Dinnerware isn't something people give much thought to – until the time comes to choose our own. Many people go through a time when they've collected mismatched cast-off pieces given to us by parents, other relatives and friends. Eventually, however, you want to get a complete set. Some people may want to mix and match according to their taste and style. A set of dinnerware can be a fun way to brighten up your kitchen and your mealtimes.

A table setting of fine china and crystal with beige linens
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All About Dinnerware

History of Dinnerware

The idea of eating food on dishes, made from clay, originated over 1,000 years ago in China, which is why general dinnerware is often referred to as "china." Even today, most dinnerware manufacturers are located near sources of good clay. In the United States, Ohio and West Virginia have been home to many dinnerware companies. The Homer Laughlin Company, which makes Fiestaware, is still located in West Virginia along the Ohio River.

Today, most dinnerware is made of either china, porcelain or bone china. China is really any type of ceramic dinnerware. Porcelain is a finer material, made of clay, feldspar and quartz, and heated in kilns to high temperatures. Bone china is similar to porcelain, but with up to 50 percent of calcified animal bone, or bone ash. This makes the dishes thinner and lighter but surprisingly more durable than porcelain. Bone china is kiln-fired but at a lower temperature than porcelain. If you want to know how much bone ash is in bone china, you'll have to ask the manufacturer.

Types of Dinnerware

The most important part of a dinnerware set is the dinner plate. This is what you serve your main evening course on, and it is probably what you will serve to your company. On the table, this is surrounded by the soup, salad and dessert plates. For a formal table, the pattern should be the same. But for an informal table, a mix of patterns can add interest.

Many dinnerware sets are sold by the place setting. These usually range from three to seven pieces. A three-piece setting is merely a dinner plate, cup and saucer. A five-piece setting is a dinner plate, salad or dessert plate, bread plate and cup and saucer. Seven pieces include a dinner plate, salad plate, bread and butter plate, soup cup and saucer, and cup and saucer. A good set to start with is a 20-piece set, which includes service for four.

Because many people drink beverages out of a mug instead of a cup and saucer, many dinnerware sets include other options besides the traditional cup-and-saucer set. Fiestaware offers other options for dinnerware sets. The three-piece Bistro set includes a dinner plate, salad plate and soup bowl. The three-piece classic setting includes a dinner plate, salad plate and cereal bowl. That same combination, along with a mug, is Fiestaware's four-piece place setting. Its five-piece setting includes a plate, salad plate, cereal bowl and cup and saucer.

You'll need to determine which brand and type of dinnerware set best suits your lifestyle when choosing your set. But once you have the basics, most brands of dinnerware have a myriad of options from which to fill in at any time. You can buy a set of dessert plates separately or a set of appetizer plates. Mix and match colors and styles to reflect your own taste.

Formal Table Setting

If you want a formal table, you'll start with a service plate. This large plate, usually 13 to 14 inches in diameter, is also called a charger and serves as an underplate for the first course. The appetizer is served on an appetizer plate, usually 4 to 7 inches in diameter. To the upper left of the place setting is the bread and butter plate, about 5 to 7 inches in diameter. It should be smaller than the appetizer plate.

The service plate remains in place during the second course, which is often a soup course. The soup bowl is typically 6 to 7 inches across and 1 to 1½ inches deep. Sometimes, a fish course follows, and this is served on a fish plate. The service plate is removed for the main course, which is served on a dinner plate. Dinner plates are usually 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Depending on the tradition, the salad course either precedes or follows the main course. It is served on the salad plate, which is 7.5 to 8.5 inches round.

If you are serving a formal lunch, your lunch entrée plate will be slightly smaller than your main course dinner plate, usually 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Dessert is then served on the dessert plate, which is 7 to 9 inches in diameter and often ornately decorated.

Serving Plates

You may want to have matching platters, serving bowls, casserole dishes, butter plate, sugar bowl and creamer. These do not have to match, but many starter sets of dinnerware come with some basic serving dishes. Often platters and serving bowls come in round and oval shapes, and choosing these is a matter of personal preference.

Your main takeaway about dinnerware should be to have fun with it. Serving meals using dinnerware that you love makes your eating experience that much more pleasurable.