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Dinnerware is one of those home essentials you don't think too much about until you need a new set. Then, when you do, it can be overwhelming to decide between materials, patterns, size, shape, and number of place settings. If you want a quality dinnerware set that will last you years to come, you'll need to do more than simply pick the first one you lay your eyes on.
The good news is, you're in the right place to get some assistance. At BestReviews, it's our mission to help you find the perfect products to fit your needs. We test items in our labs and out in the field, gather feedback from existing customers, consult experts, and never accept free products from manufacturers. The result: fair and thorough reviews, that remain free from bias.
When you're ready to purchase your dinnerware set, the product matrix at the top of the page features our five favorites. But first, read on for our full guide to dinnerware sets.
First thing's first: What, exactly, can you expect to find in a dinnerware set? This varies depending on the set, but we'll cover some of the most common combinations.
A basic dinnerware set usually contains dinner plates, salad plates, soup bowls, and mugs.
A formal dinnerware set usually contains dinner plates, salad plates, side plates, soup bowls, cups, and saucers.
Other extras that some people may find useful include serveware, pasta plates, noodle bowls, and cereal bowls.
While the bowls that come with a dinnerware set are generally referred to as soup bowls, they can be used for foods other than soup — such as cereal or pasta — as long as you're not a purist.
Dinnerware sets can be found in a range of materials, but the three most common are stoneware, porcelain, and bone china.
Stoneware is a type of ceramic made from unrefined clay fired at a very high temperature. It's thicker and sturdier than porcelain and bone china.
Pros: Fairly strong and chip-resistant, can be finished with a with a wide range of glazes in various colors and textures, generally dishwasher safe and microwavable, more affordable than fine china.
Cons: Thicker and less refined-looking than porcelain or bone china.
Price: Anywhere between $20 and $300.
Stoneware dinnerware tends to have a more rustic appearance compared to porcelain or bone china — a feature some people love and some hate, depending on personal style and design preferences.
Porcelain is a fine ceramic made out of refined kaolin clay. It has a bright white appearance and is much finer than stoneware.
Pros: Very strong despite its fine appearance, can have shaped detail added, most is dishwasher and microwave safe.
Cons: More expensive than stoneware, usually found in a smaller range of colors.
Price: $30 to $350.
Earthenware dinnerware sets are similar to stoneware, except fired at a lower temperature and therefore less durable. It used to be a cheaper alternative to stoneware, but stoneware is now so affordable that earthenware is falling out of favor.
Bone china is a form of porcelain that's strengthened using bone ash to give thin, yet durable, dinnerware.
Pros: Very fine translucent appearance which some people love. While it's the finest type of dinnerware it's also the strongest. Modern bone china should be dishwasher safe.
Cons: Contains animal bones, which may bother vegetarians, vegans, or people who avoid using certain animal products. It’s the most expensive type of dinnerware.
Price: $60 to $500.
Bear in mind that the cost of a dinnerware set increases with the number of place settings you opt for, and with the number of pieces in each place setting. The cheapest dinnerware sets tend to be 16-piece sets, containing four 4-piece place settings. This might be fine if you have a small household, but you could find yourself in a bind when you invite people over for dinner.
While most dinnerware sets contain round plates, this certainly isn't the only option. Square plates are also fairly popular, but you can also find some quite unusual octagonal plates and three-sides plates with curved edges.
Dinnerware shape can actually be quite a divisive topic — some people love square or other non-standard dinnerware, but for others it's round or nothing. Only you can decide!
You can find mix and match dinnerware sets where the pieces complement each other, rather than being identically decorated. For instance, the pieces might all be the same color with slightly different patterns, or have the same pattern in different colors.
Dinnerware sets can be found in a huge variety of colors and patterns. What you pick is really down to your personal taste, as there's no right and wrong.
Stoneware dinnerware tends to be found in a wider range of colors, usually with bolder options and various glazes, both shiny and matte. Porcelain and bone china are often wide in the center, with colored or patterned accents around the edges. This may be to show off the naturally bright white finish of fine china.
If in doubt, you can't go wrong with a plain white dinnerware set — it never goes out of style, and won't clash with any tablecloths or other tableware.
If you choose dinnerware with metal accents, be careful not to put it in the microwave, as it could spark a fire.
Size matters when choosing a dinnerware set. After all, you don't want to get your new dinnerware home only to find the plates don't fit in your cupboard, leaving you with nowhere to store them.
We recommend measuring the depth and width of the cupboard in which you intend to keep your dinnerware, and compare the measurements to the size of the largest piece in your dinnerware set (which is usually the dinner plate) to ensure it'll fit.
The exact size of each piece in a dinnerware set should be listed in the product specifications.
If you have a dishwasher, make sure the largest pieces in your chosen dinnerware set aren't too big to fit inside.
Consider the number of place settings you require. Take into account the number of people in your household, and whether you regularly have guests over for dinner.
Your dinnerware set will be one of your most-used household items — since you'll be eating off it for up to three meals a day — so it's worth going to the high end of your budget to get quality dishes.
Many people like plates to have some kind of rim or lip, as it helps stop sauces and juices from running off the edge.
Dinnerware sets with dishes that are glazed on the top and the bottom — rather than just the top — are less likely to scratch other pieces in the set when you stack them.
Since you're likely to use the mugs in your dinnerware set regularly — perhaps more often than you use the plates and bowls if you're a big tea- or coffee-drinker — make sure they're of a good size and shape to fit your needs, rather than just an afterthought.
Q. What is serveware and do all dinnerware sets include it?
A. Serveware is the generic name given to a range of items used for serving food, including serving platters, vegetable bowls, gravy boats, and sugar bowls. Some formal dinnerware sets come with a range of matching serveware, but it's now quite uncommon for serveware to be included. Some manufacturers sell matching serveware separately, but there's no guarantee that they do, so — if it's important to you — always check it's available before buying your dinnerware set.
Q. Do dinnerware sets have any particular care requirements?
A. Most modern dinnerware sets are microwave and dishwasher safe, can be warmed in the oven, and placed in the freezer. However, this isn't always the case, so it's best to check the manufacturer's instructions first to make sure you don't damage them. If your dinnerware set contains pieces with a metal accent, avoid microwaving them, and try not to clean them with citrus-based detergent, as this can damage the finish.
Q. Where should I store my dinnerware set?
A. Most people store their dinnerware set either stacked in a cupboard or arranged on a hutch. There's no problem with stacking your plates, as long as you're relatively gentle, so you don't crack or chip them. If you have a formal dinnerware set you only use occasionally, consider keeping it in china storage containers to keep the pieces clean and damage-free.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.