Understanding Flatware: Essential Pieces in a Collection
Flatware has multiple components, including the basic setting for eating, utensils for cutting and carving, and wares for serving. The basic setting typically includes a dinner knife and fork, a salad fork, a tablespoon, and a teaspoon. Utensils for cutting include the carving set, a serving knife, and steak knives, while the serving wares include a serving fork, salad servers, and a cake server.
Expert flatware tip: You may have a choice between standard and continental sizes. Standard is common in North America, whereas European flatware is often the larger and heavier continental size.
Choosing the Right Material
One of the most difficult things about choosing flatware is selecting a material, because there are so many different ones used for flatware and dinnerware. Here's a basic rundown of the most common materials, as well as their advantages and disadvantages:
- Stainless steel is common for everyday use, because it’s durable, doesn’t require polishing, and won’t rust, chip, or become discoloured
- PVD ceramic is stainless steel flatware coated with a thin ceramic film that’s hard, durable, and abrasion-resistant
- Acrylic can be used for both formal and everyday events, and the major benefit is that it’s available in a wide array of colours and patterns
- Pewter is more of a rustic-looking collector’s item today, because it was often used in colonial times
- Silver-plated flatware is a more affordable (and dishwasher-safe) formal flatware, because while there is a silver coating, the inside is made of a cheaper metal
- Sterling silver flatware is the Rolls Royce of flatware, because it must be made with over 90 percent silver. While more expensive and high-maintenance (it can tarnish, requires occasional polishing, and is prone to scratches), sterling flatware is elegant, formal, and luxurious
Keeping Your Flatware in Mint Condition
Depending on the material, caring for flatware can involve three major steps: cleaning, polishing, and storage. Most flatware can be washed in the dishwasher or by hand, with the exception of pewter and sterling silver, which should be washed by hand with hot water and a mild detergent. To avoid water spots, dry your flatware immediately with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Sterling and silver-plated flatware may require polishing, which you can do with silver polish or foam. Most flatware can be stored in drawers, but if you use silver-plated or sterling flatware in conjunction with other materials, you may want to store the silver items separately to avoid scratches. The ideal place for true silverware is in felt bags or lined boxes.
Choosing and caring for flatware may not seem like a significant part of a restaurant’s concerns, but the flatware you use can help make a good impression on your customers. You don’t have to have the most expensive flatware around, but no matter what style and material you choose, it’s important to have all the pieces you need for carving, serving, and eating, and your flatware should always be clean and well cared for.