Types of Tableware

Hamarosan magyarul is!


Before discussing the different types of tableware in detail, a few fun facts on the materials they are made of:


Ceramics are made of fired clay. Primary clays, which form as residual deposits in the soil and remain at the site of formation, are used to make ceramic types porcelain, bone china and china.

Secondary clays, that have been transported from their original location by water erosion, are used for making earthenware (majolica, faience, creamware, ironstone, semiporcelain) and stoneware.

Within the above categories of dinnerware, porcelain is the hardest and whitest ceramic. Bone china is the strongest, stoneware lies midway in strength and porosity between porcelain and earthenware.

Porcelain, bone china, china and stoneware are non-porous materials, while all earthenware is porous. Glaze is used to fill the pores with a glass like coating, rendering ceramics impermeable to liquid absorption.

A feldspatic glaze is used to cover porcelain, lead glaze is used on bone china and earthenware, salt glaze is used on stoneware. Because lead is a soft metal, lead-glazed ceramics are subject to marks and tiny scratches from use of sharp objects, like a dinner knife.


Flatware (also referred to as silverware) is made of metals such as:

Sterling silver, a 92,5% pure alloy of silver and copper. This ratio is a standard or hallmark to this day. Copper is used to give soft silver strength.

Silver plate is a base metal or alloy that is coated with pure silver through an electromagnetic process.

Vermeil is silver plated with gold. This material has a really beautiful, elegant glow but its softness makes it impractical for eating utensils.

Gold electroplate is made by the application of 24-carat gold over a base metal through a process similar to silver plate.

Stainless steel is alloyed with iron, chromium and nickel. It is hygienic, does not rust and is resistant to stains and acids. Stainless steel flatware comes in a lustre finish (satin-smooth matte look) or bright finish with a shiny surface.

Pewter an alloyed metal composed of 75-90% tin and small amounts of zinc, bismuth, silver and antimony.


Glass is made from silica, the primary constituent of sand. In its natural state it is greenish or brownish, the color deriving from impurities in the material such as iron and aluminum. To conceal the contaminants, glass was originally colored.

Glass is decolored or, in other words, made transparent with the addition of chemical elements such as antimony or manganese (also called glass soap as it neutralizes impurities).

Glass is shaped by blowing (free-blown or mouth-blown) or molding.

Glass categories include:

Soda glass, the most common type. Composed of 72% silica for strength, 15% chemical soda for flux, 9% lime as stabilizer, and 4% other materials. It is easy to melt, clear, hard and resistant to scratches.

Potash glass is made with the alkali potassium carbonate (obtained from plant ash), thicker and more brilliant than soda glass with a hard surface, but the material is more difficult to work with.

Crystal is a translucent and lightweight glass, associated with luxury tableware. When struck gently on the rim, delicate crystal resonates with a bell-like ring. Lead crystal contains 55% silica, 33% lead oxide, 11% potash and 1% other materials. Lead promotes clarity, brilliance, thickness and weight.

Borosilicate glass (generally known by its trademark name Pyrex) is 3 times more resistant to thermal shock than other glass types. It contains 80% silica, 4% sodium oxide, 2% alumina, 12% boron oxide and 2% other materials.



Plates come in 12 sizes. In order of descending size, they are:

Biggest in size is the service plate, a base in the center of the cover. Food is never placed directly on it, and it is cleared from the table after the first and second course is finished. At informal meals often a dinner plate is used as a service plate.

The dinner plate is used more than any other plate, to serve the main course at both formal and informal meals.

A luncheon is a lighter, simpler meal than dinner. The luncheon plate is not essential, a dinner plate can be used instead.

The round salad plate comes in 2 sizes: bigger in England and Europe, a smaller all-purpose plate for both salad and dessert in America. At a formal meal it is laid before the guest with the salad arranged on it, while at an informal meal it functions to serve salad presented before, for or after the main course. When salad is the main course, it is presented on a dinner plate.

The crescent salad plate is not used in formal dining. Its purpose is to decrease the possibility of spills.

The fish plate is a specialized plate with fish pattern ornamentation, not made as part of a dinnerware set. It is not an essential plate.

The dessert plate is ornately decorated to end a meal with flare, used at formal and informal meals as well, but not part of a dinnerware set.

The cheese plate is a specialized plate with cheese pattern ornamentation, used at formal and informal meals as well. It is not part of a set.

The tea plate is used to hold a teacup without a saucer.

The fruit plate is a specialized plate with fruit pattern ornamentation, used at formal and informal, not part of a set.

The bread-and-butter plate is an optional plate at formal dinners in Europe, not used in formal dining in America.

The fruit saucer is a deeper dish provided only at informal meals.


Bowls come in 9 sizes. With the exception of the soup plate, all of them are placed on underplates.

Soup bowls are used for soups with a chunky texture. They are not used in formal dinner service, because the lack of rim to keep fingers away from the contents of the bowl.

The soup plate is only one used in formal dinner service.

The coup soup bowl is a rimless, only for informal dining.

The soup-cereal bowl, also known as the oatmeal bowl, is deeper than a soup plate. Used only for informal meals.

The covered soup bowl is used to keep soup hot from kitchen to table. It’s not part of a dinnerware set and is used only at informal meals.

The lug soup bowl, or onion soup bowl, is used to present an individual serving of French onion soup. It is not part of a dinnerware set and is used only at informal meals.

The cream soup bowl comes with a saucer. The flavor and texture of cream soup are considered too rich to start a multiple course meal, so it is used only at informal meals.

The buillon cup and saucer is made to sustain the temperature of hot broth. The consistency of buillon is considered too thin to start a meal where 2-3 wines are served, so it is used only at informal meals.

The finger bowl is used to rinse the fingertips, one hand at a time, which are then wiped on a napkin held low in the lap.

The ramekin is used to serve baked dishes composed of cheese, milk or cream like soufflé, custard, flan or créme brulée.


The knife

The dinner knife is the longest knife in a set of flatware, used to cut and push food. It is laid on the table at all meals, formal and informal.

The steak knife is a specialized knife not made as part of a set, with a sharp tip and serrated edge to cut thick portions of meat. Not provided at a formal meal as meat is served roasted.

The luncheon knife is not mandatory, a regular dinner knife is used instead.

The fish knife is a specialized shape not included as part of a set, featuring a wide blade with a dull edge, and a tip made with a notched point used to separate the skeleton from the body and lift the bones onto a plate. Used in both formal and informal dining.

The dessert knife is a specialized utensil not included in a flatware set, used in formal and informal dining with a dessert fork. Made with a narrow blade and rounded tip to section soft dessert, or a pointed tip to cut firm dessert.

The fruit knife is a specialized utensil not included in a flatware set, featuring a pointed tip and a straight or slightly curved narrow blade to cut and peel fresh fruit at both formal and informal meals.

The butter spreader is the smallest knife in a set with a rounded tip. Used at informal occasions only where bread and butter are provided.

The spoon

The iced-beverage spoon, also known as an iced-tea spoon, is the longest spoon in a set. It is made with a shallow bowl and long handle used only for informal dining, to stir sugar in cold beverages served in tall glasses.

The oval soup spoon is similar in size and shape to a tablespoon, with a bowl slightly smaller and tapering to a tip, and a shorter handle. It is made to eat soup with particles of solid food. At a formal dinner, the oval soup spoon is the only spoon laid on the table, while at an informal meal it is used to eat any food presented in a large, shallow soup bowl.

The dessert spoon has an oval bowl holding about 2 tsp of food, used in both formal and informal dining.

The place spoon is an all-purpose spoon slightly larger than a teaspoon, but smaller than a tablespoon.

The cream soup spoon is made with a round bowl, the pureed liquid is sipped from the side of the spoon. Used only in informal dining as cream soup is considered too rich to start a formal multi course meal.

The teaspoon is used only in informal dining to stir hot beverages, sip soup and eat solid food.

The five o’clock spoon is a specialized spoon slightly shorter than a teaspoon, found in older sets of silver.

The ice-cream spoon looks like a small shovel. It is used at informal meals only.

The citrus spoon features an elongated bowl and a pointed tip.

The buillon spoon is used at light informal meals when clear or jellied soup is served as a first course.

The after-dinner coffee spoon is only used for informal dining.

The chocolate spoon is seldom used, only at informal affairs. Any small spoon will do instead.

The demitasse spoon, also known as mocha spoon, is used when sugar is added to demitasse at a formal dinner or luncheon.

The salt spoon is placed in a salt cellar when provided.

The fork

The dinner fork is used to eat the main course at all formal and informal meals.

The fish fork is used in both formal and informal dining to separate fish from the body.

The luncheon fork is found in older sets, it is not mandatory.

The lobster fork is made with one long narrow tine that ends with two hooks, used to spear lobster served in a shell. Used only in informal dining as the fingers only touch rolls, cheese, crackers and fresh fruit at a formal event.

The fruit fork is made with narrow tines and a long slender handle, used more often in Europe in formal and informal dining.

The salad fork‘s tines are flatter and slightly broader than a dinner fork, with an extra wide, sometimes grooved left tin. It is used to cut thick veins of lettuce or broad vegetables served in a salad at both formal and informal dining.

The dessert fork is a little narrower than a salad fork, not made as part of a set. The left tine is extra wide to help cut firm dessert. Used in both formal and informal dining.

The ice-cream fork features a wide shallow bowl with 3 tines at the tip. The spoon part is used to scoop, the tines to cut and spear. Only provided at informal meals.

The pastry fork is narrower and slightly shorter than a salad fork, with a left tine that is often notched. Not essential, used only at informal dining.

The seafood fork, also known as cocktail fork is a small, narrow, three-pronged fork made with short tines and a long handle to spear seafood served in a compote or a shell. Used in both formal and informal dining.

The strawberry fork is made with three long narrow tines to pierce fresh strawberries and dip them into condiments, used only in informal dining.

The snail fork is a small fork made with two long, pointed tines. In formal dining snails are served on a snail dish without shells, while in informal dining usually in shells.

The oyster fork is a small utensil with three short, wide, curved tines, the left one being extra wide to cut the membrane connecting the oyster to the shell. Used only in informal dining.


The stem of a glass provides a way to hold cool drinks without warming the contents of the bowl, just as a cup handle protects fingers from heat. There is one exception: the brandy snifter, a vessel that is cradled in the palm of the hand to enhance the flavor of the drink.

The bowls come in 3 main shapes: the bucket with a horizontal base and almost vertical sides, the tulip with a rounded base and sides curving inward, and flared – a long, narrow form with a pointed or slightly rounded bowl either flaring outward at the top or remaining straight, like a trumpet or a funnel.

The types of stemware are:

The aperitif glass, holding 60-90 ml of aperitif, a drink fortified with 15-20% alcohol with a purpose to open gastric juices and stimulate appetite before a meal.

The water goblet holds 175 ml water when filled 3/4 full. It is the largest vessel in a stemware set as water is drunk throughout the meal. Used at both formal and informal dining.

The iced-tea glass is a long, narrow vessel with a short stem, a shape made to accommodate ice cubes. Iced tea is a XX. century American drink. Because water and wine are the only beverages served at a formal table, it is reserved for informal dining.

Wine glasses. The average wine glass holds 240-355 ml when filled to the rim, but the flavor of wine deteriorates when exposed to air and so only 90-120 ml are poured. Wine is served cool to enhance the flavor and to preserve the temperature, the wine glass is held at the bottom of the stem between the thumb and the first 2 fingers.  Compared to the delicate bouquet of white wine, the bouquet of red wine is more pronounced. To release the aroma, red wine is served in a glass with a slightly larger bowl and a little taller overall than a white wine glass. Wine glasses are made in assorted shapes to balance the flavor and bouquet and promote the best characteristics of specific wines:

White wine:

The white wine glass is made with a bowl slightly smaller in diameter and with sides a little straighter than a red wine glass. About 30 ml less of white wine is poured than red wine.

The hock wine glass is made with a somewhat squat bowl sitting on a long stem. Hock today refers to white wine from the Rhine Valley.


The tulip glass is a form that directs the taste of champagne to the center of the tongue for best balance of fruit and acid.

Flute and trumpet glasses feature long narrow bowl shapes that accommodate the slow rise of bubbles to the rim, promoting effervescence and prolonging the cool temperature. When drinking from these glasses, the head is tilted backward.

Saucer, sherbet and coupe glasses have wide, shallow bowls which disperse the bubbles rapidly. When drinking from these glasses the head is bent over the vessel, a position that promotes poor flow of champagne over the tongue. These shapes are not recommended by wine connoisseurs.

The hollow-stem glass features a bowl that extends to the base. Holding the long bowl between fingers generates warmth, so these glasses are not favored either.

Red wine:

The claret glass is used for wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France.

The burgundy glass is slightly larger than the claret glass, used for red and white wine produced in the Burgundy region of France.

The Paris glass is an all-purpose wine glass with a neither large nor small bowl, used mostly in the wine bars of Paris.

The magnum wine glass has an inward-curved rim reserved for an aromatic Burgundy with an abundant bouquet.

Dessert wine:

Dessert wine is a sweet-tasting wine with a high alcohol content. The amount of a few sips are served in a dessert wine glass made with a slightly smaller bowl than a white wine glass, however more often dessert wine is served in the white wine glass.

Cordial is a sweet libation with a high alcohol content, served as a digestive following a heavy meal. Cordial glasses, also known as liqueur glasses, are the smallest glasses in a set of stemware. The larger size holds 50 ml while the smaller serves about 20 ml.

The brandy snifter is a short-stemmed glass with a tulip or balloon-shaped bowl. Brandy contains about 40% alcohol, so only 2-5 cl are poured. Brandy is aged in oak barrels which add a complex flavor – the inward-curved rim of the glass concentrates the heady bouquet. The taste is enhanced when it is served warm or at room temperature – to generate warmth, the short stem is held between the fingers and the bowl is cradled in the palm.


Regardless of size, cups and mugs are filled three-quarters full, except for the demitasse cup, which is filled half full. All cups except mugs are made with companion saucers.

The breakfast cup is the biggest cup with a capacity two or three times more than that of a regular cup. Only used at informal events.

The mug is heavier than a cup with thicker walls and a denser base, and also taller to retain heat. Only used for informal dining. The regular size is 250 to 350 ml, the extra-large (American counterpart of the breakfast cup) accommodates 450 to 600 ml.

The teacup is slightly shorter and wider than the coffee cup to release heat. The rim is often flared outward to accommodate the shape of the mouth. The handle is held with the thumb and first finger or first two fingers, the fourth and fifth fingers curl inward toward the palm. Tea is served only upon request at formal dinners as the flavor is considered too delicate to follow a heavy multi-course meal.

The coffee cup‘s size is determined by the time of day along with the strength of the brew. Coffee with a light body and high caffeine content is served as a stimulant at breakfast and lunch in a large cup. Coffee with strong taste, heavy body and low caffeine content is served as a digestive following a multi-course meal, in a small cup. Coffee cups are made in regular-size (only for informal meals), after-dinner size (for elegant informal meals) and demitasse (formal meals, served away from the table). To conserve heat, the coffee cup features a cylinder shape which is taller than it is wide.

The chocolate cup is a specialty vessel, not part of a dinnerware set. Made from powdered cocoa, hot chocolate is served in a large vessel such as a coffee cup, teacup or mug.


Serveware includes dishes, platters and bowls that hold the food to be served at a meal. At formal affairs, dinner service is à la russe: service begins simultaneously, platters and bowls are presented to the guests and then serveware is returned to the kitchen. At informal dining, serveware is placed on the table and guests help themselves.

Although sets of serveware need not match, matched pairs make a unified appearance. A matching set of serveware is called a dinner service.

Bowls come in shallow and deep. Shallow serving bowls with a broad, flat base and sloping sides are used to serve firm food, deep serving bowls that hold a serving spoon are made to accommodate soft food.

Beverage pots are made in assorted shapes to serve tea, coffee, chocolate and demitasse, with a sharply defined spout to avoid drips and a lip on the inside of the rim to secure the lid.

Teapots holds 6-8 servings. They are made with a low bulbous body that flares through the center. The spout is situated low on the body not to disturb the leaves when tea is poured.

Coffeepots are tall and narrow to allow space for the grounds to sink to the bottom of the brew. The spout is placed high on the body to prevent coffee grounds from pouring into cups.

Chocolate pots are seldom used, as today hot chocolate is a thin beverage mixed in a mug or a cup.

Demitasse pots are small and cylindrical coffee pots, shorter and narrower than regular coffee pots to hold 12 or more servings.

Compotes are for serving candy or glacéed fruit. Used as part of a formal table decoration, but seldom seen at informal affairs because they compete for space with other serveware.

When nuts are provided at both formal and informal meals, large bowls are placed symmetrically around the centerpiece within easy reach, or small individual nut bowls are placed at the top of each cover.

Platters are used primarily to serve meat and fish prepared without sauce, often made with a well to direct the juices. At a formal affair, a platter is used to serve a course, while at an informal occasion the platter is used to hold the course.

Salt and pepper dispensers. Since more people use salt than pepper and most people are right-handed, the salt shaker is placed to the right of the pepper shaker. Because salt is finer than pepper, the lid of the salt shaker is punctured with smaller, more numerous holes than a pepper shaker. Salt and pepper shakers are passed together.

Salt cellars are tiny bowls. Food is never dipped into the cellar, a small spoon is presented to sprinkle salt on food. Seldom used at informal meals.

A salt shakers is a free-flowing dispenser that sprinkles salt evenly on food, used only at informal meals.

The pepper shaker is for dispensing pepper, the same way a salt shaker works.

The pepper mill freshly grounds pepper and is appropriate at formal and informal meals as well.

Salvers are used to formally deliver a message in a club or hotel, or to hold miscellanea in the home.

Sauceboats and gravy boats are open boat-shaped vessels with 1 or 2 spouts presented to the guest by a butler at formal meals, placed on the table at informal meals.

Trays are made with a flat surface and 2 handles without a well, but the edges are raised for safe transport of food and serveware. At a formal meal trays are used to present meals, to serve dry food, to hold flatware, to clear the table and to group items in a bar.

Tureens are wide, deep, covered bowls with a ladle and a matching platter. Large ones are used to serve soup, stew, punch and to cool champagne, small ones are used to hold sauce, gravy and vegetables.

Serving Utensils

Serving utensils are placed on the table in the same way as eating utensils, on the right side of serveware. Handles face the diner, the blade of a carving knife faces inward. After use, a serving spoon is replaced in the bowl.

Asparagus servers come in several forms – fork, tongs, or a flat-bladed utensil.

The berry spoon or fruit spoon is recognized by an embossed fruit pattern, used to dish up fruit from a serving bowl.

The bonbon spoon is a small spoon made to serve candy and nuts at a tea table.

The butter knife is used to cut through chilled butter and transfer cubes to the plate, made with a dull blade and a pointed tip.

The cake knife features a long blade to reduce the number of strokes required to cut food with a delicate texture. Some are made with a serrated edge.

A carving set consists of a carving knife and a carving fork made with a guard to lift it from the table (otherwise it’s laid on a rest). The set is made in large and small sizes: the large is often accompanied by a steel used to sharpen the knife, the small is also known as a steak set to cut food of average thickness.

Cheese servers are made in numerous shapes to accommodate assorted textures and consistencies of cheese (soft, creamy, hard, brittle smooth, firm, crumbly, coarse and with holes).

The cheese cleaver is used to slice hard cheese with a granular, brittle consistency, like parmesan.

The cheese knife is made with a short, curved, often serrated blade with 2-3 short tines extending from the tip, designed to cut firm cheese with a mealy texture like gouda.

The cheese plane is used to slice cheese with holes like Gruyère, Monterey jack, or cheddar.

The cheese scoop is used to hold together a serving of crumbly semisoft cheese like Stilton, or to extract firm cheese from a wax-covered ball like Edam.

The triangular cheese knife is made with a wedge-shaped blade to cut soft cheese with a creamy interior like brie and camembert.

The cold-meat fork is used to spear and lift food presented on a platter.

Fish servers include a fish knife with a long asymmetrical blade that curves to a pointed tip, and fish fork with 3-4 wide tines.

The flat server is a round or wedge-shaped utensil to balance sliced food for transfer from platter to plate. Some are pierced to drain watery food.

The jelly server is a spoon-shaped utensil with a shallow bowl and pointed tip, with a flat edge on one side to serve molded jelly.

Ladles are serving spoons with deep bowls in round, oval or fluted shapes and various sizes.

A small ladle usually comes with a side spout, to serve a modest amount of sauce or a dollop of condiment.

The medium ladle, or cream sauce ladle is made to accommodate a larger serving of sauce like hollandaise or bearnaise.

The large ladle, or gravy ladle is made to hold an ample serving of sauce or gravy.

The extra-large ladle, or soup/punch ladle holds around 100 ml, with a length that accommodates the depth of the average soup tureen or punch bowl.

The lemon fork is made with 3 narrow tines to serve sliced lemon.

The pasta fork, or pasta server, or pasta scoop is made with a deep, oval, often slotted bowl surrounded by large wide tines.

The pastry server, or pie server, or cake server has a wide spade-like blade made to balance a serving of pie or cake.

The pickle fork is made with slender tines and a long narrow handle to reach deep into a pickle jar.

The serving fork and spoon are used together as tongs to serve food that requires two implements, or individually to spear food from a platter and to lift food from a bowl.

The stuffing spoon, or casserole spoon is made with an extra-large bowl and a long handle.

Sugar servers:

The sugar tong is used to grasp cubed sugar (the equal amount to a teaspoon of granulated sugar) at formal and informal events. After use it is hung over the handle or laid by the side of the sugar bowl.

The sugar spoon is used to serve granulated sugar at informal meals.

The tablespoon is used only to serve, often made with a pierced bowl to drain food.

Tongs are twin-armed implements to grasp and lift portions of food.

With a flat-bladed tong, we grip and serve rolls, pastries, waffles, or whole potatoes.

A scissor tong is for grasping mixed salads or vegetables, often made with a large spoon on one side and a fork on the other.

The inverted-U tong is made with grippers to serve pasta, or to grasp ice cubes.

Table Linens

The tablecloth is a decorative accessory that unifies the components of the table setting. The colors of formal dining are white, ivory and ecru, so a tablecloth woven with a satin sheen, such as damask (a reversible silk or linen cloth) with a classic white-on-white jacquard weave is appropriate.

Generally, a lengthy table requires a long overhang and a small table a short drop. At a formal dinner the tablecloth overhang is deep and luxurious, a drop that rests in the diner’s lap and is tucked under the table before the napkin is lifted.

Placemats and table runners are used in informal dining.

Napkins are for blotting the lips and wiping fingertips. Most napkins are square. At multi course meal, large napkins are used. At a formal table napkins are folded into a simple form centered on the service plate, and they should match the color of the tablecloth in shades of white, ivory, ecru or pastel.