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BEAUTIFUL FOOD AND drinks are a joy to behold — but they do, in fact, need something to hold them. That's where china, glassware, flatware and linen come in. Innovations in these products feature eye-catching designs that create the ideal canvas for highlighting modern food presentation.


The latest trend in china is items that are small in size but big on style, reflecting the current popularity of tapas, tasting menus and “small plates.”

Jay Achenbach, director of foodservice marketing at Toledo, Ohio-based Libbey Inc., explains, “There's a big trend now in miniature servings — people like to try a taste of different things, but these are a little beyond basic appetizers. People might go out to a restaurant and order three to five items that they share, and that becomes their main course.” The company has introduced collections that meet demand for smaller items and niche shapes, such as Crescent Coupe plates from Libbey's Syracuse China division. The crescent-shaped plates can be used individually, or as many as four can be joined together and presented on the company's round Plateau plate.

Zachary Zucker, chief executive officer of Ten Strawberry Street in Denver, notes that a surge in cocktail receptions and other stand-up events has spurred demand for smaller plates. The company's Tidbit collection, introduced this year, features a 2-by-5-inch rectangular plate and 5-inch square, triangular and oval plates. “A lot of caterers are becoming very creative when using small pieces — they can be stacked on a table, or guests can easily walk around with them,” he notes.


Colored plates have been big sellers for years, but experts are seeing a resurgence in white dinnerware, which offers a blank canvas for chefs to work with.

Quality bone china products “offer a lustrous white color that makes for beautiful food presentation,” explains Scott Hamberger, vice president at Fortessa Inc. in Sterling, Va.

Today's bone china also withstands the rigors of high-volume use. “Traditionally, operators have heard ‘bone china' and thought ‘fragile,’” he says. In fact, the new breed of bone china, such as that used in the company's Saterna line, “is one of the most impact-resistant types of ware on the market.”

In addition to showcasing food, white dinnerware also offers flexibility that colors can't match. “Basic white can be dressed up or down — you can put a silver or gold charger underneath it to make it very high-end, or it can look more casual with less opulent place settings,” says Donna Specht, national sales manager at Wittur & Co. in Lake Bluff, Ill., where white Regina, Castle and Gracia patterns are longtime best-sellers.

White may be the hottest hue, but that doesn't mean color is completely off the table. Bright hues are especially hot for glass plates, Zucker says. Since its introduction last year, the company's Zeus collection of amber, amethyst, lime green and clear textured-glass dinnerware “has really taken off,” he notes. “Many customers are buying a few hundred items in each color and mixing and matching them.” Another selling point: “The color is inside the glass, which makes it dishwasher-, microwave- and oven-safe. A lot of glass pieces have the color sprayed on, so you can't put it in the dishwasher because the color fades.”


As people become more sophisticated in their beverage choices, manufacturers are designing glassware that enhances the best qualities of each drink.

“Consumers continue to demand better quality stemware and barware for beverage presentation,” Hamberger says. He notes that Tritan crystal glass from Schott Zwiesel, used for several collections including the new Pure line, offers beautiful clarity along with durability — a major boon to foodservice professionals. The glasses are made using a patented technology that merges titanium oxide and a tempering process that yields dishwasher-safe and break-resistant crystal.

Rental companies are also seeing demand for upscale glassware from catering clients. “Fine stems such as Riedel, Schott Zwiesel and WineStar are becoming the choice,” says Kelly Murphy, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Panache Party Rentals. “Clarity of the crystal, the size of the bowl, and the fine rims complement fine wines being poured at today's events.”

According to Achenbach, “Niche shapes also play a role in glassware because if anyone makes a signature drink, they want a unique glass to show it off.” Catering managers and restaurant operators are continuing to use glassware to serve appetizers and desserts as well as beverages. “That's the beauty of glass — it can have a different look depending on what you put in it,” he notes.


When it comes to choosing flatware, picking the right heft is half the battle. “It's a matter of {clients} selecting a weight and feel they like in a pattern and price point they want,” Achenbach says. The company offers many quality levels through its World Tableware division, from different gauges of 18/0 up to silver plate, but the most popular request is for “a good-quality 18/0 product, both from a price and performance viewpoint.” The company has also recently designed some menu-specific specialty items such as gelato and salsa spoons.

At Fortessa, “We've seen a growing awareness of the importance of quality flatware as part of the dining experience,” Hamberger says. “The most popular designs continue to have a contemporary look, but it's practical rather than fanciful in orientation.” Flatware with a comfortable heft, clean lines and squared-off handles, such as Fortessa's Scalini and Arco patterns, “has been very well received,” he adds.


White may be right for plates, but linen is infusing tabletops with vibrant color inspired by exotic locales and their cuisines.

Jean-Philippe Krukowicz, national sales manager at the New York office of Gerardmer, France-based Garnier Thiebaut, explains, “Event producers and restaurant operators are moving away from all-white {linen} — they're looking for patterns that make a statement, set a theme, create a mood or just spice up room decor.” The company, which introduces two new collections of tablecloths and napkins each year, “recently completed an installation in a hotel without using a single white napkin,” he says. “One of the hottest trends is the runner, which can quickly transform a bare table — or even a cloth cover — with a splash of pattern.” The company's Alibaba pattern features Eastern influences, combining rich blue tones accented with symbols and designs in a lustrous damask sheen.

“I find the colors of linen we are showing are more daring than ever — lime green, chartreuse, teal, turquoise, yellow and orange,” says Youngsong Martin, owner of Fountain Valley, Calif.-based Wildflower Linen. “Perhaps it is the influence of Morocco, India and China — the same influence they have had on food {they also} seem to be having on linen.” Ornate details are also hot: “We've had success with a linen that laces up on the table corners, as well as with linen with dangling beads and colorful ribbons,” Martin says.

At the Tablecloth Co. in Paterson, N.J., “Our most popular new additions have been on the high end — iridescent crinkled satin, embroidered and sequined fabric, and burn-out sheer prints,” says vice president Mary Kerr. “Customers are using these new fabrics for the ‘wow’ factor. Every caterer has solid colors; what today's {clients} are looking for is something to make their event memorable. These fancy fabrics can be used sparingly with a big impact.”


Fortessa Inc., 800/296-7580; Garnier Thiebaut, 888/812-6670; Libbey Inc., 888/794-8469; Panache Party Rentals, 800/307-2789; Tablecloth Co., 800/227-5251; Ten Strawberry Street, 800/428-9397; Wildflower Linen, 714/965-7775; Wittur & Co., 800/622-6234

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