If there’s only one recommendation you ever heed when it comes to operating a commercial foodservice, it should be this: order more dinnerware, drinkware, and flatware than you think you’ll need. Glasses break, dinner plates chip, silverware gets tossed in the trash. Before you know it, it’s a prime rush and you’re frantically bussing tables to grab glasses to wash.
Coming up with that magic number can be tricky. There are a lot of variables at play. Some things to think through:
- How many seats are in the dining room?
- What are the most popular menu items (especially if you use different glasses for different drinks, if you need salad forks in addition to standard dinner forks, you use the same type of bowl for various entrees, etc.)
- When are your peak rushes and what does the headcount typically look like?
- What’s the average table turnover rate?
Once these key factors are examined, it makes estimating the proper amount to order that much easier.
Here are a few other tips to help you order the correct amount. Just remember, it’s always best to err on the side of over-ordering than under-ordering.
Most of the time, dinnerware is packaged by the dozen and sold in minimum order quantities. For the most popular dinnerware pieces, a general rule of thumb is two or three per seat. However, ask yourself if there are any pieces used for multiple menu items. If your establishment uses a pasta bowl for five different entrees, as opposed to one or two, you may want to consider ordering five per seat instead.
Our friends from G.E.T., a premier manufacturer of commercial melamine dinnerware, suggest the 3:1 rule:
“A three to one ratio sets your operation up for success because it allows one plate to be in use, another to be in the wash, and another to be in rest. Essentially, this ratio builds in some beauty rest for your serveware, ultimately extending the service life as far as possible.
“When the plate-to-persons-served ratio slips below the 3:1 mark, you’re in danger of serving on wet plates, running short of plates, or plates that chip well before they would with a healthy 3:1 ratio.”
An in-depth review of your menu and sales data is necessary, reviewing which items you use more or less of while keeping in mind peak times. It’s crucial to steer clear of “just having enough.” Here’s why:
- Dinnerware needs time to cool after washing, or else it’ll be more susceptible to cracking or breaking.
- The fewer an item is used, the longer the service life. Therefore, it’s advised to have more in rotation. Stocking up on extra plates, bowls, etc. early on is one way to reduce replacement costs down the road while ensuring you never run out during a rush.
- You always want to anticipate breakage and plan ahead, especially if you’re using china dinnerware.
Every operation is different, and you can’t take a “one size fits all approach.” However, to get you started, here’s a recommended guide based on a 100–seat dining room.
Much like chinaware, glass drinkware is highly susceptible to breakage, so it’s best to proactively stock up in anticipation of accidents. You always want to ensure you have an adequate backup supply to keep the circulation flowing smoothly. This allows enough time for glasses to wash and cool to avoid thermal shock, especially during rushes.
We recommend ensuring enough for at least two glasses per seat, but, again, this varies based on usage. If you’re using a specific type of glass to serve multiple drinks, then you may want to consider ordering up to five of that glass per seat.
Here’s a recommended drinkware estimate guide:
It takes work to keep your drinkware lasting as long as possible. You can order as many glasses as you like, but if your staff neglects to properly take care of it, you could be wasting your money (and time) continuously replacing them.
Here are a few tips to prolong the service life of your drinkware:
- When bussing tables, sort items carefully in bus boxes and avoid stacking glasses on top of plates or bowls.
- Don’t use glassware to scoop ice. That’s what ice scoops are for!
- Use caution when pouring draft beer, making sure the glass doesn’t clink against the tap.
- Use the correct glass rack for tumblers and stemware.
- Avoid clanking glasses together. Every clank adds up, creating invisible micro-abrasions that weaken the integrity (and service life) of the glass.
- Never use glasses to bus or transport flatware.
- Unless they’re specifically designed for stacking, avoid doing so.
- Carry glassware by the base or stem, and don’t pick up multiple stemmed glassware at once to avoid clinking.
Like drinkware and dinnerware, flatware is typically sold in cases of the dozen, and in the commercial industry, you’ll need to purchase each piece independent of each other. For instance, once you decide on the flatware pattern, you’ll need to buy a case of spoons, a case of forks, and a case of knives.
You can use this table and a simple formula to determine how much flatware you should invest in to get you started.
Formula: Take the number of seats in your dining room and multiply by the appropriate number in the chart. Then divide by 12 (since flatware is sold by the dozen). This will give you a rough estimate of how many pieces you need for each type.
Say you’re a casual operation with 50 seats in need of teaspoons. Calculate: 50 x 4 = 200. 200/12 = 16.67. You’d want to order 17 dozen teaspoons to ensure you have enough to serve guests, anticipate warewashing and drying times, and maintain an adequate backup supply.
However, needs differ. Maybe you have nothing on your menu that requires a teaspoon. Maybe you don’t need both a salad fork and a dinner fork. This all varies based on your menu and the specific type of establishment.
The service life of your flatware is also dependent on your waitstaff. Here are a few care and maintenance tips:
- Don’t pre-soak flatware for more than 15 minutes. If you do, you run the risk of food particles breaking off into smaller chunks and reattaching to the utensil, making them harder to clean off.
- It’s recommended to use a high–temperature dishwasher to clean and sanitize with high heat than a low-temperature, chemical sanitizing unit. Over time, these chemicals can stain and detract from the integrity of your flatware.
- Stand your flatware up to dry. Don’t lie it on its side.
For more, check out our Flatware Buying Guide.
We’re always here to help with specific questions on how much you should order given your unique needs. Connect with a knowledgeable product expert to learn more.
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.