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Dinnerware Material: China vs. Plastic

Deciding which type of dinnerware to feature in your food service operation can be daunting. There’s just so many options to choose from and several questions to ask. Will it coordinate with the current setup? Can it enhance the dining room ambiance? Will it withstand heavy use, or will it need replaced frequently?

At Central Restaurant Products, we offer hundreds of different types, styles, designs, and patterns from some of the most popular manufacturers of commercial dinnerware in the world. When shopping for dinnerware, you’re likely to come across the construction material in the features, but what does this really mean?

Not all plates, platters or bowls are created equal. Even though ceramic and plasticware are the two primary umbrella categories, not all plastic dinnerware will guarantee the same degree of durability. How will the construction of your dinnerware impact your overall bottom line? What’s the benefit of opting for a melamine collection, say, than traditional china? What’s the difference between all the different types of plastic materials? Shopping for new dinnerware can be loads of fun, but it can also be stressful if you’re not fully aware of the quality you may be receiving. Here, we seek to shed some light.

Ceramic and Fine Chinaware

Traditional chinaware is made of a durable ceramic material that is biscuit-fired at high temperatures and then glazed fired at a lower temperature. There are two common types of china dinnerware that you’re likely to come across in your search.

Porcelain china is constructed out of combination of rock minerals and clay including feldspar, quartz, and kaolin. Porcelain chinaware is usually the less expensive china solution and has a noticeably heavier weight than bone china; however, the brittle composition usually results in more frequent chipping, thus needing replaced more often.

Porcelain China Dinnerware

Central Model #474-483

Bone china dinnerware is constructed out of a more finely grated composition, still including the same minerals as porcelain china, but with added ox bone ash which enhances its durability. Fine bone china is often considered to create a more upscale, fine dining appearance. It’s thinner and lighter than its porcelain sibling, but runs at a higher price point. However, with its stronger durability, it will need replaced far less frequently. A classic case of you get what you pay for.

Fine Bone China Dinner Plate

Central Model #60K-806

A good test to see if your existing chinaware is porcelain or bone is to hold it up to a light fixture. If there is no trace of light shining through, you are most likely holding a piece of everyday porcelain ceramic dinnerware. Chinaware with the added ox bone ash element will allow some light to shine through.

High end chinaware is often ideal for upscale, fine dining establishments. Nice china can set the mood of the dining room, enhancing the theme, presentation, and creating personality. It holds many benefits for the front and back of the house, acting as a canvas ready for the chef’s masterpiece.

China that’s 100% vitrified works to prevent crazing and cracking that lead to bacterial growth over time, thus enhancing sanitation and food safety efforts. Fully vitrified china means that the dinnerware was fired at a lower temperature, coming out stronger and thinner than non-vitrified china. Vitrified dinnerware does not absorb water so there’s less risk of expanding and contracting, working to prevent accidental breakage and ensuring longevity of the product life.

Earthenware and Stoneware are two other types of porcelain dinnerware in the same family as china. Stoneware is durable and often trendier, featuring a stone exterior. Its unique, trendier presentation makes it ideal for restaurants serving Asian cuisine, bistros, farm to table, etc. It’s either semi or fully vitrified and safe for microwave or dishwasher use. Earthenware, on the other hand, is much less durable, a result of a quick and simple firing process. It is made of non-vitrified clay and less expensive than stoneware. It also offers excellent heat induction while adding a rustic feel to the ambiance. It is recommended to be handwashed only.

Tuxton Earthenware Soup Crock

Central Model #479-279

As we’ve discussed, some china is more durable than others. When shopping for your next china pattern, pay attention to whether or not the china can be used in the microwave or oven. A good determinant on the durability is whether it comes with a manufacturer warranty. Many top brands offer a one year no-chip warranty. International Tableware offers a Five-Year no-chip warranty exclusively at Central! A manufacturer warranty is typically a good determinant of durability, as it can be read that the manufacturer themselves have strong faith in their work.

Our top chinaware manufacturers include:

It’s important to note, however, that no piece of china is break-resistant. Most, but not all, chinaware is dishwasher safe. This is something you will want to verify in your research. Some china feature with glazed patterns that are not recommended for use in a dishwasher. Read on to learn more about dinnerware solutions that are virtually unbreakable.

Melamine Dinnerware

Melamine dinnerware rose in popularity in the 1940s for use during dinner parties. Melamine is a chemical that is used to make hard plastics and is therefore extremely durable and typically offered at a much lower price point than traditional chinaware. Some high-end melamine dinnerware even replicates the look and feel of chinaware, thus offering the best of both worlds. Given its notable durability, many melamine manufacturers will boast that their products are “virtually unbreakable!”

GET Urban Mill Melamine

G.E.T. Enterprises Trendy Urban Mill Pattern Melamine

Melamine is a great solution in many different types of commercial foodservice operations. Because it can withstand the rigors of day to day use, commercial melamine dinnerware is often seen in school cafeterias, hospitals, or other types of institutions with hectic, fast-paced rushes. Like china, melamine dinnerware also comes in quite the array of styles and patterns, with top brands working around the clock to define new trends.

Though melamine is difficult to break, instances of chipping have occurred if not properly cared for or maintained. However, melamine dinnerware won’t shatter if accidentally dropped, like most types of china. Most melamine will also be able to withstand high heat, many types up to 212°F. It’s an insulator, not a conductor, meaning it can maintain temperatures longer than other types of plastic dinnerware. It also stays cool to the touch when serving hot foods.

Generally speaking, melamine dinnerware is dishwasher safe and dries quickly, so users won’t wait long before they’re able to re-enter the dinnerware back into the food serving assembly. In addition to their durable “break-resistant” advertisements, melamine is also considered to be scratch and stain resistant.

Though dishwasher safe, melamine is not recommended for use in the microwave or oven, as opposed to some of their ceramic counterparts. Even though it’s capable of withstanding high heats, it should never be heated while in contact with food. Proper cleaning and care of melamine dinnerware ensures longevity. This video from our friends at G.E.T. Enterprises offers tried and true techniques for proper melamine maintenance.

Our top melamine dinnerware brands include:

It’s easy to talk in general terms, but like all types of dinnerware, not all melamine is the same. It’s best to fully research all the features of a specific style before committing. At Central, you can request a free sample of many of our dinnerware selections to see for yourself prior to purchasing.

But wait… is plastic safe?

A common concern with melamine and other plasticware are the chemicals used to create hard, durable plastic. These chemicals are extensively researched and tested to assure their fit and safe for dining. BPA is one of the most common chemicals used in plastic construction.

  • What is BPA?

A concern many have when it comes to melamine products is the amount of BPA they may contain. BPA, which is an acronym for Bisphenol A, is a chemical that manufacturers started using to construct certain plastics and resins starting in the 1950s. In the 1990s, consumers began questioning whether BPA was safe with many studies trying to link it to health problems. The FDA has since concluded that low levels are not harmful to humans. However, many products containing BPA, such as baby bottles, have been banned in the United States. Some melamine products on the market do still contain small traces of BPA in their construction, while others proudly exclaim they are 100% BPA free.

  • NSF Certification

If BPA is a concern for you, you can check to see if the piece of dinnerware is NSF certified. NSF is a stamp of approval given from NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization that develop standards for public health regulation. NSF approved dinnerware is always recommended over dinnerware that isn’t, and this isn’t something exclusive to dinnerware.

NSF Approved Logo

NSF Approved Logo

All sorts of commercial food service equipment and supplies are NSF listed. NSF International reviews construction material and the manufacturing process to confirm that all their standards are met. Therefore, opting for an NSF approved product gives peace of mind that the brand is complying with national regulations and safety standards. Many NSF listed items also feature added sanitary protections. The benefits of choosing products that have NSF International’s seal of approval reduce the risk of foodborne illness, are often easier to clean, and may help boost overall health inspection scores.

Other Plastic Dinnerware Constructions

Ceramic and melamine are arguably the two most popular types of commercial dinnerware constructions on the market. However, throughout your shopping adventures, you’re likely to see a few other types of plastic materials. Here’s a brief breakdown of what they mean.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is a lightweight plastic material that, like melamine, is commonly considered to be shatter resistant. Unlike melamine, traditional polycarbonate dinnerware is also heat resistant and safe for microwave use. A lot of polycarbonate dinnerware can withstand temperatures between -40°F through 212°F. This makes the dinnerware ideal for use in both freezers and high temperature environments.

Cambro Polycarbonate Three-Compartment Plate

Central Model #250-564

BPA (see above) is a common chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics. BPA is one of the most extensively tested chemicals today, and, again, the FDA has concluded that small traces are not harmful for humans.

Polycarbonate dinnerware is typically inexpensive, which can be a big plus. However, though it’s thought to be break-resistant, some polycarbonate dinnerware may scratch and stain easily.

Our top polycarbonate dinnerware brands include Carlisle and Cambro.

Polypropylene and Polyethylene

Both polypropylene and polyethylene are similar, and many pieces of dinnerware are made using a blend of the two. Though a more affordable alternative to other types of dinnerware, by and large, dinnerware constructed out of polypropylene and polyethylene plastics are considered to have moderate scratch and break-resistance, not holding up quite to the same standards of melamine. They are, however, highly stain resistant and safe for both dishwasher and microwave use. They have a fairly decent drying time but may require additional wiping. It can typically withstand temperatures between 32°F through 180°F.

An additional blended hybrid of polypropylene is co-polymer. This material is often observed in the construction of cafeteria trays, and has a high resistance to breakage, scratching or staining. It’s also microwave and dishwasher safe, and considered to have a faster drying time than traditional polypropylene plasticware. It can handle temperatures between 40°F and 210°F, not ideal for use in freezers.

Acrylic

Acrylic is a hard plastic that is manufactured to replicate the look and feel of glass and high-end crystal. Acrylic is a common construction material of servingware, enhancing the presentation of buffet areas while extremely durable. Throughout your search, you’re likely to come across serving bowls, utensils, display stands, and bakery cases made of acrylic. Acrylic products are traditionally more affordable than their glass counterparts, with added shatter-proof durability.

Rosseto Acrylic Display Case

Central Model #989-019

ABS and SAN Plastic

ABS is the same type of plastic material used to make the popular LEGO® building blocks! It stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a thermoplastic (a resin that becomes a plastic on heating and hardening) resin that’s largely considered to be middle of the road. Plastic dinnerware made with this type of material is typically considered to be medium strength with a good resistance to impact, breaking, and chemicals. It absorbs shock, resistant to high heat and scratches, and affordable. It can withstand temperatures between 0°F to 180°F.

Some limitations of ABS plastic include poor weatherability and not resistant to solvents that may weaken and corrode ABS plasticware over time. It also generates a lot of smoke if burned. Because of this, dinnerware made of ABS is not recommended for use in the microwave. It is, however, dishwasher safe with an average dry time. Due to the lack of solvent-resistance, it is recommended that you wipe down your ABS-constructed ware soon after the cleaning cycle finishes.

ABS is not considered to be the most environmentally-friendly plastic material on the market. It is not biodegradable or a renewable resource.

SAN plastic, also known as styrene acrylonitrile resin, is another co-polymer plastic blend and shares a lot in common with ABS in terms of its chemical structure. SAN is often used by manufacturers to create durable plasticware that mimics the look and feel of ceramic china.

Additional Dinnerware Material

In commercial dining facilities, china and plastic dinnerware are certainly the two most common. However, dinnerware made of metal and glass are occasionally used to create unique, one of a kind environments.

Metal Dinnerware

Metal dinnerware is sleek and affordable, but should only ever be used for serving, and never for cooking or reheating. Common types of metal dinnerware include stainless steel and copper, which offer a trendier presentation for appetizers, entrees and side dishes. Check out American Metalcraft’s selection of dinnerware for trendy, affordable serving inspiration.

Bon Chef Metal Soup Bowl

Central Model #16Y-037

Glass Dinnerware

Glass is ideal for upscale dining establishments. Quality glass dinnerware runs at a higher price point than their plastic counterparts that have been strategically designed to mimic the look and feel of glass (see acrylic section above). However, authentic glass adds a touch of class to every dining room.

Libbey Gibraltar Clear Glass Dinnerware

Central Model #186-087

In addition to higher upfront costs, there is also a higher risk of breakage. Glassware will need replaced down the road, so your glass dinnerware purchase more than likely won’t be a one and done experience.

The three most common types of glass dinnerware include Annealed, Fully Tempered, and Rim Tempered.

  1. Annealed glass is your standard glassware and the most cost effective (up front). It’s slowly cooled to reduce internal stress, making it capable of withstanding temperature changes. However, when it breaks, it shatters into a hundred shards, creating a cleaning nightmare and safety concerns.
  2. Fully-Tempered glass has been more processed than annealed glass, increasing its strength and making it less prone to breakage. When it does break, it breaks in chunks instead of shattering into dangerously miniscule and sharp shards.
  3. Rim-Tempered glass runs middle of the road. A part of the piece has been tempered for added protection, but not the entirety of the product. This is usually the rim, because it’s the most likely to tip over and take the blunt force of the impact. This is a nice option if you’re on a budget but want to ensure some sort of durability.

Libbey is one of our top glassware manufacturers, boasting a comprehensive selection of glass drinkware and dining solutions.

All in all, your final decision should be made around which piece of dinnerware can enhance the experience you wish to give your guests, based on your established environment, ambiance, and menu. Central offers a complete selection of all different types of dinner and servingware to help you find the right piece you’re looking for. If you have any additional questions about which material will work the best given your unique needs, give us a call us at 800.215.9293.

Vendor Spotlight: G.E.T. Enterprises

As a leading manufacturer of creative tabletop solutions, G.E.T. Enterprises has put their more than three decades of experience into designs that will transform your tabletop and enhance front of the house presentation. Crafting unique alternatives to ceramic, glass and disposables, G.E.T.’s versatility and virtually unbreakable melamine dinnerware, drinkware, and tabletop displays stand apart. They offer more than 3,500 commercial quality products perfect for restaurants, hotels, schools and everything in between.

Your dinnerware says a lot about your environment and can help establish a unique and memorable ambiance. G.E.T. Enterprises showcases dozens of product lines in an assortment of styles and color options, with customization available, to help find the right fit.

GET’s Mill Melamine is one of their newer lines and soon to be featured in our upcoming catalog due out January 2019. Some of the trademark features of this dinnerware design are irregular shapes and rustic inspired stylings, giving off a hand-made appearance to complement any menu presentation.GET Urban Mill Melamine

You’ve got your coupe plates, rectangular platters, irregularly shaped bowls, and more. Most pieces are available in three styles:

  1. Rustic Mill

GET Rustic Mill Melamine Plate

  1. French Mill

GET French Mill Melamine Plate

  1. Urban Mill

GET Urban Mill Melamine Plate

These artistic stylings make awesome contributions to the trendy farm-to-table or artisan-esque aesthetic. Each piece is made of break-resistant melamine that offers the look and feel of chinaware without the weight or fragility, 100% BPA free, NSF certified, and dishwasher safe.

Why opt for melamine over china?

Melamine dinnerware is a popular choice in restaurants and eateries around the world because it’s scratch-resistant and shatter-proof. Made up of compounded melamine resin and other strengthening materials, melamine dinnerware can withstand the wear and tear of a commercial dining facility, including all the stumbles, falls, scrapes and scratches that occur daily.

Melamine dinnerware usually saves money up front due to its traditionally lower cost compared to high end china. Because of its shatterproof qualities, it’ll also save you money in the long run because it’ll need replaced far less frequently.

Melamine is also heat resistant, staying cool to the touch which is beneficial when it comes to rushing out hot food straight from the kitchen. No need to worry about customers or serving staff burning themselves. It also dries faster than other dishware, saving time on washing and drying.

To see all of G.E.T. Enterprises collection of melamine dinnerware, servingware, drinkware and more, click here.

Tuesday Tip: Know Your Dinnerware Material

With so many types of dinnerware to choose from, how do you select the one right for your establishment? This week’s Tip of the Day breaks down the basics of dinnerware and the differences between chinaware and melamine.

Chinaware

China is a durable ceramic material. Dinnerware designed out of china is biscuit-fired at a high temperature and then glazed fired at a low temp. Dinnerware of this type often runs at a higher price as is typically reserved for special occasions or used to create a highly established, fancier ambiance.

It’s important to note the two usual types of chinaware: porcelain and bone.

Porcelain china is made from a combination of feldspar, quarts and kaolin and is often less expensive and heavier than bone china. However, this brittle composition often leads to more chipping.

Bone china is translucent with a more finely grated composition made from kaolin, feldspar, quartz and bone ash. The quality of the bone chinaware is largely determined by the quantity of bone ash utilized during its design. It often appears lighter and more delicate than standard porcelain, but packs more durability.

Melamine

Melamine dishes rose in popularity in the 1940’s, commonly used for dinner parties. Melamine is a chemical used to make hard plastics, and thus, melamine dinnerware is extremely durable and often offered at a much lower cost than china. They also come in a vast variety of styles and flare to fit any type of establishment.

Interested in learning more about plastic construction types? You may like this blog that breaks down popular plastic constructions.

North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) 2011 Trade Show

The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers or NAFEM, is a trade organization that brings together food service suppliers and manufacturers and equips it’s members with everything from products to industry education.   Every two years NAFEM holds a  trade show to showcase the newest equipment and supplies in the food industry.  Last week was the 2011 NAFEM Show, held in Orlando, Florida, at the Orange County Convention Center.  Below is a recap from on all things NAFEM!

In refrigeration, the primary trend still seems to be energy efficiency.  For example, LED lighting is an option on many refrigeration lines now and is even becoming standard on some lines.  New Department of Energy requirements go into effect the second quarter of 2011, and most manufacturers seem to be ready for the changes.

Turbo Air’s booth at the show was full of exciting new refrigeration product launches, including ice cream dipping cabinets, prep units with drawers, and Premiere series reach-ins.  Manitowoc Ice had one of the biggest product launches of the show with their Indigo cube ice machines, with many energy saving features.

Cardinal Glassware introduced Zenix dinnerware, which is a fully tempered line of glass dinnerware.  It looks much like traditional china but has the durability of fully tempered glass with a moderate price point.

Hatco introduced heated zone merchandisers, which use “Spot On” technology to detect when products are on the shelf.  Super fast heat-up keeps the product warm; not having the entire unit on 100% of the time saves energy and money for the end user.

APW Wyott will launch their Champion line of steam tables in April.  These solidly constructed units have either hot or cold wells and come standard with poly cutting boards.  The tables have a lower price point than leading competitors and APW is expecting wide popularity with these.

Known for their forged knives, Wusthof is coming out with their first stamped series.  These knives have a poly handle, are NSF listed and come at a great price point.  Wusthof anticipates that this series of knives wll become a fixture in the commercial kitchen for everyday use.

In the area of beverage equipment and supplies, we learned that the trend right now is hot water products.  With the growing popularity of hot tea, oatmeal and pourover coffee service, the need for instantaneous hot water is in demand.  In fact, Bunn-O-Matic and Wilbur Curtis Company now offer hot water dispensers with “Oatmeal” backlighted graphics.  Service Ideas is also keeping up with the hot tea trend by offering contemporary tea pots, tea presses and tea infusers.

Melamine dinnerware continues to increase its presence in the foodservice industry.  Main melamine vendors – G.E.T., Carlisle, Elite Global Solutions – are seeing the growth in their dinnerware lines.  G.E.T. introduced SuperMel in Mardi Gras colors, while Carlisle launched their Dayton and Sierrus lines.  These new additions to the Central Restaurant Products catalog should help continue this growth.

CresCor introduced a new mobile holding cabinet that can be used for outdoor dining.  While electrical on the interior, the exterior uses propane tanks for heating and a solar panel to run the controls.  It has a heavy duty construction to stand up to the rugged outdoor terrain.

As for furniture, several manufacturers noted that unique seating styles seem to be the trend right now.  Low cost import products have become so prevalent in the market and these manufacturers have realized they can no longer compete.  Instead, they’re trying to set themselves apart from the imports and from their domestic competition by designing unique styles and offering more custom furniture options.

Furniture Imports debuted their booth-in-a-box at the show.  This unassembled booth (which saves on shipping costs) earned a spot in NAFEM’s What’s Hot, What’s Cool pavilion.

In addition to the exhibits, the NAFEM Show also offered several educational seminars that the category managers attended.  Some of the highlights included Tim Sanders’ presentation on Corporate Responsibility and Peter Sheahan’s seminar on Innovative Thinking.  The NAFEM all-industry celebration on Friday provided a “night out” with industry friends, and Huey Lewis and the News got the crowd rockin’ and pumped for the final day of the show.