Making a Statement: Trends in Instagram-Worthy Tableware

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Images courtesy of Chic & Basta and features work from ceramicists Elisabeth Gauthier and Atelier Trema

Social media has invaded almost every aspect of the average Canadian’s life and, for years, restaurants have been using the inexpensive marketing power of social media to reach potential customers and interact with current ones.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that social media comes into play when purchasing dinner or glassware for restaurants. The consideration that goes into purchasing social-media friendly tableware is consistent across the foodservice board — from fast-casual establishments to fine dining.

“Nobody’s buying just one manufacturer’s pattern anymore,” says Bill Horosko, president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Tableware Solutions Ltd. “We represent a handful of quality manufacturers. As a result, our salespeople are evolving into consultants.”

Traditionally, sales representatives would simply need a good understanding of their product and who they would best benefit, but now they work closely with chefs and restaurateurs to find perfectly tailored vessels for each menu item. Clients will mix and match different styles and brands to best suit their establishment and menu, with tableware representatives effectively guiding them through the process.

Ranjan Salis, CEO of Mississauga, Ont.-based tableware company Renarte confirms choosing pieces to highlight the overall customer experience of a dining establishment can be taxing. “This may seem absurd, but more and more diners have become discerning in their preferences of where to dine based on the overall ambiance and serving ware used [in a restaurant],” he says.

In this digital age, that not only covers the “first-you-eat-with-your-eyes” adage, in many cases, consumers are first eating with their smartphones — over content shared by friends or other online influencers. Regardless of the restaurant, chefs, restaurateurs and mixologists are doing everything they can to ensure menu items are social-media friendly.

It begs the question: what exactly makes a dish “shareable” on social media? “The trend is still very much country-style, rustic, dark hues and earthen tones,” Salis explains. “There has been a slight shift [in glassware] to introduce a signature glass on the table, which becomes a talking point and is, more or less, in line with the cuisine or decor of the restaurant.”

Horosko maintains slate and wood platters, while rustic and trendy, are less practical than traditional ceramics for restaurant use (both are porous and can be difficult to clean). Villeroy & Boch recently released a slate-look line called The Rock, which is actually biscuit porcelain (a type of unglazed, white porcelain, with a matte appearance and texture). Another current tableware trend, Horosko says, is Indian-style steel and copper Hindi, Kadai and Balti dishes.

In terms of quality and price, tableware purchased from reliable purveyors is generally of a high standard. And while fast-casual or chain restaurants will experience more breakage than their finer-dining counterparts because they usually serve a higher volume of customers per day, tableware professionals agree it’s important to buy pieces that will take wear and tear, but still align with the overall theme of the restaurant. “If you’re fast-casual, you’re not going to be picking a very thin, expensive water glass. It comes down to how often you want to be replacing it,” says Jensena Parish, Marketing manager at Markham, Ont.-based Browne & Co.

While earth tones continue to be the popular choice for tableware, glassware is a different story. High-end cocktail bars are on the increase throughout Canada and many mid-range to high-end restaurants now incorporate a tailored bar program, with mixologists creating unique, beautifully presented drinks that are both delicious and social-media friendly.

Cocktail glasses that create patterns when they catch the light, vintage finds in antique shops and industrial, straight-lined glassware are all trending with restaurants and bars, according to Parish.

For James Maltby, who operates Woodcutter’s Blanket — a cocktail bar in Whitehorse — accessibility is as important as style and durability when it comes to glassware purchases. “It’s all about presentation,” he says. “Even the larger distributors are going back to more retro-style glassware — the old-style glasses you might find in Grandma and Grandpa’s attic.”

While Whitehorse is an idyllic Canadian city — not too big with a great, outdoorsy feel — its remote location can sometimes create issues for business owners. “There’s a local shop we use and they deal with sales representatives in Edmonton and Ontario. For us, shipping is a big thing and they can do big bulk orders,” Maltby explains. “If I need something quickly I can leverage a glassware shop in Vancouver —
if I order it in the afternoon, it can be here the same evening.”

In Montreal, Manu Ruiz of the busy cocktail club Bar Le Royal says customer experience will always trump price when it comes to glassware. “The price will always affect our purchases, but if the glass is the perfect fit for the cocktail, we’ll buy it anyway.”
Aesthetics are important; but all business owners agree functionality comes first.

“I’m all about how a glass sits in your hand,” Maltby explains. “It’s all about how you’re going to hold it.”

Ruiz agrees. “Durability is an important factor, too, because when the bar gets festive the customers tend to break the glasses.”

Creating a product with a “wow factor” is important in our ever-digitized industry. Sharing a carefully crafted cocktail or menu item on social media isn’t just gratifying for restaurateurs, chefs and mixologists, it’s also free advertising for the business.

“Right now, we like to work with delicate, classy glassware depending on the cocktails we make. We also use different pots or containers just to provoke a reaction,” Ruiz says.

“[With social media] everyone has the tools to be a restaurant’s publicist, in a sense,” Maltby adds. “Social media is becoming the normal way to reach a certain demographic.”

Another consideration is supporting local craftspeople — there are plenty of smaller artisanal manufacturers specializing in pottery and ceramics. Many fine-dining restaurants invest in pieces specially crafted by local ceramic artists. With menus focusing on local ingredients, it makes sense to serve their menu items on local dinnerware.

The fourth-best restaurant in Canada (as determined by Canada’s 100 Best), Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont. has been featuring tableware made by local artists for years.

Executive chef Jason Bangerter says using local artisans adds another level of depth to a well-executed dish. “I’m currently using an organic terracotta artisan located just eight minutes from Langdon Hall. It’s called Hillborn Pottery and they’re all handmade pieces.

I actually purchase the raw clay sometimes for cooking in fire and coals.”

Louis Durocher of the online store Chic & Basta promotes artisanal Quebecois dinnerware and hopes that, in the future, more Canadians will look at the options in their own backyard before buying other types of ceramics. “It’s our mission to curate designers and artisans from around Quebec. We have a lot of potters from Montreal and the Eastern Townships,” he explains. “The buy-local trend has people paying more attention to Canadian ceramics.”

Are “pieces with soul” social-media friendly? Bangerter vehemently believes they add to the overall dining experience for his guests. “I’ve found a very fun artisan tablewares maker in Spain, who makes an egg dish with a duck foot attached. These pieces tell a story to our guests and helps connect the food and experience to the ingredient and its origin.”

Written by Janine Kennedy

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