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Dinnerware is so much more than just vessels for holding and serving food. Yes, they should be functional, but that function depends on what the occasion is: for example, are you having oatmeal for breakfast, or are you plating the turkey and sides for a big holiday meal? Furthermore, dinnerware sets are also an extension of your style and help create the ambiance for any occasion, from casual solo meals to fancy dinner dates.
We know it can be daunting having to navigate through all the different options, which is why we've created a list of the best dinnerware sets to help you get started.
Best Budget: AmazonBasics Dinnerware 18-Piece Set
This classic set has a contemporary and timeless appeal. Plus, the dishes are safe to put in the microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher, making them a practical choice. The plates do not retain heat when used in the microwave or oven—so you can grab them without fear of scorched fingers.
This budget-friendly porcelain set comes with dinner plates, bowls, dessert plates, and mugs. Minimalists will love these straightforward dishes, which are perfect for people moving into a first apartment who don’t want a hand-me-down set.
Perfectionists, take note: reviewers comment that stacking these dishes reveals that the plates are not all of the same thickness (and may even be uneven from one side of the plate to another).
"The dishes are a blank, inexpensive slate that you won’t have to think too hard about buying, and won’t have to think too hard about leaving when you’re ready to upgrade or move." — Joy Merrifield, Product Tester
Best Textured: West Elm Textured Stoneware Dinnerware
These dishes may be white, but there’s nothing boring about them—each item in the set has textured patterns lining the edge of the dish. Adding personality to the set is the fact that there’s a slightly different pattern on the outside of the different types of dishware. The different textures coordinate into a cohesive set, but each piece also stands out on its own.
This dinnerware set will provide a charming appeal to your tabletop—the dishes have a pre-worn, vintage style that will look beautiful on any tablescape. This stoneware set is safe for both microwave and dishwasher use.
Best Color Selection: Fiesta 4-Piece Dinnerware Place Setting
No one does bright, bold color like Fiesta. This four-piece place setting is available in a variety of beautiful colors, all in that classic Fiesta style. People often collect Fiesta ware, which has been manufactured in the United States for decades—many more dishes and accessories are available for people who want to expand their collection. And, since Fiesta keeps the pattern consistent, all your pieces will match even if years pass before you buy more.
These dishes can be used in the microwave and dishwasher and even the oven. The dishes are incredibly durable, but they also have a 5-year chip resistance warranty, just in case they do get damaged.
When shopping for dinnerware, there are many materials to choose from, including earthenware, stoneware, porcelain or china, bone china, melamine, vitrified glass, and more. To find one that's best suited to your personal needs, learn about the pros and cons of each before making a final purchase.
Best Formal: Lenox French Perle 4-Piece Place Setting
It’s a cliche you’ll hear all the time if you watch cooking shows: we eat with our eyes first. So if you’re having company over or setting the table for a formal occasion, you’ll want to use dinnerware that looks particularly lovely. This Lenox set—which is available in several colors—is made of stoneware and has sweet, textured designs rimming the sides as well as a hand-applied finish around the rims.
Since the dishes are stoneware, take heed that these dishes may show marks from cutting and fork scrapes. This set is durable though and in fact, Lenox offers a lifetime replacement program for broken dishes. These pretty plate settings are a great match for country, farmhouse, or shabby chic decor.
"If you’re looking for dinnerware that can be fun, fancy, casual, functional, or some combination of all the above depending on your table setting, then we definitely recommend the French Perle line." — Joy Merrifield, Product Tester
Best China: Red Vanilla Extreme Bone China Dinnerware Set
White dinnerware can sound dull. Not these: delicate edges and sleek swoops make this white set—which serves four—unique. This everyday china set is refined and elegant in appearance. But it's also durable: it can be cleaned in the dishwasher and is microwave safe.
The 16-piece set comes with dinner plates, salad plates, mugs, and big, triangular soup bowls, but you can also buy four- and five-piece sets. With these white, modern-looking dishes as the background, your meals will pop. So if you enjoy sharing what you’ve made in the kitchen on Instagram, these dishes are a good fit.
"Each dish has an ultra-glossy finish, and despite investigating closely with our phone flashlight out, we didn’t find any significant surface flaws." — Joy Merrifield, Product Tester
Best Pattern: Crate & Barrel Lina Stripe Dinnerware
Delicate blue stripes ring the outer edges of plates and the exterior of bowls and mugs in this set. Available in a single four-piece setting, or a 16-piece set (enough for four people), this dinnerware is full of rustic charm. Each dish is hand-painted, and the set is truly beautiful. The speckled background and blue stripes are eye-catching, but flexible enough to match a wide variety of tablecloths and placemats.
These dishes are ideal for entertaining, but also practical enough to be used on an everyday basis—they are also microwave and dishwasher safe and can be placed in the oven to warm. Reviewers note that the irregularly curved edges of the dishes—while attractive—make chipping easy, so wash with care. Serving bowls and platters are also available in this pattern if you'd like your whole kitchen to match.
Best for Outside: Lovette Indoor/Outdoor 16-Piece Melamine Dinnerware Set
This 16-piece set of melamine dishes is ideal for kitchen table meals, as well as picnics, barbecues, and outdoor parties in the backyard. This cheery set comes with dishes in a variety of colors and is made from food-safe melamine and plant fiber. (Keep in mind, although the FDA has concluded melamine tableware is safe to use, it’s best to avoid heating dishes up and using it with small children.)
Although you can’t microwave these dishes, they are safe for the dishwasher (top rack only). This set includes dinner and salad plates, mugs, and soup bowls. Since the dishes are lightweight, they’re easy to bring along on any of your adventures and are a more eco-friendly choice than disposable plates. Reviewers in particular praise the lip on the plate, which prevents food from slip-sliding off.
If you're looking for a great starter set or are on a budget, we recommend the minimalist AmazonBasics Dinnerware 18-Piece Set (view at Amazon). Each piece is lightweight, but sturdy, and doesn't take up too much space. For something clean, but chic, consider the West Elm Textured Stoneware Dinnerware (view at West Elm), which has a charming, pre-worn vintage design.
What to Look for When Buying Dinnerware
Most everyday dinnerware is ceramic, but the types of ceramic (and its quality) can range dramatically. Unlike “silverware,” which has become a generic term for all flatware regardless of material, plenty of dinnerware sets today are considered “china,” which is the same thing as porcelain. Porcelain was invented in China, hence the term. Porcelain is something made from clay that has been fired at high temperatures, and is typically white and shiny. While we often think of fine china as the special-occasion plates that brides might register for in a chosen pattern, you can get porcelain dinnerware at big-box stores for low prices. “Bone china” is a term for porcelain that has—you guessed it—bone mixed in, a process invented in England in the early 1800s. It has a slightly translucent look and is lighter-weight. It was traditionally seen as more durable, but as porcelain manufacturing has changed, the differences in durability have become more and more negligible. Choosing one or the other is now more a matter of preference.
Earthenware, made from clay and with a more porous surface than stoneware, is traditionally seen as an even less expensive option. But because it’s less durable, earthenware sets can be just as expensive; they have a rugged, handmade feel to them—and some may even be handmade. As modern production techniques evolve, many of our assumptions about what is better and what is worse have been upended.
Other materials, like enamel and glass, are also available but are less common because they’re higher-maintenance and more likely to chip. For some people, however, the payoff of making a statement is worth it. Plastic dinnerware may seem like a good budget option, but cheap plastic plates can warp or stain. Melamine, a lightweight, non-porous plastic that won’t easily scratch or break, is a good option for outdoor dining or families with young children. Many melamine options are now so good that guests will assume it’s china—until they pick it up.
The other common ceramic dinnerware is stoneware. Made from fired clay-like porcelain, stoneware is usually heavier and more opaque than regular porcelain. While it doesn’t have the lustrous shine, stoneware can be finished with matte or shiny glazes. It can be slightly porous, unlike porcelain, which is non-porous. But just because it’s traditionally seen as a more everyday alternative to porcelain doesn’t mean it's cheap. But you can get inexpensive stoneware sets as well as long-lasting, durable ones.
Most dinnerware sets come in a four-piece place setting: two plates, a bowl, and a mug. Larger settings with even more plates exist, but are rare, typically found in high-end sets; they also include things like teacups, bread plates, and chargers. For most of us, though, four-piece settings work just fine. You can typically purchase dinnerware sets in individual place settings, as well as in sets of 16, or four-place settings. Often, you can purchase individual parts of the set in sets of their own (like six bowls) or individually, which is referred to as “open stock.” Open stock can be a great option, especially if you want insurance against dropped plates or may simply want a larger set as your family expands or you move.
Ultimately, design may be your deciding factor; while materials offer you some clue as to what the dinnerware will likely look like, there's often some variation. You can find porcelain these days that has a more organic, handmade feel, and stoneware with delicate detailing. White is common in all dinnerware, regardless of the materials, and this color can give you a lot of flexibility and make food look good (some things just aren’t going to look appetizing on certain colors). You can also find dinnerware with simple designs, either in the shape of the dinnerware or added later with paints or glazes. Even if you want to play it safe with color, you can find many subtle embellishments that still make your set unique.
Traditionally, most fine china has some kind of rim. Rimless plates, with just a slight lip on the edge, tend to have a more modern feel. Some designers will also play with shapes to update dinnerware, making plates square instead of round, for example.
On a more practical note, small changes in design, like the depth of a bowl or the size of a mug handle, can have a real impact on your day. If you like big cups of coffee (or just the occasional chamomile tea), your ideal mug is going to reflect that. Bowls can vary from very deep to traditionally shallow-looking soup bowls. A deeper, cereal-style bowl, or an option between the two, is likely going to be the most versatile.
Another thing to consider is if the dinnerware set also offers coordinating pieces like platters, serving bowls, or even gravy boats. Whether this is important is a matter of preference, but if you want a clean, unified look on your table, it’s good to know what your options are.
The price you pay for dinnerware varies wildly. You can pick up porcelain at Target for under $5, or you can register for a set that can cost thousands of dollars. But you can get a very good budget set for around $50. Upping your price point just a little, to the $75 to $100 range, can get you a set that will last a lifetime. However, investing in handmade pieces, or fine china, is going to quickly escalate the price.
There’s one word to describe Fiestaware: color. The line of bright dinnerware was first sold in the 1930s and has managed to feel timelessly retro every since. It also has a cult following: fans will devotedly track down a rare color or scour the internet for vintage pieces. While certain colors can be hard to find, in general, Fiestaware is as affordable as it is eye-catching.
Lenox is the Cadillac of dinnerware—or is Cadillac the Lenox of cars? This American company has been making fine china for over a hundred years and has supplied dinnerware to the White House on more than one occasion. But though this is a high-end brand, it's kept up with the times. In addition to more traditional patterns, Lenox has modern and even whimsical (polka dots!) sets available these days.
A Japanese brand with a storied history, Noritake was founded in Japan in 1876 by two brothers who wanted to sell porcelain in the American market. The brand's designs have changed with the times, and collectors will pay top dollar for some of its handpainted vintage and antique sets. These days, Noritake also sells affordable, modern options.
An everyday dinnerware set should be easy to care for and easy to use. And while most materials, including porcelain and stoneware, can be microwave- and dishwasher-safe, it’s not a blanket rule. Be sure to check the care instructions before you buy: handmade items may not stand up to a dishwasher, for example, or gold detailing on a fine china plate can render it unsafe for the microwave.
If you can avoid chipping, porcelain is probably the easiest to care for: it's non-porous, so you can let it soak or let coffee linger in your mug without worrying about staining. Most stoneware isn’t going to stain easily, but it can happen. In general, stoneware shouldn’t be soaked, and tough stains or scuffs can be removed with baking soda.
Regardless of the material, if you’re skipping the dishwasher, make sure you’re using a soft sponge (not a scouring sponge) to clean it. A wire sponge can scratch glossy surfaces or ding up plastic or enamel.