One of the mainstays of restaurant supplies is dinnerware or flatware: all of the utensils that people need to manage a fine meal, from appetizer to dessert or coffee. They’re a major staple of food service, and making decisions about what sets to buy--from pattern to materials, which specific types to have available to which ones can multitask--is a major consideration. A good restaurant supply store will have a lot of options to choose from, but before you go shopping you should make sure you know the essentials.
To begin with, not every restaurant will need all of the flatware utensils that exist. Most restaurants can stick with a very basic set: salad forks, dinner forks, dinner knives, soup spoons, and dessert/coffee spoons. Of course, some restaurants will use the same spoons for both soup and the sweet courses, but there are reasons for the different sizes and configurations of flatware items. There are, of course, far more utensils than these: fish forks, lobster forks, seafood forks, fruit forks, ice cream, pastry, strawberry, snail, and oyster forks. Just within one category there are a lot of options to choose from, clearly! The different configurations of the tines--from the fruit fork’s three slim tines to the two tines of the snail fork and the four tines common to most other forms--generally are geared towards making it easier to manipulate the particular item in question, piercing and catching or scooping or cutting, depending on the course in question. Clearly, though, buying up every piece--even if your restaurant serves a very wide variety of dishes--is not entirely practical. Assess what the core needs of your operation are: what types of dishes you serve the most of, which of these items can be used fairly easily for multiple courses, and so on, and move from there.
Then, too, there’s the question of materials. The most commonly available varieties of flatware are sterling silver, silver-plated, and stainless steel. There are, of course, various strengths and weaknesses of each type. While you should avoid mix-and-match approaches to flatware purchases, there are some areas in which sterling silver or silver plated flatware makes a major difference. Silver adds some elegance to high-end seafood meals, and since the metal is inert, it doesn’t carry or transmit heat as readily. However, for most restaurant and even home operations, stainless steel is the way to go, for a few reasons: first, it’s much, much more reasonably priced, especially when buying in large quantities, than sterling silver or even silver-plated utensils. Secondly, the material is much tougher to scratch, and much easier to clean than silver flatware. But even among stainless steel flatware, not all products are created equal; the best standard is 18/10 stainless steel, which has the best proportion of chromium and nickel in the alloy to prevent corrosion and enhance hardness.
Finally, there are production methods to consider and know about. The three basic methods of producing flatware items are: forged, stamped, and hollow-handle. Hollow-handle is the most complicated production method, resulting in lightweight, well-balanced utensils--but they also tend to be very expensive. Stamped flatware are made using patterns that are stamped directly into sheets of metal, which are much more economical, and slightly heavier than the hollow-handle varieties. Forged flatware is done in a very old-fashioned way, pouring liquid metal into forms, making it all one, single piece--and very heavy.
With this information in mind, you can go to a restaurant supply store and start looking into the choices available to you for furnishing your table or tables. For the most economical choices, stainless steel (of an 18/10 grade) and stamped manufacture are the best; but for high-end restaurants or fancy china service, sterling silver with hollow-handle or forged production is a better way to go. By knowing what your flatware needs are, you can make informed choices about what to buy, in which volumes, and what you can leave on the shelf.
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