Your choice of tableware – rustic or sophisticated, eclectic or minimalist – can communicate your restaurant’s brand in seconds, so it pays to choose wisely. Angela Frewin shops the trends
Once, durable white porcelain ruled and table decor reflected the traditions of the cuisine on offer, but now, a plethora of new colours, shapes, materials and textures are vying to help operators stand out – both in-store and on Instagram – accentuating why tableware cannot be a design afterthought.
As Rob Blunderfield, marketing manager at equipment supplier Parsley in Time points out: “The first bite is with the eye, so the saying goes. Just as lighting can be used to create an ambiance, tableware too can be used to set the mood.”
“Tableware is an important part of your food proposition and should be enshrined in your marketing plan,” agrees Gill Head, marketing manager at Artis. “It is important to first of all suit your tableware to the style of cooking that you are serving, and then to recognise that tableware is a fashion business. You need to keep up with the trends.”
There will be plenty of trends served up the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) at its annual forum this May, according to Stephen Goodliff, chair of its light equipment and tableware group: “The big trend in colours for tableware has been natural hues, including greys, taupes and whites. Another key trend is the textured finish, on everything from cutlery to crockery, literally bringing that touch of difference. Similarly, lots of metal products are getting a hammered finish.
“Wood is still having its moment, with bespoke or branded wood platters making waves with the chains, and another trend is the sharing plate, which means the platters for holding the food are getting bigger.”
Beacon Purchasing supplier Alliance National has unravelled three key strands in tableware. ‘Soft & Calm’ is tableware in pastel tones of whites, blues and pinks with delicate, floral designs on flowing, rounded crockery. ‘Bright & Beautiful’ is a more sophisticated take on the bold tones and patterns found in the Middle East, North Africa and Caribbean. “This trend highlights the concept of dining without borders and establishments are now taking influences from around the globe, not only in their menus, but also in their tableware,” observes Beacon purchasing manager Teri Humphries.
‘Industrial & Craft’ is breaking out from its smokehouse, steakhouse and rustic diner strongholds with its wood, brickwork and exposed bulbs matched with worn-effect tableware in gunmetal and vintage copper, wooden board platters and mini wire baskets for sides. A prime example is Tafelstern’s concrete-look porcelain plate, available in a porous or fair-faced finish from Artis.
“The quality and style of tableware can have a huge impact on the vibe of a venue,” says Ross Jones, Olympia and Royal Porcelain brand manager for Nisbets. “Why not highlight a spicy tapas selection in an set of vibrantly coloured bowls, or display an intricate salad on a striking dark plate?”
Its newest Olympia sets take the bold approach. Olympia Nomi combines matt black bases with reactive glazes of blue, green and yellow, while Olympia Fusion’s charcoal/black porcelain with its distinctive semi-matt glaze is especially suited to Asian-style food, with chopstick rests, teapots and bowls in four sizes.
“If it’s skew-whiff and the colour is dialled way back, the chances are it’ll be coming to a tabletop soon,” predicts Blunderfield at Parsley in Time. “The latest crockery trends are all about muted hues and asymmetric designs.” Cool, contemporary colours include ‘natural’, ‘Nordic’ greys, off-whites and faded pastels, such as Ice, the Dudson’s Evo line of pale-blue coupe and flat plates styled like hand-thrown pottery.
Artis’s Modern Rustic double-fired porcelain collection from Bauscher is individually hand-painted with an in-glaze decoration in blue, sand, wood, grey or stone. Zodiac Stainless Products’ new hand-decorated crockery collection, Orion Elements, comes in sandstorm, slate grey, ocean mist and sun burst and will be showcased at next month’s Spring Fair housewares and gifts trade show.
“Apart from their natural tastefulness, one reason for the popularity of these muted colours is that they blend well, both with white and with each other,” adds Blunderfield. He suggests a mixture of muted hues to create tabletops that are simultaneously “attention-grabbing, relaxing and chic”.
This dovetails neatly with diners’ appetite for personalisation, notes Steelite’s vice-president of design, Andrew Klimecki: “Consumers don’t want to see their starter served on the same tableware as the table opposite, so restaurants are customising their tabletop style by purchasing several ranges to create an eclectic style unique to their brand.”
Steelite ensures some of its ranges are compatible, so that they look like part of a larger set and stack together. Its Scape collection encourages the use of different materials together on the tabletop – ceramic, glass, melamine, wood – to create a “cohesive but eclectic” look that is compatible with its influential Craft range, the rustic-inspired, hand-glazed line of simple shapes in muted colours that helped introduce colour to “serious” food presentation.
Made to measure
Fine bone china specialist Royal Crown Derby has an exclusive bespoke service that includes on-site design consultations, shape development and in-house durability testing. The historic company has created one-of-a-kind collections of its durable yet delicately-profiled translucent tableware for the likes of London’s Dorchester hotel, Betty’s Tearoom in Yorkshire and Clare Smyth’s new London restaurant Core.
And, for a touch of unique Scandi-chic, KitchenLab UK sources premium tableware from a Norwegian microfactory that can be designed around specific menu items in ceramic, stone, glass or wood – for example, Matt Worswick commissioned several items for his tasting menu at Pennyhill Park’s Michelin-starred Latymer restaurant in Bagshot, Surrey.
Whether the style is discrete elegance or streetwise, hands-on experience can help operators find a solution that is appealing and appropriate to their ethos, food and customer demographic. With this in mind, Direct Tableware recently opened its London showroom in Islington, so operators can see, touch and test concepts across its vast range of brands.
The visual clout of tableware is all-embracing, as Blunderfield concludes: “The presentation of food can be enhanced with high-quality crockery, helping to showcase the skill and creativity of every meal and show the food off to its best advantage. By updating front of house elements such as tableware, operators can update the look and feel of the venue relatively quickly and cost-effectively to complement a change in menu and to show it cares about its food and customers.”
“For a long time, it seemed that the only way to stand out with tableware was with crockery,” says Paula Sherlock, managing director of Signature FSE. Cutlery is catching up, as brands such as Pinti Inox of Italy develop techniques to offer different colours, finishes, textures and patterns with the same high-standard manufacturing processes.
Its new Mystique collection is sandblasted for a modern matt finish that does not show fingermarks, while its StoneWashed range suits a more retro look.
Treasure offers mirror-polished gold, bronze or titanium colours, while Alchimique combines the stonewashed texture with metallic colour options added as a PVD (physical vapour deposition). Refined laser decorations on the handle adds sophistication to Pinti Inox’s stonewashed TxT range.
Nisbet’s new Olympia cutlery range, which comes in a Cyprium Copper or Etna Black matt finish, offers a quirky accompaniment to both modern or classic crockery and is fingermark- and dishwasher-proof.
The white stuff
White has long been the gold standard for the top-tier restaurant experience. “It provides a completely clean, flat backdrop, so the experience is all about the food,” explains Klimecki at Steelite.
“We’re seeing a strong return to traditional styles, with consumers looking for heritage and retro eating out experiences. That means classic white tableware collections like our Willow range are in vogue, and square shapes are being ditched in favour of round.”
Willow’s wide-rimmed gourmet porcelain plates and bowls are decorated with a raised web texture on the rim, meeting demand for elegant yet hardy tableware.
Similarly, Nisbets’ Royal Porcelain Maxadura Solaria plate – made with aluminium oxide for strength and chip-resistance – offers a delicate raised pattern on its outer edge.
Tafelstern’s Delight collection of bone-white, wide-rimmed plates, flat coupe plates, coupe bowls and feature pieces – exclusive to Artis in the UK – combine elegance and durability thanks to an innovative new material, Noble China. This thin, hard porcelain is manufactured without lead, cadmium or animal components and fired at 1,400ºC to prevent chipping and glaze damage.
Crisp, white table linen remains the best way to create an elegant look and will naturally soften noise levels, recommends Beacon supplier Mitre Linen.
Spring Fair, NEC, Birmingham, 4-8 February, www.springfair.com
CESA Light Equipment and Tableware Forum, Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, 22-23 May
Parsley in Time
Royal Crown Derby
Zodiac Stainless Products Co