People have different tastes when it comes to selecting serveware. Some like sleek, modern shapes. Others prefer traditional pieces, perhaps inherited. Some are platter people. Others get giddy over olive boats or cupcake stands.
Whatever the style, serveware adds style to the tabletop. It keeps food moving at a family meal – pass to the right! – and people moving in the buffet line. Some items double as decorative pieces year-round; others come out only at holiday time.
This fall, we’re seeing plenty of muted metallic finishes, interesting textures and fun shapes – an olive tray shaped like a bean pod, perhaps.
Still, the dishes’ main function is to contain and serve. The gravy, after all, has to go somewhere.
As for the serveware we need most – especially with the approaching holidays?
“There are some really basic pieces that are important, and platters are definitely one of them. You want to have various sizes and shapes,” said Deanna Myers, owner of Blue Hill Kitchen & Home, 1374 Hertel Ave.
Second on her list would be bowls – again in different sizes to hold condiments and fruit, pastas and popcorn.
“To round out the basics, pedestal plates or cake plates are fantastic – for two reasons. They’re not just for cakes. You can pile appetizers, cookies or small bites on them, and you can build them into tiers,” Myers said.
These, too, come in assorted sizes, so smaller pedestal plates can go on top of larger ones.
“That adds height to the table, which is really nice, and also gives you room to serve other things,” she said.
Also on her list: pitchers in different sizes and patterns. They’re great for beverages – it’s always nice to have a pitcher of water set out during meals – but they also can stand in for vases for informal flower arrangements.
That’s what’s handy about so many of these pieces; they’re multifunctional. Small bowls can be used to float roses or gerbera daisies on a table during a dinner party, for example. Trays can be where you toss mail in the front hall or display perfume bottles on a dressing table.
Not surprisingly, some items quickly become personal favorites. For Janet Wetter, it’s a small sterling silver pitcher with a thick, solid red, glass insert. She and her husband spotted it years ago while visiting an antiques shop in Westfield.
“We must have seen it around Thanksgiving time, and I decided I was going to buy it for him for Christmas. My parents were visiting so we drove back down to Westfield – in a blizzard. I remember just white-knuckling it down the Thruway,” said Wetter, a retired interior designer who now works for Western New York Heritage Magazine.
Years later, the pitcher still comes out at Christmas time to hold cream or a dessert sauce – and to recall memories of the journey to retrieve it.
Sentiment is found in other pieces as well. Wetter said that several of their inherited dishes come with the names of the original owners.
“It’s ‘Dad’s nut dish’ and ‘Aunt Margaret’s celery dish.’ They all have their own name – and we know what each one is,” she said.
As for building or adding to one’s collection, Myers offered this tip:
Your serving platters, bowls and other pieces do not have to match your dinnerware.
Her general rule: “If your dinnerware is patterned, then you may want to look for solids in your serving pieces – either colored or white. Or the reverse: If you have white ware, you can mix in serving pieces that are colored or patterned or in different textures.”
Depending on how much serveware you do own, you want to have some of those pieces matching.
“Think of it as a wardrobe for the table. You want to have some really good basics – in basic colors – and then you can throw in accessory pieces that would be like your scarves or your purses where it’s going to be different. You can blend them in that way for a little more interest,” she said.
Nor do you want to buy all your serveware at once.
“Build your collection around how you entertain. Buy it piece by piece so it’s not so overwhelming,” Myers said.
Remember, too, that some of today’s serveware goes from oven to table, if that is important to you.
Looking for other tips for collecting serveware to use at the table and in your home? In her book “The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners and Tableware,” Suzanne Von Drachenfels provides a comprehensive list of what she considers a basic set of serveware. Dig in!
• Large oval platter to serve a roast.
• Small oval platter for chops or fish.
• Deep bowl (about 5 to 6 inches deep) to serve soft foods, fruit salad and deep-dish pie.
• Shallow bowl, (about 1 inch deep) to hold firm vegetables, fruit, rolls, crackers and cheese.
• Small bowl for cold sauce, dips, nuts and candy.
• Sauce boat for gravy and hot sauces.
• Medium-size pitcher for syrup, gravy, sauce or honey.
• Large pitcher to serve water and other beverages.
• Beverage pot for coffee, tea, hot chocolate.
• Creamer for cream as well as salad dressing, dessert topping, gravy and sauces.
• Covered sugar bowl that doubles for condiments, jam, nuts, sauce or dips.
She also recommends for informal meals, for 8 to 10 people, duplicate pieces of serveware, such as bread baskets or sauce boats, so you can place them at either end of the table and guests can easily help themselves.
Dinner is served.