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TIPS FOR TABLETOPS

A WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN': At Sazerac, in Seattle, the salt and pepper shakers are custom-made by local artisans to add an element of drama to the tablesettings.
MAKE A SPLASH: At Moon Palace in Cancun, poolside tables are as refreshing as a splash in the pool, thanks to the table linens.
OUT OF THE BLUE: Tabletops at the Maritana Grille at The Don CeSar Beach Resort, a Loews Hotel in St. Pete Beach, Fla., draw inspiration from the aquarium and the seafood menu.
GET BACK, JOJO'S: The whimsy and color of JoJo's tablesetting at White Sand Villas set a retro Florida beach tone with a decidedly contemporary note. The restaurant was designed by Spectrum Design Services, Cleveland; Creative Environs was the theme consultant.
WHITE NOW: Classic tablesettings set off a contemporary, dining experience at Giovanni in Beachwood,Ohio, designed by Spectrum Design Services.
SHAPING UP: Stylish white dinnerware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit just about any cuisine theme.
COFFEE CULTURE: With specialty drinks, the cup has to be able to carry the day.
SUPER SIGNATURES: At Ponzu in San Francisco, the glassware enhances specialty drinks.
SQUARING OFF: White dinnerware takes on a trendy tone with new shapes.

WHEN CUSTOMERS DISCUSS THEIR EXPERIENCE AT your restaurant, naturally you don't want the dinnerware to upstage dinner. Similarly, you'd probably prefer that patrons rave about your coffee rather than the French press coffee pots on your tables, or your gazpacho rather than the rustic-looking soup bowls in which it's served.

However, stylish and functional table settings are very much part of the package you offer. The tabletop elements you choose should be on speaking terms with your restaurant's decor. In the past couple of decades, glassware has gotten more specialized, we've wiped out “the blue taboo” as a color for dinnerware, and we're now comfortable with the mixandmatch look. Just as Asian flavors now enhance American cuisine, ethnic influences add a note of exotic spice to restaurant tablesetting design.

In the past, it was the dinnerware styles and patterns that helped operators make their tabletop statements. Today, shape seems to take precedence over style. Now that tablesettings feature square, triangular or rectangular plates, the size, shape and style of accessory pieces are also more diverse.

At Giovanni's, a fine-dining restaurant in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, Ohio, the recently renovated, stylish Picasso Room features dinner plates that are subtle enough to avoid competing with the art featured on the plates and on the walls.

Interior designer Paula Jo Boykin, ASID, IIDA, president of Spectrum Design

Services in Cleveland, explains that with contemporary tablesettings, the look can be changed by replacing round plates with square ones.

A Touch of Glass. As RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY contributing beverages editor Robert Plotkin discusses beverage trends, he notes how they affect glassware choices. “When we order something special, we want something special. That means it has to look great, taste great and seem like a great value. That's the winning formula.” A stylish, sufficiently sized glass goes a long way toward delivering on that equation, he says. Here are some other considerations.

  • Signature Cocktails. “When it comes to volume, bigger sells better,” Plotkin says. This trend is reflected in the popularity of large (12- to 16-oz.) cocktail glasses. He says the standard 9-oz. highball glass has also stepped aside to make room for the heftier 12- or 14-oz. glasses. “While the large glasses require a slightly larger liquor portionñroughly 11/2 oz.ñto attain the proper taste profile, the increased drink size warrants a higher price, which balances things out.”
  • Carbonated Beverages. “Serving a carbonated beverage in a glass less than 16 oz. seems stingy and inappropriate. And the days of the 5-oz. juice glasses are long gone. Kids are quickly accepting 9 oz. as the norm.”
  • Coffee Drinks. The same size expectations apply to coffee drinks. Frothed milk or whipped cream, says Plotkin, require a surprising amount of volume. There's also the portion of espresso or coffee, plus combined liquors or liqueurs that may be added to the drink. It's necessary to make sure the cup can carry the day.

Finally, he says, versatility is a prime consideration. The more types of drinks that can be suitably presented in each glass, the more valuable it becomes to the operation.

White's Alright. White dinnerware remains right for most tablesettings because it serves as a backdrop for food presentations. But that doesn't mean there's no room for individuality. A restaurant's style comes through loud and clear with geometric shapesñsome with bento box-style compartmentsñor evocative forms found in nature. Shapes might include palm leaves, shells or lily pads to help set the scene for tropical, seafood or Asian-influenced menus. And, as Amy Stavis, editor/publisher of Tableware Today points out, “Everything is oversized. When a European company comes to the U.S., they have to resize and make things larger. Even with eating smaller portions, people still want larger plates.”

Color Counts, Too. As Stavis points out, “Color seems to be the thing: In the '90s, earth colors came back because people didn't need excitement. Now they need color and life on the dinner table.” In flatware, she says, the pewter look or a matte finish are hot trends.

For casual operations, color can add a note of fun or whimsy to the dining experience. Resort hotel restaurants, for instance, may choose to turn to table linens for a practical yet vivid burst of color. At Moon Palace, a family-oriented all-suite hotel in Cancun, poolside tables are awash in a sea of Caribbean blue table linens. The colorful tablecloths extend the refreshing splash of a pool to the tabletop, which is appropriate for a hotel that boasts the largest pool in Cancun.

In another resort area, Ft. Myers Beach, Fla., tabletops at JoJo's at the Beach combine style and practicality. The colors and shapes pack at wallop at restaurant that is part of the attraction at White Sand Villas at the Pink Shell Beach Resort. It's an open-air spot, with island-influenced cuisine. For the sake of practicality, melamine lightweight plastic dinnerware was selected by the design team at Spectrum Design Services. The fishshaped plates, vinyl placemats and use of color make the placesettings more memorable. The menu features beachfront dining classic appetizers such as coconut-crusted shrimp and conch chowder, along with grilled tuna Nicoise salad, grilled pizza, and quesadillas with pulled chicken. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

At the Maritana Grille, the signature Four Diamond restaurant at the Don CeSar Beach Resort, a Loews Hotel in St. Pete Beach, Fla., the menu and tablesettings draw on the deep blue sea. The colorful, indigenous Florida fish swimming in a 1,500-gallon salt water aquarium create just one focal point of visual interest for the restaurant. The tablesettings, too, pick up the color and style of the surroundings. The restaurant, named “One of the Top 100 Restaurants in Florida” by Epicurean Rendezvous magazine, also features more than 140 wine selections.

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