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Typically, a full dinnerware set includes a dinner plate, salad plate, bread plate, dessert plate, soup bowl, cup, and saucer. However, four and five piece combinations are very common for casual dining. Also, many sets have complementary serving sets that include cream and sugar bowls, serving bowls, butter dishes, platters, and more that match. However, selecting a dinnerware pattern is only one of several attributes to consider.


All ceramic dinnerware starts with a base of clay, but the composition of the clay and its kiln temperature change as you progress toward the finest dinnerware (for example better china will include materials such as silica, quartz and feldspar) and you end up with increasingly non-porous and durable products.

  • Fine China (or Porcelain): a durable, non-absorbent ceramic that is fired at the highest kiln temperatures. Porcelain is impervious to bacteria growth. It is dishwasher, oven and microwave safe and is ideal for all uses at the table and in the kitchen. Better quality porcelain will be thin and translucent, yet resistant to chipping and cracking.
  • Bone China: similar to Fine China but its clay content includes a bone ash which helps to create a whiter, more translucent ceramic (light should shine through it) that rings like a bell when lightly tapped. Bone China is often considered superior to Fine China.
  • Stoneware: made from a heavy, non-porous clay that is fired at a high temperature, is usually considered informal dinnerware because its thick appearance and weighty feel are more appropriate for casual, everyday designs. Stoneware is fired at higher temperatures than earthenware, making it more durable and chip resistant. Most stoneware is dishwasher safe and like earthenware, it may require a gradual change in temperature to prevent cracking.
  • Earthenware: made from a porous, light reddish-brown clay that is fired at relatively low temperatures. The oldest form of dinnerware because it is fired at the lowest kiln temperatures, earthenware contains a number of impurities making it fragile and absorbent.

Glass is an alternative to ceramic and includes products such as Corelle, an impact resistant glass.


The shape of the pieces should reflect both practicality and design. For example, a soup bowl should not be too shallow and a dinner plate too small, and all pieces should reflect a relative proportion (the dinner plate the largest, the saucer the smallest). However, there are no guidelines beyond taste to determine what size or shape (round, oval, irregular, or square) each piece should be so long as they have a matched appearance within the set and are practical to use.

Before Buying

Make sure the dishes you select match your lifestyle in these important ways:

  • microwave safe
  • dishwasher safe
  • chip-resistant

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