Advice for buying new dinnerware / flatware?
December 11, 2005 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Buying my first set of Flatware / Dinnerware (and chopsticks). Advice? Recommendations?

So I'm making that big step. Buying Flatware/Dinnerware/what have you. I have lots of questions.

First, a bit about me: Male. Dish newbie with completely mismatching "sets" right now--handmedowns from mom and garagesales. Mostly modern furniture in my home. I like subtle; I like unique.

1. What should I look for? (Designs/materials/"features")
2. What should I avoid?
3. There are some things I NEVER use (for instance, I never use mugs). Should I just not buy those things? It seems like a waste to spend money (and cabinet space) on something I literally never use. However, I know I should also think of the people I have as guests... but I still can't think of a reasonable scenario for having those things. (e.g. there is never coffee in my house and has never been). My worry (though not a huge one) is that I buy a set and then it stops being made and I want the missing items later.
4. Are there places online to get good stuff? I'll take any links you got but ones that ship to Canada are preferred.
4b. Places specifically in Toronto you would recommend?
5. I am having a dinner party next week... should I just suck it up and buy now or will I save huge waiting till Boxing Day?
6. I'm sure that it's probably possible to spend anything from dozens of dollars to thousands. At what $ point do you start making the most for your money and at what point are you just spending needlessly?
7. Regarding chopsticks, I found these online last night and want to go look at them in person. Any advice particular to chopsticks or suggestions for other sites/stores with nice designs?
8. Anything else you can think of I should consider?
posted by Manhasset to Shopping (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
re: 7.
Chopsticks are actually different from culture to culture. Japanese are tapered. Korean are often stainless. Chinese are often not tapered. It doesn't matter from a functional perspective as they all work the same, but if you generally cook or eat one kind of Asian food, then perhaps it would make sense to get the kind typical for that region.

As to cost or type or style- whatever you prefer. I wouldn't pay too much for chopsticks personally. Something simple and reasonable sounds fine to me.

Also, you may want to look for cooking chopsticks which are often 2X in length (or longer), and often fatter in width, for cooking. They're very handy for various cooking of Asian foods. I like the tapered bamboo kind. They should be very cheap at your local Asian goods store.
posted by gen at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2005

i can't suggest any place in toronto, but i would recommend hitting up a restaurant supply store. what you get won't be unique, but it will be durable and easily replaceable.
posted by jimw at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2005

The ubiquitous Swedish retailer is good for basics (at least it is here in the UK), delivers online, and does so quite cheaply. I would consider bulking up with some of that at first and gradually acquiring the more expensive stuff along the way.

As is Muji for Chopsticks.

Habitat is a bit more expensive but might provide stuff you are looking for. I dont know how much it costs to ship to Canada though...

I would say its better to have a bulk set of regular dishware (including mugs) and complement with bits and pieces as you go rather than trying to buy bespoke originals at the outset.

The one thing that I would never do that with though is saucepans and pots. Best advice I've heard on buying pots and pans is spend as much as you can afford. They will last you a life time if you do. Same goes for kitchen knives.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2005

The one recomendation I have is be sure that you actually hold the flatware in your hands and mimic how you would actually use the utensil in your eating tasks. Having the best materials, and the most attractive design won't matter at all if the things don't feel good in your hands.

As for mugs, my wife likes to use them for serving ice cream, so there are alternative uses for them.
posted by mmascolino at 8:24 AM on December 11, 2005

Some of the advice and store names from this thread on kitchenware supply shops in Toronto could be useful.

Where to go? There are various restaurant supply places in Toronto on King, just east of Yonge (e.g. Dinetz, at 231 King East) and on Queen West, plus the outlet places near Yorkdale Mall are a good bet.

For dishes: if you really want a complete set, try the 365 collection from Ikea or any collection that looks good and is at your price point. If you can afford Royal Albert, go for it. But I highly recommend open stock, open stock, open stock. Get large plates, bread plates, maybe cereal and/or soup bowls in durable white stoneware. If one breaks, replace it without replacing the entire set. The styles used in open stock are usually pretty stable over the years. We've used the open stock at Dinetz for close to 15 years.

Then go nuts on mugs/cups (if you want them), serving bowls and accent pieces. Go to Goodwill, William Ashley sales, the AGO gift shop, or any other place where you can find one or two or more non-matching pieces that you love. You may feel aesthetically adventurous enugh to go for pieces that appear not to match at all, letting the base white pieces tie everything together. Or you may decide on a single common colour, like cobalt blue, and look for wildly disparate pieces that still have that colour in common.

Mugs in a dinnerware set will probably break your heart. It's rare that I've seen a dinnerware collection I liked that also had good mugs. Don't bother. I have a few cheap and attractive mugs for drinking tea at my desk. Company gets coffee and tea served in various tea and saucer sets I inherited from my Mum. No two sets are the same. If they break -- so what? Beautiful stuff is meant to be used, not hidden away.

Flatware: within reason, relatively big and heavy is good, relatively small and light seems cheap. As people have said, handle the flatware. As long as you like the look and they don't feel flimsy, they're fine.

Placemats: choose whatever you like. There's a Asian themed housewares shop on the west side of Yonge, just north of Bloor, near the Cookbook Store, that has some bamboo placemats, very cheap, in various colours.
posted by maudlin at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2005

Have you guys got Target up in Canada (their headquarters is in Minneapolis, which is practically Canada)? I bought my stainless flatware and glassware there, and am perfectly happy with it. Not expensive, either. Almost all of my ceramics is stuff my wife's picked up at antique stores and estate sales--there are probably three different patterns in there, but they're all close enough (and all very common) that you don't really notice.

For ceramics, if you get plain white stuff, you don't need to worry about matching one piece to another. It'll all sort of go together.
posted by adamrice at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2005

I have to wave my pom poms for Fiestawear. Why do I love it so much? Versatile, inexpensive, and always available. You can buy it in sets or you can buy single pieces. You can go monochromatic or you can use any number of color combinations. You can get lots of different serveware and you can even buy flatwear. You can buy half-priced seconds or you can go over to eBay and buy the expensive "collector" pieces that are the colors that have been discontinued.

Does it work in all households? Not if you are fine dining on damask tableclothes with old family silver and crystal stemware. But for most households it is simple enough (no pattern-- just solid color) and sturdy enough (Mine have been dropped on the floor with no chipping or cracking) to see you through years of singlehood, marriage, and parenting.

As for chopsticks. I would buy several different inexpensive sets-- one will turn out to be your favorite and then you can buy more of the same.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2005

Have you guys got Target up in Canada

I don't think so -- at least I don't recall seeing any in or around Toronto or along 401/402 to Sarnia/Port Huron -- but they can probably order from Target online, or just take a day trip to Buffalo / Niagara, if they really want to.

But I don't think Target has much that's special or proprietary as far as flatware goes, except maybe for the obligatory Michael Graves stuff.

You might look in Costco, or a nearby department store, or even Crappy Tire. Or of course Ikea. Ikea is probably going to be better about having the same line of flatware or plates in 5 years when you want more then Target will.

Look for something that's 18/8 or 18/10 if you want it to last ~forever.


If you're a young dude, you might think about getting something cheap, hip, and funky for now, and then you can spend a couple-few years subconsciously looking around at flatware and plates and whatnot to figure out what you really and truly like, and then blow a chunk of change on that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2005

Well, apparently Pier 1 has stores in Canada, so I can tell you that buying dishes from there is inexpensive, and they look good, and they're probably going to tres simple to replace if you need to do that. This is the set that we got, and we really like it. We also considered , but as you can see they are chronically out of it. You can also get "sushi sets" from them, and they're pretty cool, but the chopsticks that come with them are admittedly cheap and way too slick for me to use, and I'm mediumly proficient with chopsticks. Anyway, on the dinnerware, I find that it's easy to mix-and-match with the plates that I've got, and they're not too casual nor are they too formal.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:14 PM on December 11, 2005

Is your furniture modern or contemporary? If it's modern, you might want to continue that into the kitchen and find a nice set of wood-handled flatware, something like the Dansk Fjord teak-handled flatware (not that I am suggesting you spend $960 on flatware). I love wood-handled flatware -- it's simple, stylish, and unique. Where to find it in Toronto, I don't know, but I am a kitchen-store junkie, so if I come across some in any of my wanderings, I'll be sure to let you know.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:32 PM on December 11, 2005

Just FYI, the old disco'd Fiestaware colors were so very bright because they were mostly glazed with something colored with yellow cake or some variant, which is TENR (technologically enhanced naturally radiation, if I remember the exact phrase.). That's a sort of intermediate step on the way to refining uranium. People ate off them for years and lived to tell the tale, but you wouldn't want to put acid foods on there and store them in the fridge, say, for any length of time. The acid does leach radioactive chemistry into the food if left on there a while. That's why they don't make yellow, orange and red anymore, at least out of that.

< /alarmist warning
posted by unrepentanthippie at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2005

Try looking at restaurant supply shops. Good stuff, cheap, and bulletproof.
posted by frogan at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2005

Kitchen Stuff Plus is pretty good value- and style-wise, and from the looks of their website, they're having a clearance sale.

A quick look around suggests that not everything available in-store is available on-line, but there are a number of locations around the GTA that you can visit. They have open-stock flatware, as well as flatware sets packaged for one to allow for flexibility.

Their dinnerware is also fairly simple and modern--I quite like this set, which includes superfluous mugs, but you can find other uses for them, as suggested above.
posted by phoenixc at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2005

adamrice - No Target in Canada.

I've bought most of my dishes from Ikea, along with most other just-out-of-school-first-apartment people -- it's cheap, simple and good to look at and the quality is respectable.

If you don't want to be like, oh, every other first-apartment having, just out-of-university kid, restaurant supply shops aren't a bad idea, buy some stuff there and get accent pieces elsewhere, like maudlin suggeseted.

Don't be afraid to not have everything match though. I don't think anyone cares about stuff like that anymore.
posted by SoftRain at 2:54 PM on December 11, 2005

I second Fiestaware emphatically. They are attractive, you can mix things up and get a couple different colors, and they don't have weird patterns that you have to worry about matching to tablecloths, etc. that you may want to buy in the future. Even if you don't go with that brand, I highly recommend going with a solid color over anything with a pattern - right now I'm stuck with my mom's hand-me-down dishes and I can't buy chargers or placemats because everything clashes horribly (what a sad tale, I know).

On preview, matching and not clashing are different! :)
posted by gatorae at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2005

Thanks, all!

I hit Dinetz today but it was closed. Looked good thru the window. Will return later in the week.

The Feistawear doesn't look up my alley, but thanks for the recommedations.

I did pick up some of the chopsticks like in my link. They were $4 per pair and that included a little holder. Seemed reasonable to me.
posted by Manhasset at 6:49 PM on December 11, 2005

Okay, an update:

I went to Dinetz today and it was a disaster. Though I did buy a crepe pan for $30 (down from $50), I didn't buy anything else. I didn't find the affordable stuff to be too nice and the nice stuff was crazy expensive.

However, that's not why I won't return. The staff there were very rude. One guy dismissed my questions completely and just said "no" and kept walking.

Then, some woman (an employee) started screeching at the the other staff at the top of her lungs: "Don't tell me I didn't FUCKING DO IT! I FAXED THE SHIT THE SAME FUCKING DAY YOU GAVE IT TO ME."

"Okay, I'm sorry."

"Well don't tell me I didn't FUCKING DO IT!"

And on and on she screeched.

It was unbelievable.

I then went to Pottery Barn and stuff was so so. I also hit the Bay and found staff very unresponsive but they had a large selection. I almost bought a set of dishes but thought I'd try a few other places.

I then hit Caban and saw the Loft series of dishes which I really liked but they're upwards of $80 per setting. Arrgh. They're really nice though.

So, in short, I'm still thinking about it. :)

But I'll probably go with the Caban (though in principle I don't like shopping there too much) unless I see something else by Friday.

Thanks again!
posted by Manhasset at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2005

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