Tableware are the dishes or dishware used for setting a table, serving food and dining. It includes cutlery, glassware, serving dishes and other useful items for practical as well as decorative purposes.The quality, nature, variety and number of objects varies according to culture, religion, number of diners, cuisine and occasion. For example, Middle Eastern, Indian or Polynesian food culture and cuisine sometimes limits tableware to serving dishes, using bread or leaves as individual plates. Special occasions are usually reflected in higher quality tableware.

Cutlery is more usually known as silverware or flatware in the United States, where cutlery usually means knives and related cutting instruments; elsewhere cutlery includes all the forks, spoons and other silverware items. Outside the US, flatware is a term for “open-shaped” dishware items such as plates, dishes and bowls (as opposed to “closed” shapes like jugs and vases). “Dinnerware” is another term used to refer to tableware and “crockery” refers to ceramic tableware, today often porcelain or bone chaina .Sets of dishes are referred to as a table service, dinner service or service set.  Table settings or place settings are the dishes, cutlery and glassware used for formal and informal dining. In Ireland such items are normally referred to as delph, the word being an English language phonetic spelling of the word  Delft , the town from which so much delftware  came.  Silver Service or butler service are methods for a butler or waiter to serve a meal.

Setting the table refers to arranging the tableware, including individual Place settings  for each diner at the table as well as decorating the table itself in a manner suitable for the occasion. Tableware and table decoration is typically more elaborate for special occasions. Unusual dining locations demand tableware be adapted.



In recent centuries, flatware is usually made of pottery , ceramic materials such as earthenware , stoneware, bone china or porcelain. The triumph of ceramics is probably due to the spread of ceramic glazes , which were slow to develop in Europe; without the glassy surface they give pottery tableware may be less hygienic. Table ware can be made of other materials such as  wood , pewter, latten, silver, gold , glass, acrylic , and plastic. Before it was possible to purchase mass-produced tableware, it was fashioned from available materials, such as wood.  Industrialization  and developments in ceramic manufacture made inexpensive washable tableware available. It is sold either by the piece or as a matched set for a number of diners, normally four, six, eight, or twelve place settings. Large quantities are purchased for use in restaurants. Individual pieces, such as those needed as replacement pieces for broken dishes, can be procured from “open stock”  inventory. at shops, or from antique dealers if the pattern is no longer in production.

Cutlery is normally made of metal of some kind, though large pieces such as ladles  for serving may be of wood.



The earliest pottery in cultures around the world does not seem to have included flatware, concentrating on pots and jars for storage and cooking. Wood does not survive well in most places, and though archaeology has found few wooden plates and dishes from prehistory, they may have been common, once the tools to fashion them were available.



The knife is much the oldest type of cutlery; early ones were normally carried by the individual at all times. Forks and spoons came later, initially only for the wealthy, who typically carried their own personal set. After the Romans, who made great use of spoons, joined by forks  later,  there were only knives and perhaps wooden spoons for most of the Middle Ages. It was only in the 17th century that hosts among the elite again began to lay out cutlery at the table, although at an Italian banquet in 1536 for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor,  it is recorded that each guest was provided with knife, spoon and fork, evidently a rarity. The table fork was revived in Italy in the 16th century, and was described for his English readers by Thomas Coryat  in the 1590s as “not used in any other country that I saw in my travels”. In England and France, it only became common after the 1660s, even in the court of Louis XIV, and for a while seems to have mostly been used by ladies, and for especially messy food, like fruits in  syrup.



Tableware is generally the functional part of the settings on dining tables but great attention has been paid to the purely decorative aspects, especially when dining is regarded as part of entertainment  such as in banquets  given by important people or special events, such as State occasions. Table decoration may be ephemeral and consist of items made from confectionery  or wax – substances commonly employed in Roman banqueting tables of the 17th century. During the reign of George III of the United Kingdom, ephemeral table decoration was done by men known as “table-deckers” who used sand and similar substances to create marmotinto   works (sand painting) for single-use decoration. In modern times, ephemeral table decorations continue to be made from sugar or carved from ice.

The porcelain  figurine began in early 18th-century Germany as a permanent replacement for  sugar sculptures  on the dining table.

In wealthy countries such as 17th century France, table decorations for the aristocracy were sometimes made of silver. One of the most famous table decorations is the Cellini Salt Cellar.  Ephemeral and silver table decorations were replaced with porcelain items after its reinvention in Europe in the 16th century.



A table setting in Western countries is mainly in one of two styles: service a al russe  (French for “in the Russian style “), where each course of the meal is brought out in specific order; and service a la franchise  (French for “in the French style”), where all the courses for the meal are arranged on the table and presented at the same time that guests are seated. Service à la russe has become the custom in most restaurants, whereas service a la francaise is the norm in family settings.

Place settings for service à la russe dining are arranged according to the number of courses in the meal. The tableware is arranged in a particular order. With the first course, each guest at the table begins by using the tableware placed on the outside of place setting. As each course is finished the guest leaves the used cutlery on the used plate or bowl, which are removed from the table by the server. In some case, the original set is kept for the next course. To begin the next course, the diner uses the next item on the outside of the place setting, and so on. Forks are placed on the left of a dinner plate, knives to the right of the plate, and spoons to the outer right side of the place setting.



Items of tableware include a variety of plates, bowls ; or cups for individual diners and a range of serving dishes to transport the food from the kitchen or to separate smaller dishes. Plates include charger plates  as well as specific dinner plates, lunch plates, dessert plates, salad plates or side plates. Bowls include those used for soup, cereal, pasta, fruit or dessert. A range of saucers  accompany plates and bowls, those designed to go with teacups, coffee cups, demitasses and cream soup bowls. There are also individual covered casserole dishes.

Dishes come in standard sizes, which are set according to the manufacturer. They are similar throughout the industry. Plates are standardised in descending order of diameter  size according to function. One standard series is charger  (12 inches); dinner plate  (10.5 inches); dessert plate  (8.5 inches) salad plate  (7.5 inches); side plate, tea plate  (6.75 inches).



Glasses and mugs  of various types are an important part of tableware, as beverages are important parts of a meal. Vessels to hold alcoholic beverages such as wine , whether red,  white , sparkling  tend to be quite specialised in form, with for example Port wine glasses,  beer glasses, brandy balloons, aperitif  and liqueur glasses all having different shapes. Water glasses, juice  glasses and hot chocolate  mugs are also differentiated. Their appearance as part of the tableware depends on the meal and the style of table arrangement.

Tea and coffee tend to involve strong social rituals and so teacups  and, coffee cups (including demitasse  cups) have a shape that depends on the culture and the social situation in which the drink is taken.



Chinese table settings  are traditional in style. Table setting practices in Japan and other parts of East Asia have been influenced by Chinese table  setting customs. The emphasis in Chinese table settings is on displaying each individual food in a pleasing way, usually in separate bowls or dishes. Formal table settings are based upon the arrangements used in a family setting, although they can become extremely elaborate with many dishes. Serving bowls and dishes are brought to the table, where guests can choose their own portions. Formal Chinese restaurants  often use a large turning wheel in the centre of the table to rotate food for easier service.

In a family setting, a meal typically includes a fan dish, which constitutes the meal’s base (much like bread forms the base of various sandwiches), and several accompanying mains, called cai dish (choi or seoung in Cantonese). More specifically, fan usually refers to cooked rice, but can also be other staple grain-based foods. If the meal  is a light meal, it will typically include the base and one main dish. The base is often served directly to the guest in a bowl, whereas main dishes  are chosen by the guest from shared serving dishes on the table.