Not all dinnerware sets are created equal. There's the formal dinnerware set, which consists of plates for everything from salad to fish. The informal dinnerware set may have fewer plates, but it still provides a place where you can both break and butter your bread.
Formal Dinnerware Sets
The formal dinnerware set has 12 different plates for use at the table. The plate that is used the most often, the dinner plate, which measures roughly 11 inches in diameter, is used to serve the main course. The luncheon plate is smaller, measures about 10 inches across, and is used for smaller meals. The salad plate measures between 7 and 8.5 inches across and, during formal meals, is used to serve a prepared salad after the main course. However, if you are serving a salad as the entree during a formal meal, you should serve it on a dinner plate. The salad plate is often round or shaped like a crescent.
Other smaller plates include the fish plate, which is 9 inches across, the dessert plate, which is 8.5 inches across, and the cheese plate, which is 7 inches across. Bread and butter are served together on the same plate, while fruit is served either on a fruit plate, measuring 8 inches across, or in a fruit saucer. The latter is usually about an inch deep and about 6 inches across. The tea plate is often used in place of a saucer and measures 7.5 inches across.
The final plate of the formal dinnerware set is the charger plate is also called the chop plate or service plate. Measuring between 11 and 14 inches in diameter and often made out of materials that aren't food safe, the charger plate is simply used as a base for a salad plate or soup bowl.
The accent plate is similar to the charger plate in that it's decorative, but you can use it to directly serve food. The accent plate measures about 9 inches across and is often used to serve appetizers, desserts or salads. The accent plate is meant to create decorative contrast with the rest of the dinnerware set.
Informal Dinnerware Sets
In the informal dinnerware set, the plates are used in a similar manner as the formal dinnerware set, but the quality of the plates usually differs. Formal dinnerware is used for holiday or special occasions and tends to be more ornate and better quality than the informal dinnerware, which is used every day.
The informal set consists of the dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, coffee cup or teacup with saucer, and a bread plate.
Purchasing Dinnerware Sets
If you entertain frequently, purchase one collection of formal or informal dinnerware per expected guest. If you don't entertain frequently, consider a starter set of quality informal dinnerware that won't show signs of repeated use. The starter kit often includes four of the following: dinner plates, salad plates, bowls for either soup or cereal, and cups with saucers.
When purchasing dinnerware sets, either formal or informal, consider also purchasing a complementary completer set. This set includes matching serve ware such as round and oval platters, serving bowls, a gravy boat, butter plate, creamer and sugar bowl.
Picking a Shape
Plates are available in either coupe or rim shaped. A plate that is rim shaped features a wide rim, while the coupe shape doesn't have a rim.