Have you ever noticed how many categories to do with anything you can put on a dinner table end with -ware? Dinnerware, plateware, silverware, flatware, glassware, tableware… the list seems endless and is pretty meaningless if you don’t know the meaning of each term. Not to worry, we’re here to explain the difference between each and which ones mean the same thing. Once you know the basics, we’ll get into the fun part—choosing your style, material, and design. 

First, let’s clear up some common and understandable terminology confusion.


Know Your -Wares


Dinnerware – this category is essentially a more elegant term for ‘dishes.’ When you see a retailer mentioning dinnerware, this can include dinner plates, bread plates, salad plates, soup bowls and salad bowls. This category is sometimes called plateware or crockery (more so in the UK) to refer to the same items.

Glassware – This category can seem very broad, but keep in mind that in this case, we are talking about glasses that you would typically find on a dinner table like water glasses, red wine glasses, white wine glasses, and if you want to get fancy, potentially liqueur or port glasses.

Other types of glasses like martini glasses or coups are classified as specialty glassware.

Silverware – Also called flatware, this includes basic utensils like dinner forks, soup spoons, knives and butter knives but also can be used to refer to more niche utensils like salad forks, dessert forks, fish knives, etc., depending on how formal your table setting is.

Tableware – This is an all-encompassing term for your dinnerware, glassware, and flatware together. 


How To Get Started


Now that you know what the categories of tableware mean, it’s time to get started choosing your set. 


  • Decide how many place settings – This should vary depending on how many people are in your family and how often you entertain. A family of 3 that entertains once or twice a year likely doesn’t need 12 place settings, but a family of 6 that entertains monthly might benefit from a more extensive set. Have in mind also, the size of your dining room table.


  • Consider durability, stackability, and future replacements – Before you get too set on a particular style or design, consider how your set will be used and what the likelihood is that you’ll need to replace pieces in the future. Some tableware is gorgeous, but it could be tough to find replacements for broken pieces or add more to your set later. Dinnerware is sold in sets or open stock; open stock means that each item is sold piece by piece, so you can easily replace or add to your set for as long as the manufacturer is making that design.


  • Choose your material – Now that you know how many place settings and whether you’re going with a set or open stock, you’ll be better equipped to choose a material that works best for you. For dinnerware durability and functionality, you can’t beat bone china. If damage isn’t as much of a concern, fine china is a very elegant option. Stoneware and earthenware are also more durable than they may initially seem. While they cannot be used on direct heat like a stove burner, they are oven, dishwasher, and microwave safe (unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, so best to double-check). If you’re thinking ahead to summer entertaining, many melamine dinner sets are great for the patio and still stylish.Stainless steel is the most durable and long-lasting choice in terms of flatware. It’s dishwasher-safe and will continue to polish up even after many washes. Flatware made with a mix of metal and other materials, like acrylic, can incorporate some stunning design elements but must be hand-washed to keep them looking their best.


  • Choose your style and design – Lastly, now that you know the parameters of your options, it’s time for the fun part! Most dinnerware styles fall into three main groups – romantic, classic, and modern. You’ll likely find that you’re drawn to one type of design influence more than others, so once you’ve established your personal preferences, do some shopping with that category in mind and see what else you can come up with. You might find that there are different patterns or styles that you come across once you start searching with your style in mind. 


Starter sets are a great option if you’re building your tableware collection on a budget. A starter set will typically have a smaller number of each item, that number will vary based on the brand, but a typical starter set would be four place settings. Another starter set option has an eight-piece dinnerware set with only dinner plates, side plates, and soup bowls. The expansion of starter sets are sometimes called completer sets, and they often include more formal items of dinnerware and two or three pieces of matching serving ware. 


What To Add Later


The best part of starter sets or open stock designs is adding complementary pieces or expanding your number of place settings over time. Even if you choose to go with a full set of dinnerware right away, there will most likely be larger pieces for you to continue collecting along the way. (Tip – letting your loved ones know what those pieces gives them great gift ideas!)

Here are some non-essentials that you can add separately over time to build up your tableware game:

The importance of place cards

When having a formal dinner is essential to consider having place cards. These indicate where people are supposed to be seated, keeping everyone in order the way you want it to be, just by a small but important item that adds value to the decoration. It’s not that easy, though. You have to carefully assign each place to each person, considering whether they get along or prefer keeping their distance. You have to keep in mind similarities and differences, personalities, families, and friends in common.

Depending on your type of event, you also need to choose whether to use full names, first names, or nicknames.

Place cards can add a little something else to your table setting. If you consider that it’s a part of a whole and not something apart, you’ll elevate your table decoration to a new level. It’s the perfect opportunity to add some spark and keep harmony with the environment.


Clean It Up


You’re investing time, thought, and money into your tableware, so make sure you don’t slouch on the proper cleaning required to keep it all looking beautiful. Most dinnerware and flatware will have directions for cleaning and upkeep as well as the ‘strongly suggested but not fully necessary’ recommendations. 

  • Some flatware is dishwasher safe in that it won’t be ruined if you put it in the dishwasher, but the maker recommends that you hand wash it and dry it with a soft cloth. Depending on how formal your tableware is, following the more stringent suggestions may be reasonable if you’re not using your set every day. 


  • If you are using your dinnerware daily, think about the cleaning requirements before you purchase and if you really, really, for real want to be hand washing all of your place settings on the regular.


  • For silverware and hand-painted dinnerware or fine china, place them in a sink with hot water and just a few drops of dish soap. Try to avoid lemon-scented dish soaps as they often contain natural lemon oil, which is acidic and can harm the finish or dull metal over time. Wash in warm soapy water, rinse with hot water, and dry immediately. No air drying here!


  • Overall, decal-painted and unpainted porcelain or bone china is normally fine to put in the dishwasher, whereas hand-painted porcelain should be washed gently by hand. Fine china should always be hand-washed, regardless of how it’s decorated.


  • If you do purchase a set that you’ll be using for casual and formal entertaining, a nice way of giving your entertaining table an extra shine is by, well, literally shining your flatware! You might not notice on a daily basis, but typically our silverware has water spots on it regardless of whether you hand wash it or put it in the dishwasher. When you’re having a dinner party, give that cutlery a quick buff with a soft cloth and see what a difference it makes!


  • Speaking of special cloths, when it comes to cleaning your silver, your formal dinnerware and silverware will thank you if you only use a microfiber towel for drying and polishing. Even a regular dishcloth or towel can leave scratches on the finish over time, especially if you have any metallic edges or detailing. 


Expert Tip


Once you begin amassing a glorious collection of beautiful dinnerware, you might not want to have it closed away all of the time, but rather, use it as a design element in your home by getting a glass-front cabinet to showcase your pieces. Don’t worry, these aren’t necessarily your grandmother’s china cabinets! Just make sure to measure your largest plates and make sure they’ll fit on the shelves. Nothing is worse than getting your new cabinet all set up just to realize that you can’t quite close the doors because your plates are too big!


Table Setting For Asian Cuisine

If you’ll be hosting an oriental-style dinner, you should also consider chopstick etiquette and table setting. A place setting includes a plate for main course foods; a bowl for rice and soup; small plates and dipping bowls for sauces, a pair of chopsticks and a chopstick rest; a porcelain soup spoon; a cup for tea, and one or more glasses for other beverages. 

Your Asian dinnerware could be made from different types of materials: Porcelain, China, Bone China, Stoneware, or Earthenware among others. Talking about chopsticks, you can choose from disposable wood chopsticks to wood covered in lacquer chopsticks that are reusable, or even made from other materials such as plastic, bamboo, or stainless steel. There are also certain universal chopstick etiquette rules you should be following such as not sticking them into your food, not playing with them making sounds, and not placing them stuck vertically in your food.


Now that you know how to determine the best tableware for your lifestyle and what the design variables are, you’re all set to get to the fun part—putting together a beautiful and stylish table. Next up is just to sit back, smile, and bask in the appreciative gasps and comments you’ll get from your friends and family when they see your stunning table.