You can chalk it up to artistic licence or blame it on Instagram, but the reality is, a growing number of operators are turning their tableware into experiential moments worth sharing.
While basic white-on-white will always hold a special place in foodservice circles, more adventurous restaurants are upping the ante with visually appealing — and sometimes quirky — dishware, glassware and serving vessels.
Colours and patterns are trending again and even classic white is getting a boost with interesting textures and embossing. Sharing platters from bronze to wood to ceramic are also popular and bowls are taking centre stage for entrées.
Cocktail and wine glasses are emerging in all shapes and sizes in a bid to encourage sharing on social media, while traditional serving vessels are doing double duty as chefs discover new ways to serve up signature offerings. Nichole Vanderhoof, vice-president of Marketing for Arc Cardinal in Pine Brook, N.J., says finding the right dinnerware is all about creating a memorable guest experience. “It’s what sets restaurants apart; it’s how people remember you.”
“Chefs used to want white to let the food do the talking,” says Jeffery Castor, vice-president, Hotel & Gaming for Miller Place, N.Y.-based RAK Porcelain USA. “Now they’ve gotten away from that. They’re not afraid of different colours, shapes, sizes and textures. They view tableware as an art.”
An eye-catching presentation is also a powerful marketing tool. “There’s a need for restaurants to be creating those Instagrammable moments for sharing. The camera eats first, as they say,” says Jensena Parish, director of Marketing and Product Development for Browne Foodservice in Markham, Ont. “If you can get that picture shared before they even taste your food, you’re ahead of the game.”
When it comes to dinnerware, it’s not just round and square. “It’s up to [a chef’s] imagination now,” Castor says. “Everything used to fit on an eight- or 12-inch round plate. That’s not the case anymore. Bowls normally used for liquids are being used for entrées, for example.”
Trending colours this year include coral, mustard and blue. Other popular choices are metallic glazes — such as gold or bronze — or playful floral patterns, reports Heidi Lineweaver, marketing specialist at Arc Cardinal. “We see these more as accents. They allow restaurants to try out new colour trends, without replacing all their dishes. Mixing and matching accent pieces can really add a pop of colour or texture on the table and is a great fix.”
Bowls are also in high demand. “A lot of our noodle- and ramen-bowl collections sell out quickly,” she says. “Movements such as vegetarianism and veganism are lending themselves to bowl-centric meals.
A big trend at recent restaurant shows is flat-style plates with high rims, says Jonathan Abai, director of Sales for Renarte North America Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. “The insides are still white, but a lot are adding a muted colour on the rim. The raised edge is great because it allows you to serve dishes like seafood with sauces.”
A second major trend of note is the push for stoneware-look plates, with either a partial or full glaze. “A lot of companies are doing gorgeous and durable home-style-looking plates in subtle colours,” Abai adds.
“Diners want something that feels personal and not off a production line,” Lineweaver agrees. “One of our most popular collections is the Harvest line, which gives that homemade feeling. Every piece is different.”
There are plenty of options that allow restaurants to push the envelope in terms of glassware design, Lineweaver notes. “Instagrammable cocktails are huge. Mixologists are coming out with amazing presentations — from standard tumblers and highball glasses to coupe glasses and stemless wine glasses. There are also some with beautiful and intricate patterning.
Cut crystal is popular, she adds. “It’s timeless and relates to almost every generation.”
Parish says the reason cut glass holds so much appeal is its vintage feel. “Because it catches the light in a very unique way, it can create different experiences depending on the colour of the liquid.”
Then there’s the rise of the craft-beer and distiller movements, Parish says. “Craft-beer service is moving to more shaped and stemmed glasses that are specific to different brews. A lot of this is also fuelled by craft distillers’ speciality gins and vodkas that are demanding an elevated glassware look.”
ON THE SIDE
When it comes to serveware, the shareable-meal trend has increased interest in smaller side plates and oversized platters. Big sellers for Browne Foodservice include acacia-wood serving boards in various shapes and sizes for charcuterie, cheeses and meat platters, Parish notes. “You can even pair espresso and croissants on a board to create a beautiful platter for two.”
Another trend is using everyday items in unique ways. Restaurants are opting for miniature cast-iron and carbon-steel skillets for side dishes and desserts, or mini casserole dishes. Chefs can always add an international flair with items such as colourful tagines.
“Accessory pieces are trending,” Castor says, adding even side dishes are crossing conventional boundaries. Olive-oil and soy-sauce vessels, for example, are being used for different things. “I saw one chef using little porcelain cocottes with lids as portable smokers for potatoes.”
As for flatware, that’s more of a long-term investment, Castor notes, with operators looking to rustic-style cutlery with heavier weight, texture and a vintage feel.
Sand and satin finishes are on trend. Another popular choice is a patina finish that gives flatware an antique look, says Lineweaver. “Restaurants like it because it’s not so shiny, doesn’t show fingerprints and is scratch resistant.”
PVD-treated (Physical Vapour Deposition) flatware in various colours is emerging as a new trend, she adds.
“Just remember, if you switch to something cool and niche, you have it for a long time,” Abai cautions. “If you change your menu or plates, you likely won’t be changing your cutlery because it’s one of the more-costly items.”
Ultimately, a gorgeous table setting might spark interest and even help increase average-check sizes but, as Abai warns, “The entire experience has to be at the same level. If your food is not up to the look of the most gorgeous plate, none of it will matter.”
Written by Denise Deveau