Kathy Bowry reports
Dining tables across the UK sport some weird and wonderful tableware these days, more reminiscent of the farmyard or an industrial site than what you might expect in a high-street restaurant. It isn't to everybody's taste, but operators are being carried along on an irresistible wave - the need to establish a point of difference from their competitors - and younger punters do seem to enjoy the sense of adventure.
Henry Stephenson, managing director of catering equipment supplier Stephensons, has been busy supplying outlets with these unusual items but warns against replacing your whole stock with them. "However," he adds, "don't be afraid to forge ahead with the latest trends by buying in some key items to use alongside the standard offering of durable crockery, rotating the trend items as fashions change.
"Durability is less of a concern with trendy items, so it's an opportunity to make a statement. To stand out from the crowd, invest in some funky pieces that match your brand and give special dishes an additional attraction to brings customers back for more.
"Businesses looking to create a more vintage feel to their offering should consider buying enamel tableware. Enamel's hardy, retro designs endure both changing fashions and heavy handling."
Stephensons' Kensington teapots
Style and staying power
Stephenson recognises that tableware has a demanding role to play, from looking good for customers front of house to standing up to some heavy handling backstage.
"Establishments can find a good balance between looks and durability by investing in a standard offering of quality items. Churchill offers a five-year chip warranty on its crockery, while both Steelite and Dudson carry lifetime warranties on certain pieces. The Craft range from Steelite gives the opportunity to lay an entire tabletop in beautiful rustic colours, while also offering a lifetime warranty."
He also recommends treated wineglasses such as those in the Artis Teardrop or Perception ranges, which are both stylish and durable. Fully toughened glassware, heat-treated to increase strength, reduces the risk of chipping.
Meanwhile, Dudson is marketing Rock Bar glassware alongside its crockery. Up to 16 glasses can be safely stacked, each glass fitting exactly into the other, reducing the risk of cracking or glasses getting stuck. Made from tempered glass to protect against impact shock, the range is safe to use for both hot or iced drinks. The glasses are also dishwasher-safe (tested to 4,000 dishwashing cycles), and will keep their brilliance and transparency over time, according to Dudson. Made in Italy by Bormioli Rocco, Rock Bar is just one of Dudson's high-quality innovative glass products.
Dudson Rock Bar
With an eye to the Christmas crush, Artis is selling Convention from Tafelstern. The crockery range has a formal, elegant style, and is designed to make life easier for food and beverage managers while also charming customers. For example, the plates, bowls and platters have been given chip-resistant rims to resist the rigours of banquet service. Plates and platters are stackable, which is ideal for safe and space-saving storage. Until Christmas, with every 120 items of a single product code ordered, establishments will be sent an extra 24 of the same item free.
Convention mixes and matches with other Tafelstern collections and is said to work particularly well with chicory bowls from the Inspiration collection and the stacking cups and saucers of the Relation Today range.
Paula Sherlock, managing director of Signature FSE, importer of the artistic French Revol range of eye-catching tableware, says: "Modern tableware, especially plates, has become increasingly large, so restaurateurs need to think about storage and prepare their kitchen accordingly to avoid breakages.
"When choosing the right tableware for your restaurant, we always recommend considering not only the style but the material. Culinary porcelain is highly resistant to mechanical shocks. For example, Revol's new Arborescence collection has a contemporary design (sculpted lines like the rings of a tree) and technical innovation (hand-finished glazing), which fits perfectly with fine-dining restaurants." She adds that storage (enough space for larger tableware in the kitchen) and cleaning (is the dishwashing equipment suitable?) are other key aspects.
Heather Lovatt, head of marketing at Steelite International, says: "Operators need to match the right-quality product to their environment. They should ask their supplier about warranty, longevity, and the controls in place to ensure consistent manufacturing quality.
"Steelite International's Performance and Distinction ranges have been designed to balance quality and longevity. Available in a variety of eye-catching designs, including the popular Craft and Taste collections, the two ranges are durable and practical. They both come with a lifetime edge-chip guarantee, adding a further level of assurance that the products are hard-wearing and chip-resistant.
"Getting this balance right will save money on replacing broken tableware while giving customers the standard they expect. A Steelite survey conducted last year showed that eight in 10 diners believe that good-quality tableware is important or very important to them, while 48% said they would complain if their tableware was chipped. It's now more important than ever for operators to get their tableware right, and to offer their customers the dining experience they pay for."
Heather Beattie, Olympia brand manager at Nisbets, adds: "It's not all about looks - your tableware must not only be asthetically pleasing, but also able to stand the test of time. Far more robust than domestic crockery, commercial tableware is designed to withstand the demands of busy establishments - making it a must-have purchase for operators of any size.
"One particularly fashionable material is enamelware, which is perfect for adding a retro feel to the table and particularly suitable for serving rustic, homemade cuisine. The new Olympia enamelled range from Nisbets includes a selection of fashionable blue and white tableware. Both stylish and resilient, the complete range is oven and dishwasher-safe."
Claire Hulme, Churchill UK marketing manager - hospitality, believes businesses need to ensure a product is durable enough for the busiest of kitchens, and stylish enough to match the ambience of the establishment.
"British manufacturing and the rustic charm of Stonecast makes it the perfect canvas for food presentation," she says. "Its variety of colours makes it versatile and complements all foods, adding authenticity to overall presentation. Using Churchill's super-vitrified body, it maintains its strength without compromising on appearance."
The Catering Equipment Suppliers Association's Light Equipment and Tableware Forum this year revealed the tabletop trends.
There was a plethora of miniature plates and serving dishes for creating theatrical tabletop displays. Copper and brass cookware gleamed for both cooking and serving. Retro and rustic-themed items abounded, from 70s-style coloured glassware, and drinking vessels that looked like jam jars, to slate servers and wooden crates for displaying goods.
Infant table service straight from the oven
The introduction of universal free school meals for infants in November 2014 was the second major challenge for St Paul's Church of England primary school in Brentford, west London, in as many years - a major fire in August 2013 had already led to the installation of a completely new school kitchen as part of the repair work.
Mel Sinclair, who plans all the menus and sources all the food for the school, says: "Following a major kitchen refurbishment last year, we introduced a 'family service', which means food is brought directly to the table and the children can help themselves, rather than queuing as they used to in the old canteen.
"Family service enables friends to sit together and promotes good speaking and listening in a calm and positive environment. To make family service work, we needed a product that would enable us to serve directly from oven to table, and Flexepans are perfect for this.
"Flexepans, from Primeware Ceramics, are used for jacket potatoes, roast potatoes, potato wedges, pasta, cakes, meat, salads and even jelly. They are so much better and more versatile than the stainless-steel gastronorm pans that we used to have. The most obvious advantage is that we no longer have to transfer food to another dish for serving, and that means that we save time, require fewer serving dishes and, perhaps most importantly of all, have reduced our breakages considerably.
"There are other advantages too. For example, we can chill food immediately after service and we spend much less time removing burnt-on food, which I know everyone in the team really appreciates. This combination of versatility, durability and practicality means that I really couldn't do without them now."
The finishing touch
Rebecca Blake, senior product manager UK and Ireland at SCA Hygiene Products, says it's worth using the full range of napkins and other tableware from your supplier, as they are a great way to add colour and design to an operation. A brightly coloured napkin for spring or summer, and darker, richer tones in the winter (such as Bordeaux, plum or cocoa) can really demonstrate a brand's character.
With folding, simplicity is key. All that is needed is a well-presented eight-fold napkin placed underneath the cutlery. It's much more appealing than a napkin left folded on top of the plate. Size also matters. For a buffet-style menu, smaller napkins are ideal as they are easy to pick up, use and dispose of. A larger napkin is needed for a whole meal.
Whether you serve cutlery on top of the napkin or in a cutlery bag, having it all ready-prepared back of house will speed things up.
Customers often take more napkins than they need. The Tork Xpressnap range of dispensers will cut napkin consumption by at least 25% compared to traditional dispensers.
SCA Hygiene Products
City Bar by LSA