Plate to win

24 August 2004 by
Plate to win

There's no denying that catering for large numbers is a stressful business. But the stress doesn't stop with the staff involved in the event - the plates, bowls and glasses also take their fair share of it, and the results can be costly.

Storage of banqueting tableware is a huge issue and, if it's not done properly, breakages will happen. Oranmor is a new entertainment and arts venue in Glasgow that can cater for as many as 450 people at a time. It holds more than 3,500 plates, bowls, cups and glasses for banqueting in stock, but limited space meant that an innovative storage solution was needed.

This came in the form of adjustable mobile dish caddies for the plates and trolleys, with colour-coded racks for the glasses which go through the dishwasher and lessen the amount of handling by staff.

"Breakages tend to occur when the items are in transit, say, from dishwasher to the storage area," says Paul Goodfellow of Continental Chef Supplies, "so the idea is to cut down the amount of manual handling." It was Goodfellow who came up with the storage solution, and supplied, among others, 30cm flat round plates on which Norwegian manufacturer Figgjo gives a five-year anti-chip guarantee.

Choosing tableware that offers a guarantee of durability means that, should any chips occur, replacements will be free, which is an obvious cost advantage given the large number of items used in banqueting operations.

With glasses, it's often the fragile rim and foot that are the first points of contact with other glasses and objects, and they suffer accordingly. Hilton Hotels has recently introduced the Perception range of glassware from US manufacturer Libbey, available through John Artis, as a nominated item for banqueting. So confident is the manufacturer about the durability of its product that each glass comes with a lifetime foot and rim guarantee against chipping.

Ease of storage was a key factor in selecting plates for the banqueting operation at the De Vere Belfry hotel in Wishaw, Warwickshire, though aesthetics were also important. The procurement team settled on Steelite's Bianco plates, which not only delivered on the style requirement but had a distinct advantage for storage purposes. "The key benefit," says Steelite sales manager Conrad Whiteley, "is that it eliminates scuffing from the face of the plate, which is an issue in porcelain and bone china plates where the plate, due to its foot firing, has an unglazed foot."

While durability is always an important consideration when selecting banqueting tableware, this must be balanced against other needs. Style and the creation of the right look, maybe a unique one, are increasingly important. Although sales of plain white tableware are at an all-time high, an element of theatre can be created by mixing and matching these with other items.

As consultant executive chef for Manchester City Football Club, John Benson-Smith aims to serve food that is "simple, cooked well and presented well, to give that wow factor". He likes to be creative with his table settings and will mix up patterns and shapes for added impact. To add the wow factor to the fish and chips he serves at corporate events, Benson-Smith chose the HotWave plates from Villeroy & Boch. Additionally, desserts are served on the company's Palm Glass plates for a contemporary look.

Contrasting classic white with black pieces was the route taken by the Sheraton Skyline hotel at Heathrow, London, when it decided to revamp its banqueting tableware. The hotel enlisted the help of Steelite in transforming a very traditional presentation to a more contemporary product range that would enhance the food presentation. An additional key task was to deliver a product that would reduce breakage and chipping. The ranges eventually chosen were Contour and Sheer, in both white and the contrasting matt-black Dusk finish, the advantage of the latter being that it doesn't show fingermarks.

Flashes of colour have also been used to good effect by La Porcellana. The company was recently asked to come up with ideas for table settings for an event company, using a combination of colour and personalised items. The starting point was a red glass charger plate for impact. They found the right material - a blood-red textured glass - in the square Kerala plate by Italian glassware maker IVV, but the client wanted it round, and to a specific 34mm diameter.

"This was no problem," adds La Porcellana's Colin Harris. "We liaised directly with IVV in Italy to produce a version in the desired shape. We also tweaked the texture to adapt it to the client's needs."

From initial meeting to final delivery was only six weeks. However, while Harris says that it was easy to modify the Kerala pattern quickly, it helped that the client knew in advance what it wanted. "Rather than browse through endless catalogues, it's sometimes easier for the customer to find something near to the ideal and ask us if we can adapt it to fit their exact needs," he says. "If they have a clear idea in advance, they will speed up development time hugely."

The plates were complemented by Gelosia red goblets for water, also from IVV. For the main dishes, the Event range, a modern and angular white porcelain made by Sch"nwald, was customised with the caterer's logo. Coffee was served in Elivero white demi-tasse coffee cups, matched with red saucers, again with the caterer's signature branding.


  • The shift from formal patterned tableware to plainer contemporary styles continues.
  • Simple, informal settings are very much in vogue.
  • Many outlets have adopted Italian-style tableware, with large shallow bowls traditionally used for pasta being used for non-Italian dishes, often served with another plate underneath.
  • Frosted glass plates continue to be popular for serving desserts.
  • There's a lot of mixing and matching of ranges during a meal - for instance, a starter on a square black plate, main course on a classic white plate, and dessert on a green frosted glass plate.

Source: King UK

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