Buying Guide to Flatware

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What's the one thing standing between that steak dinner and a handful of messy fingers? A good set of flatware. But finding the right set of knives, forks and spoons requires more than settling simply for function.

Silver flatware

Investing in a replacement set for yourself? Searching for a wedding/house warming gift for a friend or relative? Are you looking for an everyday set or something for a special occasion? To answer these questions, first consider the three kinds of flatware: Sterling Silver, Silverplate, and Stainless Steel. The first two are generally used in formal settings and require more care, while Stainless Steel fits a more casual lifestyle.

The Look Dinnerware Maintenance
Sterling Silver Made from sterling silver, this classically elegant option has both durability and weight. Formal dinnerware For best results, hand wash and hand dry. Polish regularly to retain the flatware's luster. Sterling silver is dishwasher safe as long as it is washed separately from other metals. Do not soak as it can cause pitting and discoloration.
Silverplate Lighter in weight but lower in durability, this flatware has a metal base (nickel, copper or zinc) covered by a silver finish. Formal dinnerware For best results, hand wash and hand dry. Polish regularly to retain the flatware's luster. Silverplate is dishwasher safe as long as it is washed separately from other metals. Do not soak.
Stainless Steel This common flatware is available in three options: 18/10, 18/8 and 18/0. The first number (18) represents the amount of chromium (rust resistance), while the second number (10/8/0) tells you how much nickel is present (luster). The higher the amount of nickel, the brighter the sheen. Formal and casual dinnerware Stainless steel is dishwasher-safe. Don't use a lemon detergent. Polish for special occasions. Do not soak.

What type of design are you looking for?

Keep these basics in mind to make narrowing down your choice a little bit easier: Pair simple flatware with casual dinnerware and more intricately designed sets with formal diningware. Modern dinnerware sets deserve sleek forks and knives, while classic patterns beg for more traditionally designed flatware like those with swirls or floral filigree designs.

If you have different plates and bowls for different occasions (those you use for daily meals versus the dinnerware you bring out for the holidays), consider buying a flatware set that goes with each.

What kind of finish are you looking for?

While you're pondering the perfect design, take into consideration what sort of finish you like. There are bright, mirrored finishes, matte finishes and sets that combine the two.

How does it feel in your hand?

You're going to spend a lot of time holding those new knives, forks and spoons, so you want to make sure they feel good in your hand. If you prefer heftier flatware, look for stamped for forged sets, which are crafted from a single piece of metal.

Love lightweight? Snag a silverware set with hollowed handles. Their three piece construction means there’s less to lift. Just be aware that if the silverware is too thin it can bend and break.

How many place settings will you need?

A family of one isn't going to need the same amount of flatware as a family of six, unless of course, you love to entertain. The rule of thumb is you should always have at least the same number of flatware settings as you do dinnerware. It's best though, to have a few extras on hand in case someone drops a fork or spoon mid-meal.

As a general rule it is best to purchase flatware sets that serve up to 12 people and also include a hostess or an entertaining set. Though this type of set is a bigger investment, it means you won't have to stress out about finding matching serving cutlery.

Not quite sure what comes in a flatware set? Here's the nitty-gritty.

Number of place settings/ pieces Types of utensils Servingware or Flatware?
5-piece place setting Single place setting Dinner fork, salad fork, a knife, a soup spoon and a teaspoon Flatware
20-piece set 4 place settings Dinner fork, salad fork, a knife, a soup spoon and a teaspoon Flatware
Hostess set 4 pieces Serving spoon, serving fork, butter knife and sugar spoon Servingware
Entertaining set 4 to 7 pieces. Can include a cold meat fork, berry spoon, ladle, tablespoon, pierced tablespoon, large tongs, small tongs, and a lasagna server Servingware

Not sure how to set a table?

Now that you've selected your flatware, impress guests with the proper table setting.

  • The dinner plate is the star and should be placed at the center of your setting.
  • Dress up the dinner plate with a charger plate.
  • Set the bread plate up and to the left of the dinner plate.
  • Place the salad plate to the left of the dinner plate, leaving some space for utensils.
  • Set the soup bowl on top of your dinner plate.
  • Place your water glass above and to the right of the dinner plate.
  • Set your wine glass to the right of the water glass.
  • Place your tea cup and saucer to the right of the wine glass.
  • Lay the dinner fork just to the left of your dinner plate and the salad fork to the left of your dinner fork.
  • Place the dinner knife to the right of your plate (blade up) and the soup spoon to the right of the knife.
  • Lay the butter knife across the top of your bread plate.
  • Dessert forks and spoons should be placed horizontally above your dinner plate.
  • Lay your coffee spoon to the right of the cup and saucer.

No one wants to deal with a drawer full of loose flatware. For everyday stainless steel sets, get yourself a plastic or wooden drawer organizer or caddy. Tuck your higher end Sterling Silver or Silverplated flatware in a storage chest with a lined interior made of anti-tarnish material.