When choosing dinnerware for a hotel restaurant, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends — whether it’s hand-painted ceramic bowls, or elegant, flat plates. But before deciding on a show-stopping table setting, buyers need to consider what’s going on (or in) the dish.

“I think where people sometimes go wrong is they pick form over function,” says Luke Mathot, FRHI Hotels & Resorts’ corporate director, Food & Beverage, Americas. “When you select dinnerware, you have to ask, ‘Does it make sense for that dish?’ There might be a really cool plate that’s completely flat and doesn’t have any edges, but in restaurants that serve pancakes with maple syrup, you’ll get maple syrup all over the table.”

Daniel Craig, executive chef at Delta Toronto, lists a number of other issues worth considering: Do the dishes keep the food hot? Ergonomically, does the dinnerware make sense for the server? If guests order multiple, shareable items, does it all fit on the table? “It has to look good, of course, but the practical stuff is huge,” stresses Craig.

That’s not to say dinnerware has to be all about practicality. While food is usually the star attraction at restaurants, the tabletop is becoming an increasingly important part of the show. “Restaurants aren’t just about food anymore. They’re about the whole package: the lighting, the music, the glassware, the napkins,” says Mathot. “Dinnerware plays a huge role because it’s the canvas on which the food is presented.”

These days, one of the trends influencing dinnerware is the shift from fine-dining to a more relaxed, farm-to-table approach. Many chefs are now opting for plates and bowls featuring a handmade, casual look, rather than the white porcelain dishes that have been popular for years. “We’ve seen a lot of plateware that matches [the casual trend], celebrating the imperfections of dishes that come out of the kiln,” says Craig. “Not everything is identical.”

A more handcrafted look is on the table at Delta Toronto’s SoCo Kitchen + Bar, a sleek but casual eatery that serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. The restaurant, which opened in 2014, features kiln-fired heavy stone plates; wood boards (made from Ontario black walnut) for pizzas, burgers and charcuterie; and cast-iron pots for the warm eggplant and burrata dish. “We purposely try to stay away from the classic white, round, 12-inch plates,” says Craig.

For Craig, the most important style consideration is that the dinnerware matches the concept of the restaurant. “It’s easy for chefs to say ‘I want this plate because it looks insane and I saw it in a restaurant,’ but does it make sense for the room?”

Linda Cheng, EVP of Montreal-based Groupe Satori, agrees. “The dinnerware has to reflect the personality and concept of the restaurant,” says Cheng, whose company recently opened the upscale Pan-Asian restaurant, East, at the new Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel. The restaurant is based on an old Shanghai concept, a nod to the city’s deep culinary roots and modernity. As Cheng explains, a lot of culinary trends were discovered in Shanghai, and its people are avant-garde. “We wanted to express that through the dinnerware as well, so we tried to find a new way to present the food,” she says.

The team at Groupe Satori decided on a blend of modern and traditional, as well as a mix of colours and materials. For example, white and pale items such as sea bass and tofu are presented on black ceramic plates, while the steak dish (called Siam’s Steak 1855) is laid out on a wood plank. On the more traditional side, the Beef Panang Curry is served in a mini cast-iron cauldron; and bao, a Chinese bun, is served in a bamboo basket. “It’s either modern to go with our concept or traditional because that kind of dish deserves to be presented in an authentic way,” says Cheng.

For some hotel companies, it’s also important to stay local whenever possible. FRHI is currently exploring its dinnerware options for Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel, which is revamping its restaurant, bar, lounge and tearoom. Mathot says it’s in the process of selecting plateware, so decisions have yet to be made. But, if the restaurant were to use a wood board for cheese or house-made charcuterie, for example, “there’s a ton of Douglas fir up there, so we would actually use the local wood,” says Mathot. “Whenever we can work with a local artisan or purveyor using local products that fit within the environment, we will.”

While the trend toward more rustic, handcrafted tableware is taking over, white dinnerware still has its fans. At the Harbourstone Sea Grill & Pour House, located inside the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront, the decor highlights bold colours such as orange and deep walnut, but the dinnerware is white. “We always gravitate to white because we want the focus to be about the food and not the vessel,” says executive chef Trevor Simms.

The pieces have soft, rounded edges, which reduce breakage and are versatile. “Specific shapes tend to come in and out of favour with customers. For example, square and rectangular plates were really hot for a while,” says Simms. “But if you take a rectangular plate that has rounded edges on it, for some reason, you tend to get a lot more use out of it. You can use it for an entrée or appetizer.”

Simms says the longevity of an item is a key consideration. Smaller operations can easily switch up their dinnerware, since they might only be buying 50 pieces of an item. “For a place like us, that’s a $40,000 to $50,000 conversation,” says Simms. “When we select a piece, it needs to have legs to it.” With regard to glassware, Simms also wants products that last. At Harbourstone Sea Grill & Pour House, the team sources lowball and highball cocktail glasses from Libbey, which includes a DuraTuff treatment to increase the resistance to mechanical and thermal shock. “It’s the kind of glass that can take a bit of a beating and you won’t go through a ton of breakage every year,” says Simms. “Stackability is also important because in every operation, real estate is the thing that you don’t have enough of.”

Volume 28, Number 2

Rebecca Harris

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, I work at Government House in Victoria, B.C. With Executive Chef Aleks Kornat.
    We have crested plates, bread/butter, salad, soup bowls, etc. However Chef has a great opportunity to make his buffet stations incredibly beautiful because that is where he can use his imagination.

    I agree with each writer in this article. Plating should relate to your operations complete look.

  2. When you own good dinnerware, The food automatically starts to look good. Chefs can get creative with food items and can place various items in a different and elegant way. I have seen one chef present the same food item in 10 different ways using different dinnerware.

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