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April 16, 2012 10:52 AM   Subscribe

As a "grown up", which dinnerware (plates, bowls, etc.) do you actually use? Or have, but never use?

My fiance and I have been using a mismatched set of chipped hand-me-downs and castoff dishes for years, but now we're putting together a wedding registry and have realized we're finally ready to get some matching dishes. We found a dinnerware pattern we both like (Apilco Tradition), but we're not actually sure which pieces we should get.

Because we don't want to deal with a separate set of fine china, we plan on using these dishes for everyday and more formal occasions. All the registry "guides" recommend registering for 8 to 12 place settings, but we have the option of registering for individual dishes in sets of 4 instead of in a place setting with a dinner plate, salad plate, soup plate, and cup and saucer, which seems like it might be more practical. Are we going to honestly need/want that many soup plates and cups and saucers? Dinner and salad plates are a given, but the two of us generally use mugs and cereal bowls more often, so we're planning on getting those separately, but will we want the other stuff for company? What about bread and butter plates? Does it make more sense to get extra salad plates to use for serving dessert instead? Will people freak out if we register for a set of 4 salad plates instead of a full place setting?

I do cook a lot and like to entertain, but rarely in a super formal capacity, and I'll likely be moving in the not so distant future and don't know exactly how much room I'll have for dish storage. I just hate the idea of getting a bunch of beautiful dishes and then having them languish in a box for 40 years.
posted by Diagonalize to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dinner plates and whatever you put salad on (I use salad bowls, but a lot of people prefer plates).

Dessert plates! If you're having company, you'll probably use those more than the dinner plates, because there are more occasions where you'll serve some cake or a snack than a full dinner.

Platters and serving bowls. You can use other plates for just about anything, but if you don't have a nice big platter for a roast or something to serve potatoes or veggies in, you're out of luck.
posted by xingcat at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2012

We didn't register for china, to some dismay of our older relatives, but we got some nice pieces in white anyway and we use them all the time when throwing dinner parties. Big hits, especially for dinner parties:

a big bowl of the sort that you might fill with pasta and meatballs
another one for salad
a soup tureen
one or two platters for roasts or other main dishes

They happen to go with the plates we already had, and are a little bit nicer than everyday without being so fussy that we'd never use them.
posted by gauche at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2012

Pasta plates/bowls and noodle bowls.

Noodle bowls for noodles, soup, cereal, stews.
Pasta plates for pasta, curries, chinese foods and anything else with a lot of sauce.

Flat dinner plates are rarely used in our household now that we have the above.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:01 AM on April 16, 2012

We have dinner/dessert plates, mugs, and bowls for 12, to go along with 2 large serbing bowls and 1 large serving plate. The serving stuff comes out when we have people over, but we usually run out of regular plates/bowls because the dishes just don't get run often enough.

We don't have platters for our mugs. That just seems silly.
posted by theichibun at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2012

As a "grown up", which dinnerware (plates, bowls, etc.) do you actually use? Or have, but never use?

The extra dinnerware sets from my sister's wedding. We use all of it because we only took what we needed.

Will people freak out if we register for a set of 4 salad plates instead of a full place setting?

I doubt it!

We use large plates, a few small plates (dessert), about 4 cereal bowls, 4 pasta bowls/plate things, a couple of large bowls (salads, baking). Oh we bought some "salsa" bowls that we use to put sauces or nuts in. That's about it. I've never owned or wanted cup and saucer sets. We just use mugs and glasses. but we're pretty basic.

I'd say we have enough dinnerware for about 8 people.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother-in-law loves to buy us dinnerware so we have complete set of dinner plates, small plates, cups/saucers, salad bowls, soup bowls and ice cream bowls (I wish I wasn't kidding about that last one).

The things that get used the least are the cups/saucers and the soup bowls. The soup bowls are just so wide that we end up eating soup out of the salad bowls. We rarely use the ice cream bowls for ice cream (we usually eat that out of smaller ramekins) but the ice cream bowls are useful for storing things in the fridge. This is because they have a relatively small diameter with tall sides.

I never use the cups and saucers for their intended purposes (we usually serve coffee and tea in bigger vessels). The cups however can be used for ice cream, your mise-en-place while you cook and if you are serving very large number of courses: a small portion of soup. The saucers only get used on the rare ocassion where we run out of plates in between dish washings.
posted by mmascolino at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2012

Pretty plates! I like your idea of doubling salad plates rather than getting separate bread plates. Much easier to use and store, especially given that some will break :-)

I would actually skip saucers and cups - 98% of people seem to prefer a mug, even following a formal dinner party. I would get the soup bowls though, since most multi-course meals would start with one, along with a few large serving bowls.

Personally, I would get different sets of mugs, cereal bowls, and noodle bowls. Since they wouldn't be for formal use they don't have to match, and it's a nice opportunity to introduce fun patterns, pretty handmade sets, that sort of thing. But of course YMMV.
posted by susanvance at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I never use cups and saucers. I'm a mugs-from-places-I've-been kind of gal.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My china is inherited (it was originally my great-grandmother's) and there are so many little things I never use. Back in that day, there were such things as asparagus plates! If you're registering, here are my thoughts:

I rarely use my cups and saucers - I'm very much a "drink tea from a huge mug" person and most of the people I know are the same. Not to mention that I, and many others I know, don't want to drink coffee in the evening (thank you, insomnia). However, I've used the cups to hold ice cream, mousse and other desserts.

I never bother using separate salad and bread plates or separate salad or soup bowls. I prefer one multi-purpose set of bowls and one multi-purpose set of smaller plates. If I had to name essentials I'd say: one set of large plates, one set of small plates, one set of bowls, cups and saucers optional.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2012

We also never use the cups and saucers. For our every day dinner ware (plain white like yours), we ended up getting a lot of extra bowls - we use them for cereal in the morning, and salads, and soups, and with a kid now, a lot of other stuff. My husband also likes the large serving bowls for eating large portions of stuff out of.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2012

We registered for plates, pasta bowls, cereal bowls, and appetizer plates for 12. We also registered for 6 mugs (not teacups). The thought process there was that we wanted enough things to be able to serve a nice meal for both our families together, but we also didn't want a ton of stuff we were never going to use. I think we did a good job of achieving that balance. It might help to think about what kinds of food you make the most, and therefore what you'd make the best use of. For instance, 12 mugs would have been truly excessive for us; in the unlikely event that we really need more than 6, we'll improvise (i.e., pull out the other mis-matched mugs we'll likely acquire). Everything else we chose can serve multiple uses—cereal bowls for ice cream and soup, pasta bowls for rice-based dishes with thin sauces, appetizer plates for breads, snacks, and desserts, and regular plates for serving certain snacks, like crackers and soft cheeses.

Definitely get some serving bowls. You'll thank yourself later. And skip saucers, unless they're something you'd want to use every day. For me, those fall into the realm of things that just collect dust.
posted by divisjm at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

That "pattern" (or lack thereof) is an excellent choice!

Here is what we actually use in my grown-up house: dinner plates, side plates, big bowls, and little stainless bowls. I have 12 of each of these, not because I could ever possibly fit 12 people into my house to eat, but because I figure eventually many of them will break but even if they discontinue the line, I'll be left with 6, which is how many people could fit at my table.

I also have 4 pasta bowls and 8 white mugs. I have a white tea pot, and cream and sugar set, though I hardly ever use the creamer and sugar bowl. Sometimes I wish I had nice china tea cups, but not enough to find a place for them in my kitchen.

I have various serving platters, but they're colourful and don't match the set. I figure these I can swap out whenever I want to liven things up. I have a gravy boat for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And stainless steel serving bowls like the little stainless bowls. (I never got married, so my stuff is from Ikea!)

As for the registry, people won't care. Maybe I'm just a jerk, but to be honest, when I'm looking at a registry, my first consideration is my price range. I like to buy something I would like, but I wouldn't care whether it was 8 dishes or 2 place settings.
posted by looli at 11:23 AM on April 16, 2012

Cups and saucers are useless in my life. We drink all hot beverages from stoneware mugs, except for espresso, which goes in little Italian espresso cups my parents got for their wedding. All of our cups and saucers live in the basement in a box.

12 dinner plates and 12 side plates seems like a must. If the soup plates work for you (I think they're ridiculous and I like soup in a bowl, but I'm weird) go for them as well.

Platters are a great thing to register for, because they're a bit pricey.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:35 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

We have dinner plates, small salad plates, soup bowls, and mugs, but the two "wierd" choices we made that I don't regret at all are rice bowls and pasta bowls. We got Denby Jet, which is rugged enough for everyday, but fancy enough for a dinner party.

Mind you, I inherited my grandmother's fancy china tea cups and saucers, so I have no particular need for teacups.
posted by LN at 11:37 AM on April 16, 2012

Cups and saucers, never. (Well, I'll occasionaly use a coffee/tea-cup for ice cream, but only to force myself to limit it). We drink coffee and tea from mugs, exclusively. -- On preview, what Sidhedevil said.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2012

Oh, I should also mention, we got 12 of everything, but that's because my side of the family alone makes for 8 around the dinner table. I'd say think about a holiday, and how many people you would reasonably have over for, say, Thanksgiving dinner, and go with that as an estimate of how many place settings to get.
posted by LN at 11:41 AM on April 16, 2012

Mugs are definitely preferable to cups and saucers, unless you and everyone you are likely to have over for dinner is oh-so-formal. Setting a table with separate salad plates, bread-and-butter plates, etc. makes for either a very crowded table or wasting a lot of time removing and resetting pieces as the meal progresses. Either way, ugh!

I would find the soup plates intriguing since they would be excellent for one-dish meals (alone or with company) like stew, pasta, and other things that have a lot of sauce or liquid. Of course, the cereal bowls would take up less room in the cabinet.

As to all the little plates, I recommend taking a look at the size of each before you decide. Think about the things you're likely to put on them - sandwiches, pieces of cake/pie, maybe an appetizer - and gauge the size accordingly.

Serving pieces will always come in handy, even if you only use them when entertaining. But since your chosen dinnerware is white, you can always supplement it with pieces later on even if your pattern has been discontinued.

We always opt for service for 12; not because we ever serve twelve people at once, but because you may want to use some of the pieces while preparing the meal and sometimes it's just too inconvenient to run and empty the dishwasher before starting food preparation. The pieces we use all the time, we ended up getting a few extras to cover us through the inevitable breakage.
posted by DrGail at 11:45 AM on April 16, 2012

I have beautiful colorful china that was a gift from old family friends, another family friend gave me white bone chine; I use that for holidays. I have pretty dishes I bought at a yard sale years ago, and they're in storage. I have glass dishes that I use all the time, as well as enamel dishes from yard sales. The enamelware is light and sturdy, and I have arthritic hands. Bowls and mugs break, so I have mismatched oriental-style rice bowls, and plain glass bowls, and Polish hand-painted mugs; I use mugs and bowls for most everything. There are often nice sets of dishes at Goodwill, from vintage to modern, so you can always fill in. I have had to avoid that section of Goodwill - so many lovely shiny things.

I really enjoy having a few really nice dishes to take things to a potluck: one is perfect for quiche or casserole, a giant ceramic bowl that's great for a big salad, a platter for roasted veg. or anything, and people have given me pretty pie plates, because I make pie.

I can serve 12 for holiday dinner; coordinated, not totally matching, and another 12 or more casually. That's more people than I'm likely to fit in my house comfortably. I'll be giving the stored dishes to a friend as a wedding gift, I suspect.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on April 16, 2012

It really depends what kind of meals you are most likely to serve people and what you like to eat daily.

Get either the salad plates or the bread and butter plates, not both. Personally I think you'd get most use out of these for breakfast bagels and toast...the salad plates could be too big to serve as a side plate so look before you decide on this one.

The soup bowls have multiple uses including as pasta bowls so I'd get those for anything with a lot of sauce including Chinese and also stews. You could even use them as small serving dishes for sides if you want to spread dishes around the table a bit. Personally I'd only use them for soup if that's the main course because otherwise people are too full to enjoy the rest of the meal and unless you are skimping on the following course that may defeat the object.

Get many, many of the cereal bowls - they seem to be small enough to be universally useful ranging from cereal bowl to desert dish, to small servings of soups or for dips and nibbles as well as storing things.

Leave the cups and saucers unless you want to use them to serve soup...
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:15 PM on April 16, 2012

We use Fiestaware. The nice thing is that you can get it in either place settings, or you can get a multitude of different pieces and in a whole lot of colors. It's extremely durable; some of what we have is 30-40 years old. You can collect the colors you want or continue adding as you go along. The colors make it great for either everyday use or special occasions.

As for what we use, we keep eight plates, four bowls, a few saucers, and we keep the coffee cups that came with the set for company. As far as coffee mugs, those will often find their way to you one way or another. Drinking glasses - you can get sets of those in huge selections pretty much anywhere.
posted by azpenguin at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

When determining the number of place settings, add one more to what you think you might otherwise need, if you have a bit of extra storage space somewhere. Then, when you inevitably break one of your dinner plates, you don't have to go hunting for an out-of-production pattern somewhere, you've got the spare in your basement.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:36 PM on April 16, 2012

I say get 12 settings. Plates stack and don't take up that much extra room. I regularly (like monthly) entertain 8 to 10 people, and it's nice to have a couple extra dinner plates to use as, say, serving plates for asparagus. But like you, that's also my everyday china and now that we're a family of four, I can serve six people at dinner (say we have friends over) and still have enough plates for dinner the next night and a couple spare. I run the dishwasher full to capacity with 10-12 settings a LOT. (I'd run it even more, except my kids eat lunch of fun kiddie plates.)

I'm not sure about the bowls ... my everyday china just has one type of bowl so we just use that for all bowl-like things.

We another one that doesn't use our cups-and-saucers, since nobody really drinks coffee or tea after meals anymore, do they? But we have them. I keep four of them in the kitchen, for the rare occasions we DO use them, and the other 8 are stored in a thing like this in the basement.

I think for entertaining what I most often am in want of is larger bowls for serving. I also like to buy festive platters, serving bowls, etc., which can make your table seasonal or fun or whatever. (For example, I have Corelle's Callaway for everyday and I have serving pieces from Pfaltzgraff's Winterberry for the Christmas season. My kids get excited when the Christmas dishes come out but I don't have to, like, switch out the entire set of dishes and STORE them. Plus I can get dedicated serving pieces for things I ONLY serve at Christmas and not feel guilty since I'm only storing a few Christmas things.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:03 PM on April 16, 2012

Another anecdote: My wife and I were (and are) happy with our mis-matched thriftstore and hand-me-down plates. We have a combination of two wedding sets from decades past, complete with silver edging. Both my mother and my wife's mother questioned our lack of place settings on our wedding registry, but we stuck to our plan and got other things we wanted or needed.

Our reasoning was two-fold: 1) between the two of us, we had a complete array of plates, bowls and silverware, so it seemed wasteful to replace it, and 2) we'll never stress out if anything breaks, because it was never a formal set to begin with.

We have dinner plates and two tiers of smaller plates. We also have bowls of various sizes. Our silverware is the most matching of anything, but that's because it's sturdy stuff my wife bought, and we haven't lost (m)any pieces.

But if you're looking to put something on your registry and you'd like new place-settings, you could go for a few similar patterns in sets of four. That way, if you lose some, you can add a few more of another similar style, and never worry about your original set being expensive to replace. The set you picked are plain enough that you'll always be able to find something that mostly matches the style.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2012

Get extra salad or luncheon plates. Those were the ones we broke the most of and needed to replace.
posted by vespabelle at 2:16 PM on April 16, 2012

Twice as many dessert/salad plates to standard dinner plates (i.e. 16 small and 8 large) is a nice idea, I think. Personally, I use the small plates far more often. Formally, if you plan on serving a three course meal - salad, entree, dessert - you'll need those small plates for both the salad and the dessert, so having twice as many makes sense.

I've never really seen anyone use the coffee mugs/tea cups that accompany a set of dishes outside of the holidays. And if you're only going to use them at the holidays , why not have something more fun?

Other thoughts: get 1.5x the number of wine glasses since you're nearly guarenteed to break those easily. I've always bought 1.5-2x as many teaspoons as forks and knives as I inevitably go through those at twice the rate, I've never figured out quite how.
posted by maryr at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2012

Oh! If your set has a matching water pitcher, consider getting that. It's sort of a treat - you aren't likely to buy it for yourself - it's wedding-registry-ish, and it can be surprisingly handy when guests are over and everyone wants water with dinner.
posted by maryr at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2012

This doesn't look like it would be an issue with your pattern, but just in case-- I love my everyday stoneware, but I discovered after buying it that the larger bowls and plates don't fit well in my dishwasher. It's an oversized set, so the salad plates are pretty much big enough to eat dinner on, and the smaller bowls for cereal or soup, but the days when we want to use the bigger plates and bowls require some strategizing around dishwasher loading. Just something I wish I'd thought of before picking the pattern...
posted by instamatic at 4:34 PM on April 16, 2012

Have Lenox stoneware from the 80's. Heavy duty stuff. Love the cereal bowls and the mugs. Bought a couple of mid-size white Corelle bowls for serving pieces. I think if I had to buy dishes today I would go with Corelle plain white or Pottery Barn plain white. Fiesta-ware does fascinate me though. :-) TJ Maxx or Marshall's, or stores like that, usually have nice glasses of all types, and not very expensive. Nowadays for entertaining I'm so horribly casual that sturdy paper plates are the norm.
posted by PJMoore at 5:46 PM on April 16, 2012

For what it's worth, if you're looking to use this through your family life, that will change a lot as you age. If you ever want to host a dinner party or do big family holiday meals, you may well be grateful to have the complete set. When we do Thanksgiving or Easter, we use ever piece of our wedding china - tea cups, saucers, tea pot, platters, every size plate, everything. I would get full service for 8 and whatever else you decide.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:20 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our daily china is Fiestaware - we got 10 sets 15 years ago, and I've never used the cups and saucers. What we have run out of are the smaller plates, the dessert/bread plates -- we're down to 4 -- so get extras of those (2x what you think you'll need is a good start).

what I have now, and never would've thought to ask for 15 years ago, is a set of luncheon plates -- smaller versions of the dinner plates. now that we have kids, that's the size of plate that works best for supper every night, and they're a nicer size for salads if that's the starter course for dinner. we use both larger soup bowls, wide-brimmed soup plates, and small bowls as the meal demands (I'm always looking for more small bowls, it seems).

what I like about my Fiesta is that I can fill in with vintage as needed, including serving pieces. I've also added art pottery mugs, glass serving bowls, and so on. If you think anyone will freak about your not registering for Wedgwood, you could register for some really special patterned serving pieces or crystal. WS does some beautiful hand-painted platters that are great for serving thanksgiving turkey, etc. Mine hangs on the wall behind my stove and serves as kitchen art, too.
posted by hms71 at 7:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh - and someone gave us this outrageous footed silver water pitcher - it's kind of hilariously formal for our house, but I love it, and it's extremely useful when we have special dinners - for some reason none of the glass pitchers I've purchased for the purpose have poured as well
posted by hms71 at 7:09 PM on April 16, 2012

I have always been glad of my plain white Corelle dishes because (1) you can get the plates anywhere, it's very convenient for adding more holiday guests etc (2) they are perfectly neutral so can be dressed up or down (with chargers/nice napkins and so forth) and (3) they are thin and light; the cupboard holds lots of them. If you eat saucy stuff (pasta with sauce, rice with curry etc) I recommend the 15 oz pasta bowls (not the 20 oz ones, which are more of a serving dish.)

How many to get of each thing - that depends what your habits are. Do you (for instance) like to host a holiday where people eat soup? Then you ought to have as many soup bowls as plates. Otherwise, maybe not. I like having salad plates to eat small meals off, it's that much less volume in the sink/dishwasher afterwards; but if that's not your habit then they may be extraneous (I'm sure nobody uses them just for salad.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:58 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth (we don't entertain hardly ever, so this is just what gets used for daily household use): I/we actually use salad plates all the time--for breakfast, lunch, and myself and my teenage daughter also often use them even in lieu of dinner plates at dinner time. Also if you don't get cups/saucers, it's nice to have a size smaller plates as well--so like dessert plates. Finally, we use the small bowls also a lot, although that might be one thing you don't really need 12 of.
posted by drlith at 3:03 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, your own habits matter more than some abstraction of grown-up behavior -- for example, we got 8 place settings overall, but then piled on extra bowls (we eat a lot of cereal, and also use them for some salads and pasta), and similarly we got way more teaspoons and small forks than all the rest of the flatware. It's good to have enough place settings that you could actually have a dinner party if you wanted, but otherwise get the pices you imagine using a lot. (I do agree that small plates end up getting a lot of use though. Lunch, snacks, desserts, blah blah.)

Least used, for my money: formal coffee cups with saucers. Get mugs, that will match your dishes for the aforementioned sit-down dinner but also be useful for your everyday coffee and tea around the house (mixed in with your inevitable mixed mug mutts). Also, we never use the cute covered butter dish we got, since the plastic one that lives in the fridge door is easier. Also fun is to register for a few nice pans -- we use our griddle all the time, and a midsized sauce pan can be fabulous.
posted by acm at 6:58 AM on April 17, 2012

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