Silverware is the collective term for the utensils used for eating and serving food. Silverware is so-called because it was formerly made from silver; today, however, stainless steel or plastic is a more likely choice for everything but the "Sunday best." You might find types of silverware referred to as flatware or tableware. Knowing about the types of silverware and their uses can help you present a professional image when planning business functions and formal dinners.
Silverware Etiquette and Care
When faced with real silverware, usually presented in a bewildering array of knives, forks and spoons, use utensils from the outside in. Some exceptions exist: for example, the oyster fork is presented with the knives, to the right of the plate, the butter knife might come with the bread plate and the dessert silverware is usually presented above the plate. Real silverware is usually silver-plated, so be careful when cleaning it. Polishes are abrasive and can take the coating right off.
Your Standard Silverware
Standard types of silverware consists of knives, forks and spoons. Teaspoons, while perhaps more familiar as a unit of measurement, are used to stir your tea. Various sizes of all silverware are available — think of steak knives, with their serrated edges, soup spoons, which are larger than teaspoons, and dessert forks, which might have a broader, outer tine to slice into the cake. Formal training in business dining helps you make the correct choices.
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Your Serving Silverware
Serving silverware includes trowel-shaped cake slicers, which are used to both cut and deliver slices of cake — perhaps to celebrate a corporate milestone or retirement. You also have two-pronged forks to lift meat from the catered barbecue or carvery and appropriately sized ladles — a large scoop on a handle — to pour soup or gravy from a serving dish or gravy boat. Some silverware is designed to make food available for eating: crab crackers, nutcrackers and lobster picks all serve this function.
Informal Plastic Silverware
Plasticware has its uses for company picnics and large, informal functions. While the waste it produces and the oil-based materials are not environmentally-friendly, plastic knives, forks and spoons are cheap and convenient, saving on clean-up.
Additional Specialty Silverware
Other items in a silverware set might include chopsticks, which can be wood, plastic or bamboo. Rest them on a chopstick cradle to stop them from rolling away; learning to eat with chopsticks gives you a certain empathy with your Asian clients. A few unusual hybrid tools also exist; while you'll find plastic sporks in fast food restaurants, you'll also find lightweight titanium versions in camping supply stores.