When is a plate not a plate?

A few days ago a restaurant in Birmingham was fined £50,000 for serving food on wooden boards.

Now, before you all start panicking and hiding any wooden serving dishes you may have, these particular ones had been linked to an alleged food poisoning outbreak. An inspection and hygiene improvement notice followed, but two months later the restaurant was still using the damaged, “incapable of being cleaned” boards.

Many eateries are finding unusual, novel ways to serve food, but aside from health and hygiene concerns, are the days of “plates not plates” over? Tennis rackets, trowels, mini shopping trolleys, even flat caps and slippers have all been derided in a backlash to this trend of curtailing crockery. Articles like “29 Hilariously Stupid Things Restaurants have Used In Place of Plates” and a Twitter account which declares “WeWantPlate” are dedicated to deriding the trend.

In my opinion, it’s vital to recognise that there’s a time and place for serving up dishes on unusual tableware. A selection of cheese and meats with chunks of bread can be beautifully presented on a (hygenic) rustic wooden or slate board. A full breakfast served on a spade, however? Most of us would conjure up images of mud and dirt, enough to put even the most strong-stomached off our food.

Unless it’s something that is wonderful and fits with the occasion or environment, I can’t remember any of the plates or dishes my meals have been served on. As a foodie, I focus on the main event, and don’t want any distractions. There’s nothing wrong with clean, white crockery and silver cutlery – as long as there are no off-putting chips or marks.

But if you have a funky restaurant, then funky dishes and glassware would be expected. Your tableware should be determined by your business. There has been some resurgence in vintage style glassware and tableware, and this certainly works well in establishments with a distinct historical feel. The increasing demand by health-conscious guests for smaller portions has meant a rise in providing smaller plates, and high-end eateries should never abandon crystal glasses. But I’d suggest that the most F&B managers should focus on tableware which is:

  • Good quality
  • Durable – and it’s worth spending extra for longevity
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to store
  • Shock proof
  • Under warranty

That’s not to say you can’t have some fun. Brightly coloured tea pots always look great, and if you’re a themed restaurant, then you need to play to and enhance that theme. Napkins and flowers add flourish and flair and can reflect the tone of your eatery, the season and your brand.

Most importantly though, first impressions count; so ensure all service staff know how to set a table to make it look as attractive as possible, regardless of whether your tableware reflects the latest trends, is simple and classy or traditional.

And, for goodness sake, make sure whatever you’re serving your food on has been cleaned properly!