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The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.
- Service Plate
- Dinner Plate
- Luncheon Plate
- Salad Plate
- Fish Plate
- Dessert Plate
- Cheese Plate
- Tea Plate
- Fruit Plate
- Bread-and-Butter Plate
- Fruit Saucer
Plates are made in twelve sizes for table use: service plate, dinner plate, luncheon plate, round salad plate, crescent salad plate, fish plate, dessert plate, cheese plate, fruit plate, tea plate, bread-and-butter plate, and a fruit saucer.
The service plate is the largest plate. Service plates range in size from 11 to 14 inches across.
The service plate is laid in the center of the cover before the diners come to the table, but the way it is used is different for formal and informal dining. At a formal table, the service plate decorates the cover and the rim should frame the appetizer plate with a surround of no less than one inch.
In formal dining, food is never placed directly on a service plate. Rather, the service plate is a base on which to lay the plate for the appetizer course and is cleared from the table after the first or second course is finished. Since soup splatters, the service plate is soiled easily, and at the end of the course it is cleared from the table with the soup plate. Because there should never be an empty space before a guest, after the service plate and soup plate are cleared, the plate for the next course is laid on the table immediately. But when the meal begins with a cold first course, such as fish, followed by a hot course of soup, the fish plate is removed at the end of the first course, and the service plate is left on the table to hold the soup plate. At the end of the soup course, the service plate and soup plate are cleared together, and exchanged immediately for the plate on which the next course is served.
At an informal meal, the service plate is an optional accoutrement of dining. Although traditionally the purpose of the service plate is to hold the plate for the appetizer course, at an informal meal it is used in whatever way makes sense, as a dinner plate, buffet plate, placemat, or platter. When it is used in the traditional sense, it is laid on the table in advance of seating and should set the mood for the occasion. Oftentimes, dinner plates are used as service plates to hold a first course.
Service plates are known by a host of names - buffet plate, charger plate, cover plate, lay plate, and place plate.
The dinner plate is used more than any other plate. It is used to serve the main course at all meals, formal and informal. Modern dinner plates measure from 10 to 11 inches across.
At a formal dinner in a private residence, the entree is the third appetizer course, such as a creamed chicken in vol-au-vent cases, and as such is served on a medium-size plate, notably a salad plate. But in a restaurant, the main course often follows two appetizer courses, usually soup and salad. Typically, the entree consists of cooked meat served with vegetables, starch, and garnish, and as such is served on a dinner plate.
Luncheon is lighter, simpler meal than dinner, a repast served on a plate about 9 to 9.5 inches in diameter. Although the luncheon plate is used for formal and informal meals, it is not essential for either occasion.
The round salad plate is made in two sized. The larger salad plate is about 8 to 8.5 inches in diameter, the smaller 7 to 7.5 inches.
At a formal meal, the salad plate is laid before the guest after the main course is cleared, an arranged salad is presented to the diner on a platter. At an informal meal, the salad plate functions to serve salad presented before the main course, as a side dish with the main course, or following the main course to stimulate the palate. But when salad is the main course, it is presented on a dinner plate.
The fish plate is a specialized plate about 8 to 9 inches in diameter. It is not made as part of a dinnerware set, but is recognizable by ornamentation in a fish pattern. The fish plate is not essential for formal or informal meals; when served as an appetizer, fish is presented on any medium-size plate, such as a salad plate or a dessert plate. If fish is the main course, it is presented on a dinner plate.
Dessert plates are ornately decorated. They are specialized plates about 7.25 to 8.5 inches in diameter, used at formal and informal meals, and made not as part of a dinnerware set.
Cheese plates are recognized by ornamentation in a cheese pattern. They are specialized plates about 7.25 inches in diameter, used at formal and informal meals, and made not as part of a dinnerware set.
Tea plates are specialized plates, about 7 to 7.5 inches in diameter. The purpose of the tea plate is to hold the teacup without a saucer. Some tea plates feature a shallow well.
Fruit plates are recognized by ornamentation in a fruit pattern. They are specialized plates about 6.25 to 8 inches in diameter, used at formal and informal meals, and made not as part of a dinnerware set.
The bread-and-butter plate is used to separate bread and butter from sauce, gravy, and juices that emanate from foods on the plate. Although the bread-and-butter plate is optional at formal dinners in Europe, in a private residence in North America it is not laid on a formal dinner table because the menu is planned to provide sufficient tast and texture without the need for bread and butter. Thinly sliced melba toast may be passed with soup, fish may be served in a pastry shell, and toasted crackers are passed with cheese, along with butter at room temperature. when dry toast and crackers are served at a formal dinner, they are placed on the tablecloth. However, at a formal dinner in a restaurant or club, bread is often provided to cleanse the palate between different wines and to tide one over during long lapses between courses.
Bread and butter are served at informal meals and luncheons. When a plate is not provided for a slice of bread or a roll, it is laid on the tablecloth or rim of the dinner plate, where the butter is also placed.
Known also as a fruit dish, side dish, or berry bowl, the fruit saucer is a small shallow dish about 4 to 6 inches in diameter by 1 inch deep. The purpose of a fruit saucer is to separate juices that flow from raw or cooked food from other foods. Because a formal meal is served course by course, side dishes are not used, and a fruit saucer is provided only at informal meals.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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