NEW SIZES AND new materials add style, but it's shape that sets the pace in the design of tabletop items today.
“There's more of an appreciation for the importance of tableware to the presentation of food as part of the dining experience,” says Scott Hamberger, vice president of Sterling, Va.-based Fortessa Inc. “People are looking for items that enhance the dining experience and for shapes that are different, interesting and unusual.”
Hamberger says that his company's Accentz line of specialty porcelain, glass and bone china dinnerware addresses the need for playful products that are both “visually appealing, yet functional.” While the line has been available for several years, “We're constantly expanding it and adding eclectic new items,” he says. An example is the recently introduced Tsunami bowl, which features an extra-wide, undulating rim on both ends of the bowl that provides space for sides such as bread or crackers.
Dick Blatchford, sales manager of Newell, W. Va.-based Homer Laughlin China Co., notes, “The catering industry is [becoming] a little more progressive and using different shapes and patterns, different colors.” He points to the company's Geo pasta bowl as an item that meets this demand. While the rim is round, the bowl is available in square, triangle or star shapes that add visual interest to food.
At Denver-based Ten Strawberry Street, it's hip to be square. “Right now, we're outselling square plates to round plates,” says vice president Zachary Zucker. “The square-plate theme is something that we think is going to be around for [a while].” His company's white Whittier Squares remain top sellers, and the new Black Square line is “extremely popular,” Zucker says. “We're finding the simplicity of the black and white, as well as the different shapes, is really where it's at.” He adds that many clients find that “intermingling — doing the dinner-size plate in white and the salad size in black — really puts on a pretty extravagant presentation.”
While guests may be watching their weight, for many tabletop items, bigger is all the rage.
“The trend in china is definitely toward larger plates,” notes Jay Achenbach, director of foodservice marketing for Toledo, Ohio-based Libbey Inc. “The culinary world has become an art medium, and the plate is a canvas that chefs frame the food in, and the larger plates seem to be preferred for that type of presentation.” He says that Libbey's 12-inch Chablis dinner plates continue to be best-sellers because the 3-inch rim provides a border that moves the eye toward the middle of the plate, putting food front and center.
Hamberger notes that his clients are clamoring for 11- and 12-inch plates. “The 10-inch entree plate, which used to be the standard, is out,” he says. However, for trendy nibbles such as tapas and meze, smaller plates in unique shapes are more appropriate.
Size is also an important consideration for flatware, notes Paul Gebhardt, senior vice president of design and advertising for Oneida Ltd. in Oneida, N.Y. “Flatware took a dramatic upsizing in the last few years — it got heavier and bigger, [with] dinner forks topping out at 8 inches or so,” he says. “The increased size and heft makes a quality statement.”
TINE TO SHINE
When it comes to materials, upscale establishments may still lean toward silver-plated flatware, but “more and more, stainless steel is the material of choice because of its intrinsic properties — it's strong and has great luster,” Gebhardt explains. He's also seeing a trend “toward shape that really feels great in the hand,” noting that when designing flatware, “The effect we want is when someone picks [a piece] up, they say, ‘Wow! This is really nice.’” He notes that the smooth, sleek lines of Oneida's new Reflections style exemplify the focus on feel.
Zucker says that when Ten Strawberry Street launched its flatware division last year, the goal was to create something different from the standard styles available. “The funkier patterns for specialty parties have been really popular for us,” he says, pointing to the entwined stainless steel handle of the Rope line and the circle designs on the Como line's handle as fun twists on traditional flatware.
With the explosive demand for specialty beverages over the last few years, it's not surprising that manufacturers are designing fun glassware to serve them.
“Glassware is an easy way to jazz up a dining room or an event,” Achenbach says. “You can bring color to the table, or use [glassware] to address a theme.” Glassware is also a great multi-tasker, serving up more than just drinks: “You can serve appetizers, you can serve desserts, and it's a very inexpensive way to change food presentation,” he notes. “People want interesting ways to serve food, so [our clients] can use the glassware for more than one thing, and they get more bang for their buck.” Achenbach says that his company's curved-stem Bravura martini glass remains popular for this very reason.
Gebhardt says that glassware design today also reflects customers' growing appreciation for fine wines and quality liquors. “People want to differentiate the glass that a particular spirit comes in,” he says. “Each spirit demands its own glass shape to really focus the flavors and get the most out of each experience.” He names Oneida's Top Ten Sommelier line — a collection of 10 crystal glassware styles for red and white wines, barrel-aged and clear spirits, and water — as an example of matching the type of beverage to the proper vessel.
TRIED AND TRUE
In spite of the innovations in tabletop items, time-tested shapes and patterns continue to hold strong.
Blatchford notes that Homer Laughlin's Diplomat pattern — a classic ivory-bodied china line featuring two gold lines on the rim — remains popular with rental companies and caterers. The company has also launched several lines of all-white china, such as the Pristine collection, that are “influenced by and designed to compete with high-end European china,” he says.
Hamberger notes that more traditional patterns are especially enduring for flatware. “The market in terms of flatware tends to be a bit more conservative than it is with dinnerware,” he says. As an example, he names the new Grand Rialto line, which is reminiscent of the elegance of traditional European designs but features modern touches that update it for today's market. “One could say that if interesting shapes and so forth are in, then something like round plates must be out, but, of course, they're not,” Hamberger explains. “There's always a basic range of dinnerware that is needed.”
Fortessa Inc., 800/296-7508; Homer Laughlin China Co., 800/452-4462; Libbey Inc., 888/794-8469; Oneida Ltd., 315/361-3000; Ten Strawberry Street, 800/428-9397