Options for drinkware are plentiful. With thousands of styles to choose from and more patterns hitting the market all the time, deciding which type you need for your operation can be overwhelming. The best piece of advice we can give: you can never have too much. Glass breaks. Finding yourself too short on supply during a rush is a worse sensation than trying to enjoy red wine from a champagne flute.
There’s a lot to consider, from how many types of glasses to their construction, how much to order, proper care, and more. Here, we outline everything you need to know about your commercial drinkware options.
Note: You can request a FREE sample of many of our drinkware offerings so you can try it before you buy it. Connect with one of our foodservice product experts to get started.
In This Commercial Drinkware Buying Guide:
- All Types of Drinkware
- Glassware Construction and Durability
- Bead vs. Beadless Rim and Crystal Glassware
- Manufacturer-specific Processes and Guarantees
- Plastic vs. Glass Drinkware
- Drinkware Ordering Considerations
- Glassware Care and Maintenance
- Glassware Accessories
- The Best Types of Glasses: Brands to Note
- Related Resources
Bar and cocktail glassware range from your traditional beer and wine glasses to classic and modern cocktails. There’s seemingly a glass for every type of drink, and the glassware you opt to serve it in can go a long way towards a positive impression. Learn all about your common types of bar glassware here.
The right type of wine glass can establish the ambiance and ups your overall wine service. With dozens of styles of wine glassware to choose from, all designed to deliver a unique experience depending on the style of wine ordered, developing an understanding of the common types and how they enhance the wine experience is a great way to engage guests and boost profits. Learn all about the many types of wine glasses here.
Like wine glasses, each type of beer glass is designed to hold a specific type of beer. Presentation is a huge factor for many guests, and some beer glasses go above and beyond to enhance the aromas and flavors of different beer styles. All come together for a comprehensive beer tasting experience. Learn all about the basic types of beer glasses here, and then dive into the specifics about which type of beer glass is right for each type of beer.
Additional Glassware Resources:
Not all glass is created equal. Each line of glassware undergoes its own unique process; thus, quality and durability vary from line to line. This is a huge consideration to be made prior to purchase. You’ll want an understanding of some of the key terminology and know what to expect in terms of the quality and the product life of your glassware.
The primary ingredients in glass construction are sand, soda ash, and limestone. Most glassware construction is referred to as soda-lime, encompassing these three natural minerals. Each manufacturer has their own distinct process, using these ingredients in varying measurements to produce their signature glassware. The most common glassware construction process begins with melting sand, soda ash, and limestone together at temperatures above 2,000°F; molding into the desired shape (or shapes, as is the case with most stemware in which the bowl and stem are molded separately and then attached together); polished; tempered for strength; cooled; and inspected for quality assurance.
This video from Tasty showcases what this process looks like:
There are three terms you should become familiar with when determining which type of glassware will meet your expectations.
Annealed glasses are the most standard type of glass. This refers to the process where glass is cooled slowly to eliminate internal stress for commercial durability. However, when it breaks, it shatters into a hundred shards, posing safety risks to guests and staff, and is a bear to clean up. The biggest pro to annealed glassware is its affordability. Annealed glasses are often the most economical; however, it’s a true case of you get what you pay for.
Fully-tempered glassware has been more thoroughly processed than annealed glasses, thus their strength and durability can be better relied upon. This isn’t to suggest that fully tempered glasses won’t break; however, when they do, they break into larger and fewer chunks that are easier to clean up, posing less of a safety risk.
Rim-tempered glasses are a nice in-between. Since the rim of the glass is often the most likely to break when tipped over, it has been dutifully processed so that it won’t shatter. Rather, like full tempered glasses, the rim will just chip off, making clean up easy. This is the most common type of processing for glassware and often observed with wine glasses where both the rim and stem have been tempered. If dropped from a considerable height, shattering is possible because the rest of the body is likely annealed; but, the most frequent accidents happen when the glass is simply knocked over on the table.
Two additional terms you’re likely to encounter in your glassware research are bead and beadless. These refer to the rim of the glass. Traditional soda-lime glasses (the most common material used to construct glassware) may feature a thicker beaded rim for added resistance to chipping.
It’s common to see a beadless rim advertised on higher-end wine and cocktail glasses. Since a sheer rim enhances the drinking experience for certain beverages, especially wine, as any aficionado will tell you. In such instances, a thick rim can distort the texture and flavor of the drink. A beadless rim won’t distract from the flow of beverage to mouth.
Glasses advertised as beadless are often much less durable than those with beaded rims. The glass itself is more delicate and the rim more prone to chipping. This is where crystal glassware comes in handy. Initially, crystal glasses were made by adding lead to the traditional soda-lime production. This allowed manufacturers to spin the glass much more thinly for an enhanced, upscale drinking experience that mimics a beadless rim without necessarily sacrificing durability. Given the health risks associated with lead, many manufacturers have started producing lines advertised as “lead-free crystal” (Chef & Sommelier’s line of Krysta glassware is a key example.)
Crystal Glassware is the premium glass type for fine dining. Most glass is made from soda-lime, which is a sand composite. All crystal is made of glass, but not all glass is considered crystal. What makes it unique is added components (originally lead, but now mostly a lead substitute) that allows the glass to be spun thinly for a sheerer drinking experience. Prominent characteristics of crystal glassware include a brilliant clarity and shine for visual presentation, a smoother drink flow for an upscale experience, and better acoustics (much preferred for those sentimental toasts.)
Some manufacturers incorporate trademark formulas in their manufacturing process, as well as guarantees against breakage. Many you’re likely to see include:
Libbey SAFEDGE® Guarantee – there are two parts to this guarantee: one that covers both the rim and foot, and another that just covers the rim. When you see the Safedge logo, you can rest assured that should the rim or foot chip, Libbey will replace or refund the price when returned.
Libbey DuraTuff® – this refers to a special thermal after-process for pressed tumblers and stemware that specifically strengthens the rim of the glass (the part most vulnerable to breakage.)
Libbey FINEDGE® – glasses with this logo have undergone precision manufacturing for a rim with a minimum bead that is resistant to chipping without sacrificing the elegance of the glass. This is a common feature on many Libbey wine glasses.
Libbey Sheer Rim™ – glasses noted with this logo provide a combination of elegance and affordability, featuring glasses with a beadless edge that is additionally polished for a durable glass and a fine drinking experience. Often seen attached to many Libbey cocktail glasses.
Anchor SureGuard™ Guarantee – the most extensive guarantee in the foodservice industry. Anchor Hocking guarantees its entire line against chipping. If the rim chips during normal use, Anchor will replace or refund the price when returned to the distributor. However, this guarantee does not cover complete breakage.
Whether you opt for glass or plastic drinkware ultimately depends on the type of establishment, the purpose of each type of drinkware, the mood you’re trying to set, and the environment. Glass is the standard for most dining rooms. As discussed previously, not all glass is created equal. A standard soda-lime all-purpose beverage glass may serve 95% of the purposes intended for a casual dining establishment, while multiple types of higher-end crystal glasses are best reserved for finer dining.
But what about plastic? Plastic drinkware, such as tumblers, are great for fast-casual dining facilities or high-volume cafeterias, such as in schools, universities, hospitals, and correctional facilities. And they’re especially preferred for outdoor dining, such as patios or pool areas. They’re economical and highly durable; however, like glass production, some plastic materials are more durable than others, and some aren’t the best candidates for the dishwasher.
Common Types of Plastic for Commercial Drinkware
There are several types of plastic drinkware construction, each with their sets of advantages and disadvantages. The most common you’re likely to see include:
- SAN (styrene-acrylonitrile)
- Polycarbonate (PC)
These three plastic materials share many similarities. They’re strong and durable – most are resistant to stains, scratches, and breaking. And many do a decent job at mimicking glass. However, there are some key differences in the ways in which these materials are durable, and how they can impact operational efficiencies. Most notably, when it comes to dishwashing.
G.E.T., an industry leading manufacturer of plastic drinkware and dinnerware, references a study conducted by Eastman-Kodak. In this study, they washed all three plastics in a commercial dishwasher for 1,000 times, inspecting each type for clarity and structural integrity between washes. Drinkware made of Tritan™ and SAN both came out on top, performing well after 1,000 washes. The polycarbonate drinkware, on the other hand, only made it to 100 washes before showing signs of cracking. This is in large part due to the chemical makeup of polycarbonate that reacts more intensely with the chemicals in dishwashers.
The major takeaway: in a commercial foodservice setting that relies on commercial dishwashing, you’ll likely need to replace your polycarbonate drinkware 10x more frequently than Tritan™ or SAN.
When it comes to impact resistance, Tritan™ and Polycarbonate hold up the best against chipping, breaking, or cracking. SAN plastic is the least impact-resistant of the trio. You can learn more about this study and other key findings from G.E.T.’s Which Common Plastic is Best for Foodservice Drinkware article.
In a high-volume foodservice operation, Tritan™ is your best bet. However, many lines of Tritan™ drinkware come at a higher cost, whereas polycarbonate and SAN drinkware are more economical. On the flip side, the likelihood of needing to replace your polycarbonate and SAN drinkware on a frequent basis is that much higher.
You won’t need to purchase every type of drinking glass. You’ll want to review your most frequently ordered drinks, and make sure that the types of glasses you opt for will match those needs. Usually, establishments can make do with one or two types, depending on the type of operation. Fine dining establishments will probably want a few different types of drinking glasses in addition to a range of bar glasses, beer glasses, and wine glasses. A casual diner that doesn’t serve alcohol can typically get by with a plastic tumbler.
In the same vein, you’ll want to factor in warewashing time to ensure you always have enough in circulation, especially during peak hours. Underbar glasswashers are a great solution for cleaning and sanitizing used glassware in a short amount of time. However, you will want to be sure to account for drying and cooling time. Thermal shock is a leading cause of glassware breakage, and this often results when a hot glass fresh from the warewasher is put back into circulation before it has a chance to settle back to room temperature. Thermal shock occurs when there’s a rapid change in temperature, for instance when a hot glass immediately encounters ice and a cold beverage (read also: Reduce Glassware Reorders: Handling Dos and Don’ts.)
A good rule of thumb to get you started is ensuring you have at least two glasses per seat. This will surely vary based on usage, and if you’re using one glass to serve multiple types of drinks, you may want to consider stocking up to where you can account for five of that type of glass per seat. However, see where you currently stand and adjust as needed.
View our Drinkware Estimates Ordering Guide to learn more, and remember, you can request free samples on hundreds of styles of drinkware from leading industry brands to test it out before committing to a large purchase. Simply connect with one of our product experts to get started.
It’s in glassware’s nature to break. In case it bears repeating, you can never have enough glassware on hand. Having “just enough” might seem like a practical idea at the time, but this could hurt your business in the long run. Think of it like shoes: if you only own a single pair you wear all the time, they’ll deteriorate quicker.
Other than accidentally dropping a glass, there are two primary reasons commercial glassware breaks. The first is called mechanical shock. This is the direct result of a glass encountering another object, like stacking glassware that isn’t designed for such use, clanking against a beer tap, etc. This causes minuscule abrasions that may be invisible to the eye but weakens its structural integrity. Over time, these clanks add up and the glasses become susceptible to breakage from a minor impact or thermal shock.
Thermal shock, the second leading factor of glassware breakage, occurs when a glass experiences a sudden change of temperature. A common instance is when a glass runs through a high-temperature dishwasher and is immediately put back into service before it has a chance to cool down to room temperature.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to enhance the life expectancy of your glassware:
- Allowing time for glasses to settle back to room temperature after running through the dishwasher is a great way to reduce the risk of thermal shock. Always avoid putting a cold beverage into a hot glass. The same is true in reverse.
- Avoid putting silverware in glasses or banging the stem on overhead racks.
- It’s good practice to pre-heat a glass with hot water prior to pouring a hot drink.
- Avoid stacking non-stackable glasses, and when stacking stackable glasses, lay them on their side instead of standing up to reduce stress.
- Always use a plastic scoop for ice and never the glass itself.
- Handle glassware gently, and immediately remove abraded, cracked, or chipped glasses from service.
- Make sure you use the appropriate type of glass rack before running through the dishwasher. The right one will depend on the type of glassware you’re washing. I.E. stemmed glass racks are different than tumbler racks.
For more on appropriate glassware maintenance, check out our guide to reducing glassware reorders.
Once you decide which type of glassware is right for your operation and its specific needs, you’ll want to consider which accessories you’ll want to better preserve their quality and usefulness.
Glass Hangers and Bar Glass Storage
Space is limited and glassware requires organization. Especially behind the bar when efficiency is too easily hampered. Glass hangers install underneath cabinets and provide an easy way to store stemware while keeping it in quick reach, thus improving storage organization and bar service.
In addition, many underbar workstations provide storage space for glassware, particularly beer and stemless bar glasses. They also offer more working space for bartenders to store essential supplies or to quickly prep garnishes.
Glasswashing is an important consideration, and there are different solutions based on varying factors, including bar and kitchen layout, and peak rush times that mandate how quickly glasses need to re-enter circulation.
An undercounter glass and dishwashing machine may have a high upfront cost, but it can be a gamechanger. These enable operators to quickly wash and sanitize soiled glassware in bulk (some units boast a 90-second wash cycle!), getting them back into service with very little downtime while saving significant operator time and labor. They’re also designed to fit neatly underneath bars so they don’t take up any space.
For glassware, we recommend investing in a high temperature glasswasher unit over a chemical sanitizing one. High temperature units are better for removing debris, like lipstick, from the rim. Also, glassware dries faster, the heat of the unit evaporating the moisture quicker than low temp units.
A common concern over low temperature sanitizing dish machines is, even though the glassware is perfectly sanitized, they struggle to completely remove all debris from the glass. No matter how sanitized something is, nobody wants a glass with a stranger’s lipstick still on it. Furthermore, due to using chemicals to properly sanitize, there is sometimes leftover chemical residue on the glass, giving it a cloudy and dirty visual which can greatly distract from the presentation of the drink. There are also continual costs associated with chemical sanitizing units since the chemicals will need replenished on a regular basis.
Manual and Electric Glasswashers
If volume doesn’t mandate it and you’re looking to save a bit of money, manual and electric glasswashers are available. Though significantly cheaper than undercounter dish and glass washing units, these types of glasswashers add more time and labor on the part of the operator.
Dish racks go hand in hand with dishwashing, and there are several styles and configurations available. It’s important to get the right dish rack for the type of dish. In terms of glassware, that means looking for racks that can accommodate the size and type of glass to ensure they remain safe and secure throughout the dishwashing process. This is especially important for stemware such as wine glasses.
When purchasing a glass rack, you’ll want to take into consideration the top, bottom, and max diameter of your glassware, as well as the height. Many dish rack manufacturers also produce rack extenders for their glass racks to increase the height to accommodate different glass styles.
Our friends at Carlisle Foodservice, designers of the popular Carlisle OptiClean dish and glass racks, have created a handy tool to help users find the right type of rack based on their individual glasses. You can search based on the glass’s manufacturer model number OR by its dimensions, and it’ll inform you of the best Carlisle glass rack for your needs.
Learn more about the specific types of glassware in these buying guides:
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.