There are several things that go into understanding how to properly set a table. There are various types of drinking glasses, silverware etiquette, and how to properly place different types of plates. Choosing your dinnerware and the correct plate materials for your space can be slightly intimidating, but anything is better than choosing to only have disposable plates sitting around. No matter if you want something more casual or if you’re going for an elegant look, you will have many options available.
You have stoneware, ceramic, earthenware, porcelain, and many more, and they all come with different designs, uses, and price points to consider. It’s critical that you can understand the differences between these types of plates, so we’re going to break down 16 popular options for you below.
There are dozens of different types of plates available, and it’s easy to buy a full set for everyday use.
Before today’s modern plates were invented, people ate out of gourd halves, large leaves, or seashells. They then discovered clay and formed early pottery dinnerware. Early trenchers made out of slabs of wood, metal, earthenware, or hard bread were used until sometime in the 16th century. The bread trenchers were one of the most popular options at this time.
People would carve slabs of hard bread to hold the sauces, meal, salt, or even as candleholders. At the end of each meal, they served a smaller trencher of delicacies and cheeses. In turn, you called in the dessert trencher, and this is what modern plates came from.
In the Middle Ages, pewter plates were used by those who could afford them. The poor ate from wooden trenchers. Pewter led to lead leaking into the food when the food was highly acidic, like tomatoes. Also, hygienic practices weren’t normal at this point, so it was really easy for people to pass on worms and bacteria from the wooden trenchers that formed mouth sores. As technology started to evolve, so did types of plates, and china and porcelain were introduced to the market.
16 Types of Plates
There are more than 16 types of plates available, but these are some of the most popular choices you have for most table settings.
1. Appetizer Plate
This type of plate can come in different sizes, so it’s hard to spot at first. The plate is slightly larger than a traditional bread and butter plate, and it goes from four to seven inches in diameter. Usually, this plate comes with a slightly curved lip to it without any indentations. As the name suggests, this plate holds appetizers like cheese or fresh cut fruits. You may hear this plate called a side, fruit, or berry bowl in some circles. The fruit saucer plate is very thin and shallow, and it removes the juices that come from the fruit. Because it’s common to serve a formal meal course by course, side dishes weren’t typically used. So, you’d only see this plate at more casual settings.
2. Bamboo Plate
If you want a more unique type of plate, consider adding bamboo ones to the lineup. Bamboo offers an appeal that is hard to deny, and they create a very natural feel if you want to be environmentally-friendly, and it makes using these plates sensible. Bamboo dishware is 100% biodegradable, but you can use these dishes far more than one time.
If you’re willing to wash them by hand, you can use these plates multiple times without an issue. They are strong enough to stand up to a host of uses, but you can’t run them through the dishwasher. This will destroy the bamboo plate very quickly due to the biodegradable nature of the material. A lot of people choose to buy these and use them as disposable plates.
No matter if you want to use this type of plate several times or toss them after one use, they are more affordable. You can get bamboo plates at a price that won’t break the bank, so this could be a good choice. It really comes down to your personal feelings on the matter and what you’re after. These aren’t going to be plates that you’ll see in fine dining settings, but they do have their own unique charm.
Bamboo plates won’t last for everyday use for years, but you can make them last longer by washing them by hand.
3. Bread and Butter Plate
The bread and butter type of plate is the smallest one on the table, and it measures between five and seven inches in diameter. You typically use it for bread and butter, as the name suggests, but you may also hear it called the quarter or side plate. This little plate is common at simple dinners or breakfast, and you usually put it on the left side of the diner, right next to the fork. You take it away before you serve dessert. These plates are very commonly used to help separate the bread and butter from other foods, like juices, gravy, or milk.
In Europe during formal dinners, bread and butter plates are available. However, they don’t get set on a formal dinner table in North America in private residences. You can use it to pass broth with thinly sliced melba toast. You can eat fish with a pastry shell on it, and it’s common to pass cheese and butter served at room temperature. Bread often gets served on this type of plate between different wines in a formal setting in a bar or restaurant. Informal dinners like lunches get eaten with bread and butter. If you don’t have a plate offered for a roll or a slice of bread, the food item will go on the tablecloth or surface of the dinner plate by the butter.
Ceramic plates are the most common type of plate you see used on a daily basis. These plates are extremely useful, and you can use them for several years every day without them showing wear and tear. Ceramic plates are also extremely versatile, and it’s very common to find this material on plates that you’d use every day in informal settings all of the way to the other end of the spectrum with highly decorated plates that you bring out during special events.
A big reason this type of plate is so popular is because they come with such a large variety of styles. You can find plates that have a very unique look that makes them visually appealing. When you have so many styles to choose from, it’s easy to find the perfect plate for any occasion from high-end formal affairs to hosting a BBQ to show off your smoker. People who are just starting out in their first home or apartment will typically buy a set of ceramic plates for their dinnerware needs.
You should note that ceramics is a very broad term that could refer to many different types of plates. Even earthenware plates get made using the exact same method used to make ceramic plates. Each of the different styles come with their own appeal, and typical ceramic has a unique charm to it.
5. Charger Plate
This type of plate comes with very decorative edges. It’s flat, and it usually is between 13 and 14 inches in diameter, and this makes it one of the largest plates on the table. Charger plates are usually an extra addition to tableware, and it is mainly used as a decorative piece that will hold bowls and plates on top of it. If you put this plate in a more formal, different environment, this plate will go under your main plate for your full course meals. One won’t usually eat from these plates as they are used for decoration.
During the first course of the meal, you set soup bowls or salad plates on top of it. Charger plates also serve different purposes aside from the fact that they are a nice piece to add to your table’s decor during a fine dining experience. They work to create a very attractive appearance and anchor your dining table, and they are very aesthetically pleasing to the diner or guest.
These plates also work to protect your tablecloth from getting dirty during the service courses. This plate will catch spills, food items, and other messes that would otherwise get in the tablecloth and stain it. It also helps keep the heat in your dinnerware as it’s just beyond all of the other bowls or plates on the table.
6. Dessert Plate
These plates are usually between seven and nine inches wide and very decorated with ornamentation. A lot of companies will call this a luncheon plate, and you can use it during formal or casual meals without an issue. It has a varied purpose, and it works for cakes, snacks, appetizers, and sweets. You may see this plate used in formal dining situations on occasion, like at gatherings, weddings, parties, and places where you serve dessert. Dessert plates are lighter and thinner than dinner plates, and it’s commonly used in both formal and informal meals, even though it’s not necessarily needed.
Dessert plates are generally smaller and they can be very decorative additions to your place setting.
7. Dinner Plate
The dinner plate has been commonly used in virtually every meal as this is the type of plate you’ll pull out for main courses. It’s usually between 11 and 12 inches in diameter, and it typically comes out after the salad bowl. A lot of people use this plate for lunch and dinner dishes. To prepare for the main course, you set the dinner plates on the table, usually in front of whoever is eating. The server will carry the dinner plates and side dishes to the table. They will eventually serve other dinner plates, utensils, and dishes on the table.
8. Disposable Plastic Plate
There are many types of disposable plates that feature plastic as the main material. These plates are most definitely not environmentally-friendly, but they are very cheap. You can buy a pack of 100 for a very low cost. This makes them very convenient to use when you have friends over around the fire pit for a party or a cookout and you don’t want to clean up a host of dishes afterwards.
Anyone who is very environmentally-friendly will avoid this type of plate. They are slowly becoming less common over time as many people continue to think about how they impact the environment. However, if this type of plate still appeals to you, you can buy them from virtually anywhere at a lower cost.
9. Earthenware Plate
Earthenware types of plates are made out of clay, but it doesn’t get fired at as high of temperatures as ceramic plates do. Earthenware tends to be much more porous than ceramic or stoneware, and this makes it less strong or durable. However, you recognize earthenware plates and bowls by their thickness.
When you look at the basic material choices for your types of plates, ceramic is the most durable, especially if it’s high-aluminum vitrified ceramic. Vitrification is the process where you heat bowls, plates, or serving platters to the boiling point and then fire them in a kiln to get a very glass-like, smooth surface. So, your plateware will be very strong and more resistant to bacteria. This is the gold standard for any type of plate for the hospitality industry.
10. Glass Plate
A lot of people love having a nice set of glass plates that they use regularly. They’re popular because they tend to walk the line between casual and formal plates. Generally speaking, getting your hands on real glass plates isn’t horribly expensive, but there are some more decorative options that will cost you more money to buy. You can get clear glass plates or colored ones. Either way, you get a stunning set of plates to match your spoons and silverware. These plates are ones that you can use for any occasion, and they are easy to clean as they are dishwasher-safe to make them convenient.
Glass plates are very common in formal and informal settings, and you can get them in a huge range of colors and decorations.
11. Melamine Plate
If you have no idea what a melamine type of plate is, you’re definitely not alone. Most people around the world won’t be familiar with this plate type, but many people use them as meal plates on a regular basis. At the base, this plate is a plastic plate that you use a lot. Melamine is an organic type of chemical that companies use when they make plastic products, and most plates that people consider to be purely plastic fall under this unknown category.
These types of plates are very easy to work with, and you can find them covered with a host of interesting designs. You will see these plates with cartoon characters features, and many have pretty floral designs. These plates are very appealing as they are easy to use and able to withstand a lot of use without showing a huge amount of wear and tear. It’s common to use these plates if you have children because they won’t be able to break them and injure themselves.
However, you should avoid putting most melanin plates into the microwave. They can’t stand up to the higher temperatures of this appliance, and they can start to melt in a lot of instances. However, these plates are dishwasher safe. They can also release an unpleasant smell if they start to melt.
12. Paper Plate
Paper plates are one of the most frequently used types of plates for people who want something disposable and single-use. They have been around for several years, and they’re very common at birthday parties. In recent years, a lot of people have started avoiding paper plates as they are not very environmentally-friendly, however there are still millions of paper plates being sold around the world each day as they’re seen as better than plastic.
The convenience factor with this type of plate is hard to deny, and you can use these plates and toss them out when you finish. You won’t need to worry about washing them after your meal, and this can cut down the general cleanup times. It’s convenient for people who lead busier lifestyles. However, you want to avoid these plates if you’re trying to impress someone at a dinner party.
Some paper plates come with interesting or fun designs, but they’re usually not a viable replacement for actual dinnerware in most instances. If you do want to get disposable plates that are better than plastic for the environment, you can buy them almost anywhere.
13. Saucer Plate
This plate is one you’ll find served with a teacup. A saucer plate usually runs roughly 10 inches in diameter, and it has an indentation in the center that helps to prevent the teacup from moving around or spilling. This plate isn’t one that you can interchange with any type of plate as it is only meant to hold tea cups or coffee cups. The core of this type of plate has a downturned shape that will fit a matching cup. Sometimes, you’ll get an elevated downturn level that won’t appear on more antique saucers.
This plate helps prevent your tables from suffering heat damage due to the cup’s heat. It’s also helpful for collecting splashes, spills, and drips from your cup. It also works to protect your table linen and the person sitting in a stand-alone chair by holding the cup in the saucer so they can grip it. Saucer plates are also a more convenient location to put a wet spoon that you use to blend creamers or sweeteners into the coffee or tea as it sits in the cup.
A lot of people pour hot coffee or tea from the cup into the saucer as the increased surface area helps prevent burn exposure. It also increases the cooling rate, and this enables you to drink your coffee quickly after you mix in your creamers.
Tea sets can be extremely ornate, and you typically get a saucer that matches the cup to make it easier to pick it up and use it.
14. Serving Platter
Having a few serving platters in your lineup is a great way to round out your collection. Serving platters are usually the biggest types of plates you can get, and they’re roughly 12 inches in size. You can plate formal, large meals on them like roasted vegetable, roast chicken, and porterhouse steaks.
15. Soup Plate
The soup plate comes with a different shape from other types of dishes. This plate gets used to hold watering foods, as the name suggests. The bowl works like a soup container, and the edge of the plate is a cup that has an arch. There are several variations between soup plates for casual and formal meals. The soup plate is usually smaller for formal dinners, and it’ll be between 9 and 10 inches in diameter with one-inch rims.
This shallow plate usually comes with an underplate, and it’s only the shallow types that you’ll see in formal dining situations. Soup bowls without any rims or a saucer-like coupe bowl can be popular during informal meals. They come in a range of shapes, and the structure and temperature of the soup specify the form.
For example, a chunky, thick soup retains heat so it’s usually served in cups that help to disperse the heat. If the soup is a smooth texture or pure broth, it’s recommended to put it in a deeper type of plate to help hold in the heat. Transparent or clear soups are usually served in tiny cups to help maintain and preserve the temperature.
16. Stoneware Plate
The final type of plate is something that technically falls into the ceramics sphere, but it is distinct enough to get its one listing. Stoneware is one of the most common dinnerware types of plates you’ll see used in today’s time. It’s usually very durable, and you can get a lot of use out of this type of plate. These plates are also much less likely to get scratched than other ceramics, and this makes them great for routine use.
Clay is one of the main materials that you use to create stoneware. The clay gives these plates a very unique look that some people adore, and it works well to add character to them. They have a very rustic charm that would look great in a farmhouse kitchen, and you’ll see them featured in many informal settings for supper around the world.
There are several stoneware plate types that have small differences and quirks that make them very attractive. They’re very easy to use and durable, so if you’re after a set of plates that you can use every day, stoneware is a great choice. You’ll love how well they withstand regular wear and tear.
These 16 types of plates can help you round out your dinnerware set and ensure that you’re ready for every occasion. You can get most of them if you buy a full set of dinnerware, but some are specialty plates that you’ll have to buy separately if you want them. Make sure you choose the material that is going to suit your tastes and serve you for years.