has metal bands or metallic paint in its design or decoration. It may destroy the microwave oven.
Storage: Store your dinnerware carefully, particularly your formal dinnerware. You can store your formal dinnerware safely in a padded dinnerware storage case and keep it in your cupboard, or you can simply place a piece of felt between each piece to protect it from scratches. You may also display your formal dinnerware in a china cabinet as part of your home decor. Casual dishes may be carefully stacked in a cupboard to be on hand for everyday use.