Special Events

Tools of the Trade: Choice China

Pretty Plates Can Work Pretty Hard DINNERWARE is a key element of every tabletop. For a caterer, rental company or event planner, choosing dinnerware involves more than just picking an attractive style of china. Quality, cost and functionality all require careful consideration.

APPEARANCE ISN'T EVERYTHING Try to learn a little about the china before you make a purchase, suggests Kambiz Soltani, sales manager of KV International, an importing company based in Arlington, Va. "Check the competition. Study the market," he advises. "Maybe [the china] looks the same, but the quality is different."

Brett Harris, national sales manager of Denver-based 10 Strawberry Street, agrees, noting, "Some people go for price, and some people go for quality. There should be a happy medium. Be very leery of shopping just for price."

As with any other long-term investment, finding a balance between quality and cost - as Harris terms it, the "value ratio" - can be daunting. If you've done your research carefully, however, you'll be less likely to be taken in by looks alone.

This is not to say that durable dinnerware can't be attractive. Handmade fused glass dinnerware from Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Claritas Studios, though delicate in appearance, is extremely difficult to chip, says Frances Riggs, sales and marketing manager of the tabletop division. "It's heated twice at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit," making it extremely durable, she notes.

LESS IS MORE Bernard Blum, national sales manager of Lodi, N.J.-based International Event Products, suggests that party rental companies start small when first purchasing a new line of dinnerware. "Start with the smallest amount," Blum says, and "find out what the 10 most important caterers want." Blum also advises buying dinnerware similar in style to what your competitors have. "If you only buy 100 [place settings] and suddenly need 250, you can subrent from your competitor," he says.

Blum, who has been in the business since the 1950s, adds, "You can't live with just one pattern today. You've got to give the public a choice of what they don't want so they can choose what they do want." Buying in smaller amounts enables you to carry more patterns and styles, he says.

MAKING YOUR SELECTION Decorated china patterns have surged in popularity, Blum says. In the next five years, we'll see "more ornate china patterns, more color, more detail." Harris also notes a growing trend toward color: "The biggest trend we've noticed is in colored glass - dinnerware, barware. Pastels have been very big." Frosted and gemstone colors also are popular.

Clients are also demanding that pieces be multifunctional. "Today, the chop plate has become the number one item because it can double as a buffet plate, dinner plate and charger," Blum notes. Without its saucer, a cream soup bowl can be used as a sugar bowl, he adds.

When it comes to choosing flatware, Debra Shipper, marketing manager of Countryside, Ill.-based Chicago Party Rental, says "simple silver-plated patterns are always a great startup item. The quality of silver plate is timeless."

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