Today's events "range from white-glove service to dotcom parties where waiters wear gorilla suits," says Albert Lovata, CEO of Boston-based party rental company Be Our Guest. In step with these diverging trends, tableware is also going into two directions-from sleek, modern and colorful to the resurgence of elegance.
THE MODERN MIND
Stephen Denison, president of McCall Associates, says his San Francisco-based full-service catering company produces many events for Internet startup companies. Well-funded and full of 20-something guests, these "corporate raves" are especially keen on flashy glassware, Denison reports. Oversize, crystal martini glasses, or acrylic versions with a battery-operated light bulb in the stem to make the glass glow, are particularly popular. "That's what they all have in their hands-it becomes a person al prop."
Guests who like a modern look also are open to new shapes, according to Kathy Ruff, president of Chicago-based party rental company Table-scapes. "We introduced rectangular porcelain plates in two sizes this year."
"Anything square is good," agrees Marjory Eggleston, partner at Unique Tabletop Rentals, based in Bellflower, Calif. She adds that Asian is a big hit: "The muted-color plates that form part of the Asian look-matte black, mustard yellow and soft, soft celadon green-make food look good. Chefs seem to really like them."
A high-tech look is also popular with modern-minded guests, Eggleston says. "The Academy Awards Governors Ball this year used our clear, round glass plates." Each table also featured three silver-pebbled glass chargers, which held all appetizers for the table of 14 guests. Set off by pumpkin-colored stretch table covers, the tableware created a clean, sleek look, Eggleston says. Reminiscent of the Calvin Klein dinnerware line, the stainless steel flatware and glassware at the Oscar party also sported streamlined design. The glasses were tall and cylindrical, with straight sides and a flat bottom, Eggleston explains. "I see this look a lot in Germany and Italy."
Striving to create a more organic look is Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Claritas Studios. The company produces fused-glass dinnerware in unique shapes and colors. Steven Riggs, general manager, says many Claritas plates reflect "colors found in nature-bronze and pewter tones, amber, forest greens and cobalt."
For the Cielo restaurant at the Ventana Inn in Big Sur, Calif., "we designed spiral charger plates in deep royal purple-the spiral is the restaurant's logo," says Riggs, adding that the design works well with the restaurant's wooden interior.
TRADITIONAL-WITH A TWIST
For events such as opera openings, "people want the look of old money, which is not flashy," Denison says.
This old-money look might include, if not Cristofle silver flatware, then Sambonet stainless steel, and "lots of Austrian crystal," says Denison. "We also just invested in 11 1/2-inch Rosen-thal plates with peach or teal rims."
Denison notes that the various colored rims are mixed on the table, offering a fresh yet elegant alternative to white on white.
Ruff agrees-white with a twist is in. She says she uses white dinnerware with a broad, "contemporary gold or silver edge; matching flatware; and silver- and gold-edged glassware for that extra little hint of elegance."
Denison says antique-looking silver and gold are in. "The silver looks more pewter, it has more depth; and we use a more antique gold, which looks almost bronze."
Elegance is on the rise in the Midwest as well, according to Jack Luft, vice president of party rental company Hall's Rental Service in Lincolnwood, Ill. "We rent a lot of upscale glassware these days, including finer crystal stemware and larger wineglasses."
"In New England, chefs ruled for many years in terms of china," Lovata says. "Dinnerware was very simple and basic." These days, however, the plain white plate is giving way to "bold patterns, such as blue and gold or red and gold banding."
MIXING AND MATCHING
"Mixing silver and gold by alternating tables or mixing up both at the same table is hot," Eggleston says.
Riggs says his clients mix Claritas plates with more traditional china. "They will put a white plate on our glass checkerboard plate."
Lovata is noticing a "high demand for unusual chargers. We have glass chargers with silver beading, which shimmers in the candlelight as though the plate is on fire."
Luft's clients are asking for "hammered aluminum chargers, which look like pewter. Clients might use those on half the tables and natural rattan chargers on the other half."
While mixing and matching can create stunning looks, overly busy tabletops don't work, says designer Janet Landey, CSEP, of Party Design in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Guests don't want clutter-the dinnerware must be striking, but most importantly, it must be appropriate."
For a recent wedding, Landey used "big, white Italian platters and large, deep pasta bowls, tiny white dishes for the olive oil, and huge, white, starched serviettes, simply folded.
"I love it when guests sit down and touch everything-run their hands over the underplate, pick up the glasses, feel the serviette," Landey says. "Layers of detail and layers of pleasure are essential for the dining experience."
Resources: Be Our Guest, 617/427-2700; Claritas Studios, 831/438-2777, www.claritasusa.com; Hall's Rental Service, 847/982-9200; McCall Associates, 415/552-8550, www.dan mccall.com; Party Design, +27 11 624 2417; Tablescapes, 312/733-9700; Unique Tabletop Rentals, 562/529-3632