Dinnerware Q&A with Anne Ladd, director of merchandising for TriMark SS Kemp, Cleveland

FE&S: What are the staple dinnerware items?

AL: There are four basic components. Main plates may have a function for two or three menu categories. Side plates are the workhorse. Ceramic, glass or disposable ramekins serve as a vessel for sides or condiments, like dressing. Operators also will need a bowl for soup, salad or pasta. Restaurants can always use disposable drinkware and flatware, but there are very few menus where these four dinnerware components aren’t used.

FE&S: What are the various factors operators should consider when choosing dinnerware?

AL: Dinnerware is an investment, so cost should not be the only consideration. The biggest thing we focus on is learning about the operational side to determine the functionality. Are the kitchen and dishroom on the same level, or is one on a lower level? Most of the time, when operators purchase dinnerware, the furniture order has already been decided or placed, so it’s important to know the table sizes. The table finish should be taken into consideration with the foot or bottom of the plate since an unglazed or rough plate bottom can scratch some tabletops. Then, we look at the menu and hours of operation as well as the type of space. Newer operations are more likely to be on multiple levels. If the kitchen is in the basement and food needs to travel, plate covers should be considered to keep food hot. Also, if food is being kept hot under a heat lamp, then a plate material that won’t melt or warp will be necessary.

FE&S: Is there a formula for figuring out how much dinnerware an operation requires?

AL: In the past, we used a formula that calculated the amount of dinnerware that would be needed, such as one and a half or two times the number of table turns. But now it’s more about the category of the business. When looking at a static business, such as catering, institutional and business and industry operations that have set hours and a fixed number of guests, students, patients or staff, it’s easier to figure out a number that works. But with restaurants like fast casual, there are a number of variables to consider, such as the menu, hours of operation and whether dishes are being washed by machine or manually. With diverse menus, the number of items may vary. For example, an oval platter may be the main plate for breakfast and dinner but not lunch. Just because a restaurant has 200 seats doesn’t mean these will always be filled if the restaurant isn’t in a prime location. I look at a 60-day time frame to help determine the amount of dinnerware needed.

FE&S: What are the latest trends in dinnerware?

AL: Today’s dinnerware designs are all in the detail. We’re seeing a lot of texture, whether it’s real with a raised design or implied on a smooth surface. Color is back, but rather than bold, concentric or cantina colors, there are mixes of tones. A plate may have five different shades of blue with silver and white accents, for example. When combined with texture, whether it’s a decal, real or implied, these shades pop with patterns or tones. It creates art with color on the plate. Wood, such as bamboo, ash wood and olive wood, as well as faux wood made from plastic, is still prevalent, and the back of house is coming to the front of house with brushed stainless and galvanized steel. Some refer to it as antique stainless, but I call it distressed. Operators are serving on metal pans as these are the new plastic baskets.

FE&S: With dinnerware, what should operators be aware of with cleaning and maintenance?

AL: It’s important to determine the cleaning methods that will be used with dinnerware. When operators want to use melamine, I ask if they have a low- or high-temp dish machine. With low-temp machines, if food has a high fat or grease content, it’s harder to maintain the squeaky-clean appearance, even with a booster heater.

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