Product Knowledge Guide: Tabletop Accessories

Today's tabletop accessories do more than simply hold condiments - savvy operators choose decorative accessories to boost their facility's personality. Also, by providing dressings, sauces and other seasonings in separate tabletop servers, chefs allow customers to customize dishes to their own liking and give them a sense of participation in the preparation of meals.

Fast Fact:

Don't overlook the importance of tabletop accessories  ¾ choosing unique accessories in a creative way can distinguish restaurants from one another and put them ahead of the competition.

Types: Tabletop accessories include items that hold condiments, operators use to serve side dishes or enhance a facility's ambiance. Accessories include bread boards or baskets; charger plates; cheese bowls or shakers; napkin rings and dispensers; oil/vinegar cruets; salt-and-pepper mills or shakers; ramekins; sauce cups or boats; serving trays; sign holders; syrup dispensers; condiment squeeze bottles; napkin rings, holders and dispensers; thermal beverage servers; wine buckets and stands; creamers and sugar holders; votives or candlesticks; electric table lamps; carafes; and decanters.

Capacities/Footprints: Sizes and capacities vary greatly, allowing operators to choose items that fit the proportions of their tabletops. For example, operators can choose to serve guests salt and pepper using tall wooden or clear plastic mills brought to a table, in mini-shakers that hold only 1/2 oz. or with combination units that contain both seasonings in reversible or side-by-side configurations. Operators can provide individual 2-oz. glass syrup dispensers or place a 6-oz. glass or 48-oz. polycarbonate dispenser on a breakfast or brunch table. Sugar in 12-oz. glass dispensers might be appropriate for a diner, while other operators would prefer to serve individual sugar packets in 2" x 4"-wide holders or loose sugar or sugar cubes in 18/8 stainless-steel 8-oz. sugar bowls with lids. Operators can serve salad dressings in 2-oz. ramekins, in a 4-oz. sauce boat or in a caddy that consists of 6- to 8-oz. bowls. Olive oil serving options include pairing it with vinegar in a cruet set or in globe-in-globe pitchers that may stand 12" tall. A variety of glass containers, ranging from original bottles fitted with a pourer to hand-shaped cylinders and tall thin rectangular servers, are other olive oil serving options to consider.

Energy Source(s): Table lighting can require 110V electricity. Candles, oils or butane can power other forms of tabletop lighting.

Manufacturing Method: Tabletop accessories are available in a variety of materials, from wicker and wood for such items as bread baskets or boards, to color-coordinated glass and plastic or metals with mirror finishes in brass, copper, gold or silver tones. Many accessories are made of the same materials and in the same finishes to coordinate with dinnerware. Salt-and-pepper shakers, creamers, sugar bowls, sauce boats, coffee servers, ashtrays and vases are usually made of china, glass or stoneware in the same textures, colors and patterns as dinnerware, using the same firing process to produce nonporous glazed surfaces. Some are made of melamine, a break-resistant, durable material. 

Standard Features: Manufacturers continue to support operators' bottom lines with products that look good, do the job required and are durable enough to last. Well-made gravy boats, for example, feature a balanced handle firmly secured to a base for easy pouring of gravies, sauces or dressings, as well as a tapered spout to prevent dripping and make care easier. Ramekins also come in stainless steel and are dishwasher-safe. Sugar caddies feature two pockets for salt-and-pepper shakers, have clips to hold signs or messages, are available in a variety of designer colors and are typically dishwasher-safe. Metal dessert dishes fit into a variety of presentations and are usually made to be rust-free with solid-weld construction of, in many cases, mirror-polished 18/8 stainless steel. Squeeze bottles, also available in heavy-duty varieties, are often made from long-lasting, high-quality, heavy-gauge polyethylene. Bud vases are made in a variety of heights and range from elegantly styled 18/10 stainless steel to extensively faceted breakage-resistant acrylic. Heavy bases, where available, help to prevent messy spills.

New Features/Technology/Options: Eclectic shapes, such as “origami-inspired” plates with projecting corners, tilted-square wine buckets and spiral wire-bound condiment caddies, lend new visual interest to tabletops. Besides fluted and etched designs, glass is regularly molded into unusual shapes, such as textured bags and offset stacked boxes, to make eye-catching vases, votives, sugar bowls and serving dishes. Brushed stainless steel, however, represents a growing trend, more so than glass. Some manufacturers develop items that serve as conversation pieces, such as crab-shaped metal dishes on which operators can serve whole crabs; napkin rings adorned with cactuses or rocking horses; and roll-top, mirror-finish steel sugar bowls. Increasingly, operators require their pieces to do double-duty, such as candle-holders serving as egg cups, votives that keep butter in a melted state, 5-oz. lidded bowls that can hold sugar or soup, and flared bowls that are capable of displaying soups or flowers. In addition, more operators are setting their tables with “trays” made of china or clear glass that can hold smaller plates for appetizers and/or small dishes for sauces and garnishes. The clean lines and minimalist design of the trays create a sleek, modern look many restaurants are going for. 

Prime Functions: Tabletop accessories keep dining necessities at hand. They also add decorative touches that help to differentiate operations from their competitors. Many chefs and operators look to tabletop accessories as a way to create a buzz and attract diners. 

Key Kitchen Applications: By providing dressings, sauces and other seasonings in separate tabletop servers, chefs allow customers to customize dishes to their own liking and give them a sense of participation in the preparation of meals.

Purchasing Guidelines: As is the case with china, glassware and flatware, often owners, not just managers, will be involved in the selection of tabletop accessories. For example, if an operation has mostly china dishware, choose salt-and-pepper shakers and other accessories in glass or silver. Many owners look to set themselves apart from their competition with tabletop accessories. It is one of the most important aspects of a restaurant because the table is the first thing a guest will see. Restaurant owners, operators and designers have a plethora of table accessories at their fingertips, and choosing these accessories wisely will allow them to exert their creativity as well as create a lasting first impression with guests. To accomplish this, operators should choose accessories thoughtfully, and often in a material different from the dishware to make each item stand out. 

Maintenance Requirements: Many items are dishwasher-safe, while others require handwashing to prevent damage.

Food Safety & Sanitation Essentials: Because some tabletop accessories are refilled at the table (such as ketchup, cheese or sauce dispensers), spoilage can become a problem if containers aren't regularly emptied and thoroughly washed.