Picking the Right Dinnerware: A How-to Guide.


Selecting the right dinnerware for your home can be a daunting task. *deep breaths* Dinnerware will be one of your most used housewares, and there are infinite variables in styles, sets, materials, and individual needs that will inform your unique selection process. Should you buy cheaply and in bulk? How about a vintage bright lime green set to match your kitchen back splash? Porcelain? What even IS porcelain? Whether you're sneaking your midnight snack out of the microwave in your penguin footie pajamas, or serving a formal 3-course holiday meal for 10 of your in-laws- your dinnerware should be practical, versatile, and lend itself to daily use. 

Types of Dinnerware

  

EARTHENWARE

Price: $ Durability: 2/5 

  1. Dishwasher safe: No. If manufacturer says dishwasher safe, avoid sudden temperature changes.
  2. Microwave safe: No. If manufacturer says microwave safe, stick to low/medium settings. 
  3. Oven Safe: No.
  4. Made from 'unrefined' clay, is the oldest form of dinnerware.
  5. Lowest firing¬†temperatures of the group, 950¬į centigrade.
  6. Sold with adjectives like "value" and "everyday"
  7. Will often be the heaviest and least expensive option.
  8. Due to low prices, and abundant availability earthenware is the most widely used of all dinnerware. 

 


IMPORTANT

ANY dinnerware, from earthenware to bone china may contain metallic details in the glazing. (Think your heirloom gold rimmed china.) Always check the manufacturer's recommendations. "Metal should NEVER go in the microwave."- Dads everywhere.  


   
STONEWARE

Price: $$ Durability: 3/5

  1. Dishwasher safe: Some. If manufacturer says dishwasher safe, avoid sudden temperature changes.
  2. Microwave safe: No. If manufacturer says microwave safe, stick to low/medium settings. 
  3. Oven Safe: No.
  4. Fired at around 1100¬į centigrade.
  5. Stoneware is hardier and less permeable then earthenware. 
  6. Uses a more refined clay with fewer impurities providing a more durable option.
  7. Impurities such as iron and carbon can give stoneware a 'dirty' appearance.
  8. Most stoneware will be glazed when you purchase it. 

 

IRONSTONE

Price: $$$ Durability: 3/5

  1. Dishwasher safe: Some. 
  2. Microwave safe: Some. 
  3. Oven Safe: Some.
  4. Technically earthenware, looks/behaves more like stoneware.
  5. Developed in England as a cheaper alternative to porcelain.
  6. Ironstone does not contain any iron. The name describes its strength.
  7. Shares durability of porcelain, with less refined/more opaque finish.

 


GENERAL TIP

Dishwashers may sometimes use abrasive cleaning products to clean your dinnerware, and over time this might effect some painted on or otherwise decorative elements negatively. So even if you've invested in an quality material like porcelain or bone china, depending on how it has been decorated you may want to limit exposure to dishwashers.  


 

PORCELAIN

Price: $$$ Durability: 4/5

    1. Dishwasher safe: Yes. 
    2. Microwave safe: Yes. 
    3. Oven Safe: Yes.
    4. Harder and more durable than previous three, fired between¬†1200¬į and 1400¬į centigrade.
    5. Non-porous, translucent glass-like surface.
    6. Main ingredient is kaolin, a silicate mineral.
    7. Invented in China, spread through the Middle East and later throughout Europe.
    8. Light weight and strength makes it one of the most sought after materials internationally. 

     

      BONE CHINA

      Price: $$$$ Durability: 5/5

        1. Dishwasher safe: Yes. 
        2. Microwave safe: Yes. 
        3. Oven Safe: Yes.
        4. Fired at the highest temperatures, 1450¬į+ centigrade.¬†
        5. Same family as porcelain.
        6. Even more translucent sheen than porcelain.
        7. Light and delicate appearance but is deceptively strong.
        8. Most durable and chip resistant. 

         


        GENERAL TIP

        Flatware may eventually leave gray streak marks on your dinnerware, this is common and can generally be minimized by hand washing with a mild abrasive cleaner as needed. 


         

        How dinnerware is sold

         Hammers & Heels Matte Porcelain Dinnerware

         

        BOXED SETS

        Price: $ Customization: 1/5

        Boxed sets are commonly sold as 16 or 20 piece bundles of identical products. Each box will generally contain service for four. In the 16 piece sets, each service will usually have a dinner plate, a salad (or dessert if you're in my house) plate, a soup bowl, and a mug. In the 20 piece sets, the mug will usually be a tea cup and saucer instead.

        Pros:

        1. Value and ease.
        2. Everything will match. All the essentials will be included for you.
        3. Box will likely be covered in useful information like how to care for your new dinnerware, whether you can use it in the microwave, over, dishwasher, etc.
        4. This information is very valuable for learning how to use and maintain the dinnerware you've purchased, and how to make it last.
        5. Box might offer a red flag. For instance, if you *need* to be able to put them in the dishwasher, because it's the 21st century, and the instructions warn against that- you will know then to look elsewhere.  

        Cons: 

        1. Now you have 12 tea cups and saucers that you may or may not have ever wanted. 
        2. You may not want or need some of the pieces that come included in boxed sets.
        3. They may be missing something that you were hoping to include in your place settings.
        4. More limited selection of styles, colors, and finishes
        5. Usually (but not always) marketed to appeal more broadly with neutral finishes, and unadorned looks. As with anything, the ability to 'buy in bulk' can be limiting, but not necessarily in ways that will detract from your individual needs. 


          GENERAL TIP

          Regardless of how you buy, having service for about 12 guests is usually a good rule of thumb, and will give you all the pieces you need. This may seem like a lot to a newly engaged young couple, but having a few too many for daily use is way better than coming up short when its time to entertain.


           

          PLACE SETTING

          Price: $$ Customization: 2/5

          Often you will find that porcelain and bone china offerings are sold this way. Each packaged place setting will come with everything you need for each individual seated at your table. Again, a dinner plate, a salad plate, and a cup and saucer. The difference here is that you might additionally need to purchase matching bowls, as a small bread and butter plate may come in the packaged place setting in their stead. 

          Pros: 

          1. You are able to purchase place settings in denominations that are not factors of four.
          2. Again, you will likely get useful information on how to clean and care for your purchase.
          3. This way really lends itself to building a dinnerware collection from scratch, all at once or in stages.
          4. You can always go back and grab a few more place settings if you find you need them.
          5. If you chip or break a piece, it is much better to go back and only have to buy one place setting to replace what was lost, rather than a whole boxed set to replace one wounded tea cup.

          Cons: 

          1. You may find the settings are lacking something you consider essential (bowls?)  
          2. May come with items you do not want.
          3. While better for replacing individual lost or damaged items that a boxed set, you're still buying an entire setting. 

           

          OPEN STOCK

          Price: $$$ Customization: 5/5

          Buying dinnerware open stock might seem like the most daunting option of the three, as you are making every decision yourself. Each mug, plate, bowl, whatever- is sold separately. Each individual piece needs to be accounted for your individual needs, budget, style, etc. What might might sound scarier to some, can actually be the most liberating option. 

          Pros: 

          1. Get everything you want, and only what you want.
          2. Decide exactly how many place settings you want, and what pieces are included in each setting.
          3. If you break a piece, go buy a new one.
          4. Lends itself to mixing and matching.
          5. Achieve a broad range of more interesting looks by mixing similar styles in different colors, or different styles in similar colors- just to name a few options.
          6. Vary product sources; buying some of your collection from a retailer and other pieces from artisans.
          7. Mixing and matching, and buying open stock means you can bring together different sources, different colors, even different styles to create a collection that reflects your personality and suits your individual needs.
          8. The possibilities are endless! 

          Cons: 

          1. Collection might come together more slowly.
          2. May have to do some research on how to use and care for your products if the information isn't offered at the retailer, or printed on the bottom of the pieces. Generally, however, this information shouldn't be too difficult to find.

           

          Well, there you have it; EVERYTHING you ever wanted to know about dinnerware. Buying dinnerware is so much more than walking into a store and picking the first big box that has been placed on the shelf at eye level. How it is made, how it is sold, and how it is used and cared for should all factor into the practical considerations needed to make your purchase. Style is important, but it is not the only variable to consider. 

          Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. 


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