Selecting Tabletop Restaurant Supplies

Tabletop Restaurant Supplies

Selecting the appropriate tabletop supplies is vitally important to any foodservice operation, as these are the pieces that the customers will be touching and using. Any pieces that do not function correctly or match your décor can directly impact your customers' opinions of your restaurant and, in the long run, your bottom line. From utensils and dinnerware to serving items and decorative pieces, finding the right tabletop pieces can have a big influence on how your restaurant is perceived and remembered.

Table Coverings

You only get the opportunity for a first impression once, and the visual impact of table coverings can make that first impression a memorable one. There are a variety of tablecloths, cloth napkins, and placemats available to serve functional and decorative needs in your restaurant.

Tablecloths are available in many sizes, colors, and materials, so you can always find what you need to work on your tables. The most casual style of tablecloth is made out of a PVC or vinyl material, which makes these water-resistant and allows you to simply wipe them clean unless heavily soiled. These are often in a checked design, and are commonly used in delis, sandwich shops, and casual cafes. For more upscale dining, you may wish to consider polyester or linen tablecloths. These can be washed and dried, and come in a wide range of colors and patterns.

For tablecloth sizing, measure across the middle of round tables to get the diameter, or end to end for rectangular tables to get the overall length. Add 12 inches for the fabric drape for casual dining, or 60 inches for more formal settings.

Cloth napkins are mainly used in formal settings, and the size of the napkin is determined by how formal the meal is. For a luncheon, 17-inch napkins are the best choice, while 22-inch napkins are most often used for formal buffet service or multiple-course meals. Cloth napkins should be colored to coordinate with the tablecloth, whether that be through matching colors, or complementary contrasting tones.

Placemats can be used either in addition to or in place of tablecloths. Using placemats with a tablecloth can give a more complete, formal appearance. Using them alone can add a touch of color and texture while protecting the table from hot plates and messes. Pay attention to the material the placemats are made of, as this will affect how they will need to be cleaned.

Menu Covers

You have many options in how you go about presenting your menu to your customer. Before you start shopping around for menu covers or inserts, it will be helpful to have an idea of how many dishes you will be offering, how many pages your menu will be, and how often you will be changing your menu.

For restaurants that plan on changing their menu offerings often, a clipboard menu holder may be the most practical option. These make changing the menu out quick and easy, but are best suited for one-page menus, wine selections, or specials lists. Another option is a sealed menu cover, which allows you to slide the pages of your menu behind a protective cover. These can also be changed often, though doing so will be a bit more time consuming than using a clipboard. They are available in single, fold-out, and sewn-binding book-style designs. For a more formal restaurants, consider a solid menu cover with inserts. These menu covers are available in multiple styles and colors, and may be faux leather or have embossed letters for a more formal look.


There are many drinkware options available to meet the needs of any restaurant. Available in plastic, glass, ceramic, and even copper and stainless steel, there are tumblers, mugs, and stemware in every shape and size. As you are shopping for your drinkware, make note of the durability and maintenance of the pieces you are considering, as this can have a big effect on the day-to-day operations of your business. Also check the dimensions of the drinkware you're interested in to understand whether your existing dishwasher racks will accommodate it.

For soda, iced tea, water, and juice, you will need tumblers. Plastic tumblers are durable and available in a multitude of colors and patterns, making them the perfect choice for informal sit-down restaurants. Many plastic tumblers are also stackable to make storage simple. Glass tumblers are suitable for more upscale restaurants. Glass tumblers often feature chip-resistant rims to help protect the glasses upon impact, but these will generally be less durable than plastic tumblers. However, the heavier weight of the glass tumblers is often associated with higher quality.

If you will be serving coffee, hot tea, or hot cocoa, you will need to select the mugs you will use. Mugs are available in plastic, ceramic, glass, and metal. Glass mugs are great for showcasing the drinks you create, and fit in well in a formal setting. Plastic mugs are more durable and are often made to be stackable. Metal mugs are not as common and, because of how well they conduct heat, are more suitable for cold drinks that you may wish to serve in a memorable way. However, there are double-walled stainless steel mugs that insulate well enough to handle hot drinks.

For beer, mixed drinks, and wine, you will need some specialty drinkware. This includes beer mugs, wine glasses, champagne flutes, hurricane glasses, pilsners, martini glasses, and more. Plastic specialty drinkware is available in clear plastic or bright colors, and is durable enough to stand up to impacts without breaking or chipping. However, glass specialty drinkware offers a wider variety of styles, and this type is more often seen in bars and restaurants. Many specialty glasses are shaped in very specific ways to enhance the scent of the drink, accommodate ice, or promote bubble retention, so knowing what will be on your drink menu is essential to selecting the correct glassware.

Pitchers are available in plastic, glass, and stainless steel, and are useful for refilling drinks such as water, soda, tea, or juice. For wine, serving from a decanter or carafe can improve the flavor.

Food Presentation

Creative food presentation can make a customer's dining experience memorable, and having the right tools for presentation can streamline service for your chefs and servers. Many serving and presentation items are specific to restaurants of certain themes, but others are universal and should be considered for any foodservice operation.

  • Ramekins and sauce cups are available in plastic, glass, ceramic, and stainless steel, and allow you to serve dips, sauces, and dressings to accompany food.
  • Sizzling platters are made of cast iron or aluminum, and usually come on a wooden trivet or liner to protect hands and the table. This presentation cookware is often used in Mexican and Asian restaurants to serve food fresh off the grill.
  • Wooden dishes provide a means of presenting food on an attractive surface. Wooden dishes are available as bowls, plates, trays, and serving boards, and some also have matching wooden serving utensils.
  • Rarebits and au gratin dishes are made to retain heat, so that the customer's food stays warm while he or she eats. Many are made to be baked in, so they can double as a cooking dish, in addition to being a serving piece. These are available in cast iron, stainless steel, plastic, ceramic, and porcelain.
  • Available in sizes from 2-3/4 to 12 ounces, dessert dishes provide a way for you to serve a variety of desserts to your customers. These come in glass, plastic, and stainless steel.
  • Molcajetes and tortilla servers are often used for serving salsas and tortillas to accompany Latin cuisine. They are usually made out of a thermal plastic that helps keep the contents warm.
  • If your restaurant will be serving escargot, you may wish to invest in some escargot plates. These are specially shaped to prevent escargot from sliding around the plate before it is served.
  • Baskets offer several options for serving food. Available in plastic, rattan, and metal in a variety of colors, they can be used to offer bread appetizers, or serve fast food meals in more casual restaurants.

Spice Shakers & Mills

Nearly every restaurant will need salt and pepper on the table, at the very least. Shakers and mills allow your customers to season their food to their personal tastes. The type of restaurant you're operating and the food you are serving can help determine what kind of shakers or mills you will need.

Basic salt and pepper shakers come in many shapes and sizes, and are available in glass, porcelain, and plastic. Mills allow customers to grind their own salt or pepper, which can result in better flavors. Mills are available in acrylic, wood, and metal. Acrylic is usually more economical, but many prefer the appearance of wood or metal. Mills can also be used to grind other spices or blends, such as garlic, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, or lemon pepper.

If your restaurant will serve salad or any Italian dishes, you will need cheese shakers. These are usually made of glass or acrylic, and are filled with cheese and sometimes crushed red pepper.


When selecting flatware for your restaurant, the dining style and décor can help you determine which style will work best for you. There are more than 100 designs to choose from, so you can find the right flatware for your restaurant, whether it be a modern design or more traditional. The weight is another important factor to consider. Lightweight silverware can seem low-quality to customers, but silverware that is too heavy may be awkward to use.

Another factor to consider when purchasing flatware is the quality of the stainless steel used to make it. Stainless steel - which is used because it's durable, resistant to rust, and can be polished to a shine - is an alloy metal blending steel, nickel, and chrome. Flatware described as 18/0 is made of stainless steel with 18 percent chrome and no nickel, so it is the most economical, but it will not retain its shine for long. The first step up from that is 18/8 stainless steel, which is 18 percent chrome and 8 percent nickel, making it a bit heavier and more rust-resistant, and allowing it to hold its shine longer. The highest grade of stainless steel is 18/10, 18 percent chrome and 10 percent nickel. Flatware made of this alloy blend will almost never rust, and be nearly impossible to bend. It is more expensive, but the most long-lasting of any stainless steel flatware.


From salad plates to dinner plates to saucers and bowls, your dinnerware must be carefully selected to showcase and enhance the food you will be serving. Available in glass, ceramic, porcelain, and plastic, the pattern, color, and material of your dinnerware can go a long way toward enhancing the appearance of the food and your restaurant's décor.

When selecting your dinnerware, keep your menu in mind. If you serve soup and salad, make sure you choose a pattern that includes those pieces. Casual dining restaurants often use durable melamine or polycarbonate dishes, while upscale restaurants often prefer glass or fine china. China dinnerware can be plain, or it can be boldly colored or intricately patterned. There are many traditional round designs, while others are square, oval, or other contemporary shapes. We even offer lines designed with a rustic look to go along with the farm-to-table movement.

Napkins Etiquette Scholar. Accessed September 2015.