While daring new designs might not go with economic instability, tableware trends that downsize portions and maximise aesthetics are sure to keep diners hungry for more. Lucy Robertson reports
The ongoing global economic downturn has undoubtedly slowed the rate at which restaurants and catering companies turn over their tableware—among other things. “Most of us are really just trying to hang on to what we’ve already got at the moment,” said one industry insider, who asked not to be named.
“Now’s not the time to be seeking out brave new designs,” they said, before admitting that many outfits are still buying up on durable polycarbonate and toughened materials as a result of new workplace safety laws introduced last year.
But while the room for lavish tableware spending might be limited, that doesn’t mean some carefully guided trends aren’t making their way onto restaurant and hotel tables around the nation. And, increasingly, these trends are shaped by the philosophies and expectations of diners watching their hip pockets, rather than being driven by industry or manufacturers.
Bill Sinclair heads up the sales team at tableware supplier Spyral, and says managers are finding new ways to balance cost and waste management with a pared-back modern aesthetic.
The result is more refined, more user-friendly, and increasingly focused on efficiency and quality control, with the help of clever technologies.
“In restaurants, we are seeing a move away from traditional fine dining to ‘signature’ restaurants,” Sinclair explains. “By that, I mean the quality of the food is still the same, the quality of the chinaware and glassware is the same, but the overall look is not as traditional.”
The move might seem counterintuitive for many restaurateurs, who have long tried to create intimacy and a certain peacefulness in a dining room. But as diners exit expensive eateries en masse, perhaps in a bid to cut their own costs in the face of financial woes, owners seem to have returned to the acoustic ‘buzz’ of a busy restaurant in an ironic but understandable backflip.
Sinclair concurs: “If you go past a row of restaurants these days, you’re more likely to go into the one that appears to have lots of noise and activity—not the quite one.”
The trend is carried through to tabletops, he says, with a general move away from large, deep bowls and oversized plates to smaller, more delicate plating options.
“I think this has come about due to our change in eating habits, in that we no longer always go out for a one large main course, but instead choose to experience a series of smaller dishes,” Sinclair offers. “It’s also partly due to the fact that many restaurants no longer have one type of cuisine on their menu, but are offering more fusion-inspired menus. It’s not uncommon to see a Japanese-inspired dish next to a traditional item like lamb shanks, or a delicate tapas-style dish.”
More eclectic or multicultural menu combinations give way to more creative plating options, with much tableware shrinking down to a more modest size and adopting asymmetrical shapes to compensate for the downsize.
“We’re seeing a lot of mixed media at the moment, such as glass being used alongside metal and porcelain, all on the table at the same time. I think it adds interest and depth to the food they are presenting, and in my view, reflects a more holistic view about the entire dining experience today.”
Sinclair notes it is not just high-end restaurants that are adopting the new tableware approach.
“A similar trend has creeped into the world of buffet dining in hotels and catering outfits, where diners would traditionally serve themselves from a communal large bowl or platter of separate food items, literally ‘digging out’ what they wanted. The problem with this was that after a couple of diners, the platter looked like a mess,” he explains.
“We are seeing a move away from traditional fine dining to ‘signature’ restaurants. The food, chinaware and glassware is the same, but the look is not as traditional. Bill Sinclair, Spyral
Happily, the use of smaller plates and more individual plating options addresses all three problems in one, promising a win for diners as well as managers.
“Serving portions on individual dishes means the chef regains aesthetic control, management no longer has HACCP issues, and managers regain control over portion sizes and wastage,” he says. These kinds of new tableware trends fit well with current economic pressures, too, by ensuring that the most profitable modes of food service are still viable in the face of increasing safety, efficiency and waste controls.
Toughened materials like those used in Crown Commercial’s Lucaris or Polycarbonate ranges are also making headway in today’s pared-back tableware aesthetic—primarily for their tailoring to recent OH&S legislation designed to protect cut fingers from broken glasses or plates.
Similarly, cocktail functions or roaming entrees are now increasingly served as individual portions on curved spoons, in shot glasses, or artisan improvised plates like slates, wooden or bamboo mats. Clever technologies like convection heating or magnets hidden within large serving vessels are also posing new heating and cooling options in the cocktail environment.
Because, no matter how dire the world’s financial situation is, people will always need to eat. And if they can do so from a delicate Asian-inspired spoon, a piece of industrial-look slate or brushed steel, or on a suitably downsized, stylishly asymmetrical plate, it’s sure to feel like a truly priceless moment.