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"Crockery" redirects here. For the township, see Crockery Township, Michigan.

Tableware is the dishes or dishware used for setting a table, serving food and for dining.[1] Tableware can be meant to include cutlery and glassware. The nature, variety, and number of objects varies from culture to culture, religions, and cuisines.

In the United States, tableware is most commonly referred to as dinnerware. Dinnerware can be meant to include glassware, however not flatware. In Britain, the term crockery is sometimes used for ceramic dishes. In the USA, ceramic dinnerware can be referred to as china. Sets of dishes are often referred to as a table service or service set. Table settings or place settings are the dishes, flatware (cutlery), and glassware used by an individual for formal and informal dining. In Ireland such items are normally referred to as delph, with the term china often used for a higher cost product, such as the porcelain ware produced by Belleek Pottery.[2][3] The word delph being an English language phonetic spelling of the word delft, named after the town from which so much delftware came from.[4] In the United Kingdom, silver service or butler service are names of methods for serving a meal.


For the history of porcelain wares, see Porcelain.

The first known use of the term tableware was in 1766, dinnerware in 1895 and dishware in 1946.[5]


Dishes are usually made of ceramic materials such as earthenware, stoneware, bone china or porcelain, however can be made of other materials such as wood, pewter, silver, gold, glass, acrylic and plastic. Dishes are purchased either by the piece or by set which include either four, eight, or twelve place settings. Individual pieces, such as those needed as replacement pieces for broken dishes, can be purchased from "open stock" inventory at shops, or from antique dealers if the pattern is no longer in production.

Dish sizes

Dishes come in standard sizes, which are set according to the manufacturer. They are similar throughout the industry. In descending order by diameter size, standard plate sizes are:[6]

  • charger, 12 inches
  • dinner plate, 10.5 inches
  • dessert plate, 8.5 inches
  • salad plate, 7.5 inches
  • side plate, tea plate, 6.75 inches

Table setting

Setting the table refers to arranging the tableware, including individual place settings for each guest at the table.

Western countries

A table setting in Western countries is mainly in one of two styles: service à la russe (French for "in the Russian style"), where each course of the meal is brought out in specific order; and service à la française (French for "in the French style"), where all the courses for the meal are arranged on the table and presented at the same time that guests are seated. Service à la russe has become the custom in most restaurants, whereas service à la française is the norm in family settings.

Place setting

Further information: Place setting

Place settings for service à la russe dining are arranged according to the number of courses in the meal. The tableware is arranged in a particular order. With the first course, each guest at the table begins by using the flatware placed on the outside of place setting. As each course is finished the guest leaves the used cutlery on the used plate or bowl, which are removed from the table by the server. To begin the next course, the diner uses the next set of flatware items on the outside of the place setting, and so on. Forks are placed on the left of a dinner plate, knives to the right of the plate, and spoons to the outer right side of the place setting.

Dishware types and shapes

Place setting dishes

  • Bowls
    • soup bowls, cereal bowls, pasta bowls, fruit bowls, or dessert bowls
  • Individual covered casseroles or covered soups
  • Plates
    • charger plates, dinner plates, lunch plates, dessert plates, salad plates or side plates
  • Saucers, including teacup saucers, coffeecup saucers, demitasse saucers, and cream soup saucers.

Serving dishes



A basic formal place setting will usually have a dinner plate at the centre, resting on a charger. The rest of the place setting depends upon whether the first course is to be soup or salad:[7]

  • If soup is the first course, to the left of the dinner plate, moving clockwise, are placed a small salad fork to the left of the dinner plate; a large dinner fork to the left of the salad fork; a side plate above the forks; a wine or water glass above and to the right of the dinner plate; a large dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate; a smaller butter knife to the right of the dinner knife; a dinner spoon to the right of the knives; a soup spoon to the right of the dinner spoon.
  • If salad is the first course, the soup spoon is skipped. The dinner fork is placed immediately left of the dinner plate; the salad fork is placed on the outer left side of the place setting.

In either arrangement, the napkin may either rest folded underneath the forks, or it may be folded and placed on the dinner plate.

If more courses are being served, the place settings become more elaborate with more specialized flatware. This can include a fruit spoon or fruit knife, a cheese knife, a pastry fork, or other specialized flatware. Other types of flatware were more common for formal meals in other historical eras, for example, a boning fork for fish was part of many Victorian era place settings in the United Kingdom, where fish was a common first course.

Chinese tableware

Chinese table settings are traditional in style. Table setting practices in Japan and other parts of East Asia have been influenced by Chinese table setting customs.[8] The emphasis in Chinese table settings is on displaying each individual food in a pleasing way, usually in separate bowls or dishes. Formal table settings are based upon the arrangements used in a family setting, although they can become extremely elaborate with many dishes. Serving bowls and dishes are brought to the table, where guests can choose their own portions. Formal Chinese restaurants often use a large turning wheel in the centre of the table to rotate food for easier service.

In a family setting, a meal may include a fan food, meaning the main dish, and several accompanying side dishes, called cai food. The fan food is typically a grain, such as rice or noodles. If the meal is a light meal, it will include the staple food and perhaps one side dish. The staple food is often served directly to the guest in a bowl, whereas side dishes are chosen by the guest from serving dishes on the table.[9]

Place setting
An "elaborate" formal meal would include the following place setting:[8]

  • Centre plate, about 6 inches in diameter
  • Rice bowl, placed to the right of the centre plate
  • Small cup of tea, placed above the plate or rice bowl
  • Chopsticks to the right of the centre plate, on a chopstick rest
  • A long-handled spoon on a spoon rest, placed to the left of the chopsticks
  • Small condiment dishes, placed above the centre plate
  • Soup bowl, placed to the left above the centre plate
  • A soup spoon, inside the soup bowl

Japanese tableware

Japanese ceramic tableware is an industry that is many centuries old. Unlike in Western cultures, where tableware is often produced and bought in matching sets, Japanese tableware is set on the table so that each dish complements the type of food served in it. Since Japanese meals normally include several small amounts of each food per person, this means that each person has a place setting with several different small dishes and bowls for holding individual food and condiments. The emphasis in a Japanese table setting is on enhancing the appearance of the food, which is partially achieved by showing contrasts between the foods. Each bowl and dish may have a different shape, colour, or pattern.[10]

Place setting
A basic complete place setting for one person in Japan would include the following:[11]

  • Hot noodle bowl
  • Rice bowl
  • Soup bowl
  • Two to three shallow 3- to 5-inch diameter dishes
  • Two to three 3- to 5-inch diameter, 1- to 3-inch-deep bowls
  • Two square or rectangular pieces, traditionally served for serving fish
  • Three 2- to 3-inch diameter condiment plates
  • Cold noodle tray with bamboo strainer
  • Dipping sauce cup
  • Chopsticks and chopstick rest

Not all of these plates and bowls would be necessary for one meal. A rice bowl, a soup bowl, 2 or 3 small dishes with accompanying foods, and two or three condiment dishes for person would be typical. Various serving bowls and platters would also be set on a table for a typical meal, along with a soy sauce cruet, a small pitcher for tempura or other sauce, and a tea setting of tea pot, tea cups and tea cup saucers.

Ethiopian tableware

Ethiopian dining includes several rituals, including the washing of hands before a formal meal, while seated at the table, and the drinking of coffee at the table when the meal has ended.[12] During the meal itself, guests are served injera, a piece of Ethiopian flatbread made of the grain teff. The injera itself serves the same purpose as a plate, similar to the trencher bread used in Europe before the modern era. Several small dishes are served at the table, usually in mashed or pureed form, which each guest scoops up with the injera.[13]

Designers and manufacturers

Notable pattern designers

Ceramic tableware

Many porcelain manufacturing companies in Europe were in the late 18th-century and early 19th century, and are still producing ceramics. They exported large amounts of tableware to the Americas throughout the 19th century and continue to export abroad. American potteries became established during the mid- to late-19th century. Some are listed below:

Silverware and other metal tableware


Main articles: Glassware and Lead crystal


Collections in museums

See also


Further reading

Von Drachenfels, Suzanne. The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners, and Tableware. Simon & Schuster (2000) ISBN 0-684-84732-9


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