I know a lot about buying plates. It all started when my clients started asking me for input and advice while they were shopping around and I had some opinions. Fortunately for you, I’ve made the mistakes so that you don’t have to.
The following points are the most important things to keep in mind when you buy plates for your restaurant or lodge. Remember – commercial kitchens are completely different from home kitchens. Glassware and crockery are going to get broken and chipped, and cutlery will get lost.
Avoid buying from retail stores.
These plates look fantastic but are usually available for a season or two and aren’t as durable as commercial grade. When these break you can’t replace them, and you end up with a mish-mash of styles or having to replace everything.
Always try to buy from catering and restaurant commercial producers
Restaurant kitchens and dish pits are fast-moving, sometimes frenzied places. You want a plate that can handle a bit of bashing and isn’t going to chip when it gets knocked against a table. You want commercial grade, made for the restaurant industry crockery. There are many companies that specialize in this range of cutlery and crockery
. Most restaurant and catering supply stores will order plates for you. They’ll either have an in-store showroom where you can browse or a selection of catalogues to look through.
Once you’ve made your selection ask for samples. Colours and textures show up differently in print than in reality, so what you think you’ve ordered can be quite different from what is delivered. Sizes also differ due to depth and rims and are definitely worth seeing in person before you’ve dropped some money. Most restaurant and catering supply stores will be happy to arrange samples for you or to have you drop past their showroom to make a selection.
Have a standard, simple plate as your base and supplement with accent plates
If everything on the table attracts the guest’s attention, then nothing does. Unique plates need something uncomplicated to stand out against. I start with a classic white coupe plate and build from there. Rims and ridges can also act as an accent, even when white. You want a good surface area to showcase the food.
Be honest and specific about what you intend to use the plate for when explaining it to your supplier
I once had a supplier tell me I couldn’t buy a plate! I’d chosen a metallic glaze and she correctly said, “Not for food.”
My crockery suppliers can tell me if what I’ve chosen is suitable or not. Certain glazes will scratch over time, which isn’t ideal when you have lots of people using knives on the plates. Porous materials can stain and absorb oil, so shouldn’t be used for fries, dressings, or beetroot. Beware of metal trim paints and glazes. Anything acidic, and citrus (even a lemon dish wash) can tarnish this.
Expect plates to break and keep extras on hand
You know how I told you kitchens are busy? Plates are going to break. Restaurants need stable cash flow to survive and the first few months will be a drain on that. Rather invest in more plates than 1 per setting at the start, than having to dash out during a busy service because you have nothing to serve off. Having backup stock in a storeroom is a huge relief when you pull 4 plates off the pass because they’re all chipped.
Know your materials
Porcelain is usually the most durable, having been fired at the highest temperature. Ceramic and stoneware are usually only fired once and are more fragile because of that. Use a porcelain plate as your simple base plate and supplement with smaller (and less expensive) dip bowls, side plates, and dishes.
Be careful of how you wash and dry porous items like terracotta, earthenware, and wood. Because these are porous, they hold moisture and when they are stacked on top of each other mould can grow. Make sure you have a training procedure in place for new staff on this so it always gets practiced.
Check that it can hold up to extreme washing and heating
If after this you do choose to buy from retail stores, then dishwasher and microwave friendly are non-negotiable. Sure, you might not have a microwave, but the plates are going to be exposed to big heat differences. I’ve had plates crack as I was plating food. It’s annoying and wasteful – and avoidable.
While it’s important to pay attention to look and feel, you don’t want to make mistakes that will cost you in the future. Plates might seem a huge part of what you’re offering but simple changes here and there will save you worry. Set yourself up properly from the beginning and focus on the longer impact of how you spend your budget.