Deciding which type of dinnerware to feature in your foodservice operation can be daunting. There’s just so many options to choose from and several questions to ask. Will it coordinate with the current setup? Can it enhance the dining room ambiance? Will it withstand heavy use, or will it need replacing frequently? 

At Central Restaurant Products, we offer hundreds of different types, styles, designs, and patterns from some of the most popular manufacturers of commercial dinnerware in the world. When shopping for dinnerware, you’re likely to come across the construction material in the features, but what does this really mean? 

Not all plates, platters or bowls are created equal. Even though ceramic and plasticware are the two primary umbrella categories, not all plastic dinnerware will guarantee the same degree of durability. How will the construction of your dinnerware impact your overall bottom line? What’s the benefit of opting for a melamine collection, say, than traditional China? What’s the difference between all the different types of plastic materials? Shopping for new dinnerware can be loads of fun, but it can also be stressful if you’re not fully aware of the quality you may be receiving. Here, we seek to shed some light.

Ceramic and Fine Chinaware 

Traditional chinaware is made of a durable ceramic material that is biscuit-fired at high temperatures and then glazed fired at a lower temperature. There are two common types of china dinnerware that you’re likely to come across in your search. 

A good test to see if your existing chinaware is porcelain or bone is to hold it up to a light fixture. If there is no trace of light shining through, you are most likely holding a piece of everyday porcelain ceramic dinnerware. Chinaware with the added ox bone ash element will allow some light to shine through. 

High end chinaware is often ideal for upscale, fine dining establishments. Nice china can set the mood of the dining room, enhancing the theme, presentation, and creating personality. It holds many benefits for the front and back of the house, acting as a canvas ready for the chef’s masterpiece. 

China that’s 100% vitrified works to prevent crazing and cracking that lead to bacterial growth over time, thus enhancing sanitation and food safety efforts. Fully vitrified china means that the dinnerware was fired at a lower temperature, coming out stronger and thinner than non-vitrified china. Vitrified dinnerware does not absorb water so there’s less risk of expanding and contracting, working to prevent accidental breakage and ensuring longevity of the product life.

Porcelain China 

This material is constructed out of a combination of rock minerals and clay including feldspar, quartz, and kaolin. Porcelain chinaware is usually the less expensive china solution and has a noticeably heavier weight than bone china; however, the brittle composition usually results in more frequent chipping, thus needing replacing more often.

Bone China

This is made out of a more finely grated composition, still including the same minerals as porcelain china, but with added ox bone ash which enhances its durability. Fine bone china is often considered to create a more upscale, fine dining appearance. It’s thinner and lighter than its porcelain sibling but runs at a higher price point. However, with its stronger durability, it will need replacing far less frequently. A classic case of “you get what you pay for”.

Earthenware and Stoneware

These are two other types of porcelain dinnerware in the same family as China. Stoneware is durable and often trendier, featuring a stone exterior. It’s unique and trendy presentation makes it ideal for restaurants serving Asian cuisine, bistros, farm to table, etc. It’s either semi or fully vitrified and safe for microwave or dishwasher use. Earthenware, on the other hand, is much less durable, a result of a quick and simple firing process. It is made of non-vitrified clay and less expensive than stoneware. It also offers excellent heat induction while adding a rustic feel to the ambiance. It is recommended to be hand washed only.

As we’ve discussed, some china is more durable than others. When shopping for your next china pattern, pay attention to whether or not the china can be used in the microwave or oven. A good determinant on the durability is whether it comes with a manufacturer warranty. Many top brands offer a one-year no-chip warranty. International Tableware offers a Five-Year no-chip warranty exclusively at Central! A manufacturer warranty is typically a good determinant of durability, as it can be read that the manufacturer themselves have strong faith in their work. 

Our top chinaware manufacturers include: 

It’s important to note, however, that no piece of China is break-resistant. Most, but not all, chinaware is dishwasher safe. This is something you will want to verify in your research. Some china feature with glazed patterns that are not recommended for use in a dishwasher. Read on to learn more about dinnerware solutions that are virtually unbreakable. 

Melamine Dinnerware

Melamine dinnerware rose in popularity in the 1940s for use during dinner parties. Melamine is a chemical that is used to make hard plastics and is therefore extremely durable and typically offered at a much lower price point than traditional chinaware. Some high-end melamine dinnerware even replicates the look and feel of chinaware, thus offering the best of both worlds. Given its notable durability, many melamine manufacturers will boast that their products are “virtually unbreakable”!

Melamine is a great solution in many different types of commercial foodservice operations. Because it can withstand the rigors of day to day use, commercial melamine dinnerware is often seen in school cafeterias, hospitals, or other types of institutions with hectic, fast-paced rushes. Like china, melamine dinnerware also comes in quite the array of styles and patterns, with top brands working around the clock to define new trends.   

Though melamine is difficult to break, instances of chipping have occurred if not properly cared for or maintained. However, melamine dinnerware won’t shatter if accidentally dropped, like most types of china. Most melamine will also be able to withstand high heat, many types up to 212°F. It’s an insulator, not a conductor, meaning it can maintain temperatures longer than other types of plastic dinnerware. It also stays cool to the touch when serving hot foods.

Generally speaking, melamine dinnerware is dishwasher safe and dries quickly, so users won’t wait long before they’re able to re-enter the dinnerware back into the food serving assembly. In addition to their durable “break-resistant” advertisements, melamine is also considered to be scratch and stain resistant.

Though dishwasher safe, melamine is not recommended for use in the microwave or oven, as opposed to some of their ceramic counterparts. Even though it’s capable of withstanding high heats, it should never be heated while in contact with food. Proper cleaning and care of melamine dinnerware ensures longevity. View our Melamine Dinnerware Buying Guide for more information on melamine.

Our Top Melamine Dinnerware Brands: 

It’s easy to talk in general terms, but like all types of dinnerware, not all melamine is the same. It’s best to fully research all the features of a specific style before committing. At Central, you can request a free sample of many of our dinnerware selections to see for yourself prior to purchasing.

But Wait… Is Plastic Safe?

A common concern with melamine and other plasticware are the chemicals used to create hard, durable plastic. These chemicals are extensively researched and tested to assure their fit and safe for dining. BPA is one of the most common chemicals used in plastic construction.

  • What is BPA?

A concern many have when it comes to melamine products is the amount of BPA they may contain. BPA, which is an acronym for Bisphenol A, is a chemical that manufacturers started using to construct certain plastics and resins starting in the 1950s. In the 1990s, consumers began questioning whether BPA was safe with many studies trying to link it to health problems. The FDA has since concluded that low levels are not harmful to humans. However, many products containing BPA, such as baby bottles, have been banned in the United States. Some melamine products on the market do still contain small traces of BPA in their construction, while others proudly exclaim they are 100% BPA free.

  • NSF Certification

If BPA is a concern for you, you can check to see if the piece of dinnerware is NSF certified. NSF is a stamp of approval given from NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization that develop standards for public health regulation. NSF approved dinnerware is always recommended over dinnerware that isn’t, and this isn’t something exclusive to dinnerware.

NSF Approved Logo 

All sorts of commercial foodservice equipment and supplies are NSF listed. NSF International reviews construction material and the manufacturing process to confirm that all their standards are met. Therefore, opting for an NSF approved product gives peace of mind that the brand is complying with national regulations and safety standards. Many NSF listed items also feature added sanitary protections. The benefits of choosing products that have NSF International’s seal of approval reduce the risk of foodborne illness are often easier to clean and may help boost overall health inspection scores.

Other Plastic Dinnerware Constructions 

Ceramic and melamine are arguably the two most popular types of commercial dinnerware constructions on the market. However, throughout your shopping adventures, you’re likely to see a few other types of plastic materials. Here’s a brief breakdown of what they mean.

Polycarbonate 

Polycarbonate is a lightweight plastic material that, like melamine, is commonly considered to be shatter resistant. Unlike melamine, traditional polycarbonate dinnerware is also heat resistant and safe for microwave use. A lot of polycarbonate dinnerware can withstand temperatures between -40°F through 212°F. This makes the dinnerware ideal for use in both freezers and high-temperature environments. 

BPA (pictured) is a common chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics. BPA is one of the most extensively tested chemicals today, and, again, the FDA has concluded that small traces are not harmful to humans. 

Polycarbonate dinnerware is typically inexpensive, which can be a big plus. However, though it’s thought to be break-resistant, some polycarbonate dinnerware may scratch and stain easily. 

Our top polycarbonate dinnerware brands include Carlisle and Cambro.

Polypropylene and Polyethylene 

Both polypropylene and polyethylene are similar, and many pieces of dinnerware are made using a blend of the two. Though a more affordable alternative to other types of dinnerware, by and large, dinnerware constructed out of polypropylene and polyethylene plastics are considered to have moderate scratch and break-resistance, not holding up quite to the same standards of melamine. They are, however, highly stain resistant and safe for both dishwasher and microwave use. They have a fairly decent drying time but may require additional wiping. It can typically withstand temperatures between 32°F through 180°F. 

An additional blended hybrid of polypropylene is a copolymer. This material is often observed in the construction of cafeteria trays and has a high resistance to breakage, scratching or staining. It’s also microwave and dishwasher safe and considered to have a faster drying time than traditional polypropylene plasticware. It can handle temperatures between 40°F and 210°F, not ideal for use in freezers.

Acrylic

Acrylic is a hard plastic that is manufactured to replicate the look and feel of glass and high-end crystal. Acrylic is a common construction material of serving ware, enhancing the presentation of buffet areas while extremely durable. Throughout your search, you’re likely to come across serving bowls, utensils, display stands, and bakery cases made of acrylic. Acrylic products are traditionally more affordable than their glass counterparts, with added shatter-proof durability.

ABS and SAN Plastic 

ABS is the same type of plastic material used to make the popular LEGO® building blocks! It stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a thermoplastic (a resin that becomes a plastic on heating and hardening) resin that’s largely considered to be middle of the road. Plastic dinnerware made with this type of material is typically considered to be medium strength with good resistance to impact, breaking, and chemicals. It absorbs shock, resistant to high heat and scratches, and affordable. It can withstand temperatures between 0°F to 180°F. 

Some limitations of ABS plastic include poor weatherability and not resistant to solvents that may weaken and corrode ABS plasticware over time. It also generates a lot of smoke if burned. Because of this, dinnerware made of ABS is not recommended for use in the microwave. It is, however, dishwasher safe with average dry time. Due to the lack of solvent-resistance, it is recommended that you wipe down your ABS-constructed ware soon after the cleaning cycle finishes. 

ABS is not considered to be the most environmentally-friendly plastic material on the market. It is not biodegradable or a renewable resource. 

SAN plastic, also known as styrene-acrylonitrile resin, is another co-polymer plastic blend and shares a lot in common with ABS in terms of its chemical structure. SAN is often used by manufacturers to create durable plasticware that mimics the look and feel of ceramic china.

Additional Dinnerware Materials

In commercial dining facilities, China and plastic dinnerware are certainly the two most common. However, dinnerware made of metal and glass are occasionally used to create unique, one of a kind environments.

Metal

Metal dinnerware is sleek and affordable, but should only ever be used for serving, and never for cooking or reheating. Common types of metal dinnerware include stainless steel and copper, which offer a trendier presentation for appetizers, entrees and side dishes. Check out American Metalcraft’s selection of dinnerware for trendy, affordable serving inspiration.

Glass

Glass is ideal for upscale dining establishments. Quality glass dinnerware runs at a higher price point than their plastic counterparts that have been strategically designed to mimic the look and feel of glass (see the acrylic section above). However, authentic glass adds a touch of class to every dining room.

In addition to higher upfront costs, there is also a higher risk of breakage. Glassware will need replacing down the road, so your glass dinnerware purchase more than likely won’t be a one and done experience.

The three most common types of glass dinnerware include Annealed, Fully Tempered, and Rim Tempered.

 

  1. Annealed glass is your standard glassware and the most cost-effective (up front). It’s slowly cooled to reduce internal stress, making it capable of withstanding temperature changes. However, when it breaks, it shatters into a hundred shards, creating a cleaning nightmare and safety concerns.

2. Fully-Tempered glass has been more processed than annealed glass, increasing its strength and making it less prone to breakage. When it does break, it breaks in chunks instead of shattering into dangerously minuscule and sharp shards.

3. Rim-Tempered glass runs the middle of the road. A part of the piece has been tempered for added protection, but not the entirety of the product. This is usually the rim because it’s the most likely to tip over and take the blunt force of the impact. This is a nice option if you’re on a budget but want to ensure some sort of durability.

Libbey is one of our top glassware manufacturers, boasting a comprehensive selection of glass drinkware and dining solutions.

Final Thoughts

All in all, your final decision should be made around which piece of dinnerware can enhance the experience you wish to give your guests, based on your established environment, ambiance, and menu. Central offers a complete selection of all different types of dinner and servingware to help you find the right piece you’re looking for. If you have any additional questions about which material will work the best given your unique needs, give us a call us at 800.215.9293.