Boring things: plates

This month’s boring-yet-confusing thing that I’ve been finding out about is… plates. I’ve already blogged about the inexplicable phenomenon of “plate rage”, but remained hazy on what size of plate “officially” corresponds to what function.

I had an actual reason for needing to become clear on this: I wanted to buy some new plates on eBay to match the plates I already have. So I measured my existing plates.

The dinner plates are pretty straightforward. I eat dinner off them and they measure 10” in diameter, which an etiquette expert tells me is about right for a modern dinner plate.

But those middle-sized plates, the ones  I mainly use for eating toast off? Are they side plates? Given that they’re the perfect size for a slice of toast, could they be bread-and-butter plates? They’re 8” in diameter. So according to our etiquette expert, they could be large salad plates. Sources seem to disagree on how big a bread-and-butter plate is, but none of the possible sizes are as large as 8”, so it’s not one of those. Plate sellers on eBay hedge their bets and call it a “dessert/salad/luncheon/salad” plate. So I guess it’s a salad plate, and now I feel a bit bad that I never use these plates for salad.

The smallest plates in our collection are 7” across. It was a surprise to me to find that they were only an inch smaller in diameter than the 8” ones, because somehow they look much smaller. Anyway. These could be:

a) small salad plates (not more salad!)
b) tea plates, designed for “holding the teacup without a saucer”. (Why not just buy a saucer?)
c) side plates (which I think are the same thing as bread-and-butter plates)
d) “small plates”

What have I gained from learning this? Well, I used to think there was a dizzying array of possible plate sizes, of which I only possessed a small sample. I had a vague worry about being in some situation where I needed to differentiate between plates and couldn’t. (The ambassador’s reception, maybe? What size plate do they use for the Ferrero Rocher?) Now I realise that the “standard” dinnerware set actually only includes dinner plates and salad plates (my “big” and “medium” plates). You might get a bread plate (my “small” plates) in a more elaborate set. And in formal dining, you get  something called a “service plate”, which has other plates put on top of it but never actually has food put directly on it. That’s a metaphor for so many things, all of them pretty heartbreaking.

I also used to think that everybody but me was perfectly clear on the uses of different-sized plates. Trying to find answers to my questions has made it obvious that isn’t the case. Even the self-proclaimed etiquette expert admitted that the only way you can tell a cheese plate is a cheese plate is by seeing if it’s got a cheese-themed pattern on it. So I feel less inferior now.

And finally: having actually taken a tape measure to my crockery, I have given myself a handy reference point for what circles of 10” diameter, 8” diameter and 7” diameter actually look like. My first foray into boring things has been successful. But I’m not sure I can bear to move on to cutlery just yet.

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3 Comments on “Boring things: plates”

  1. Julieanne Says:

    Wow, so there are that many types of small plate huh. Ugh. I think I’ll just stick to ‘large & small’ to differentiate.

    And what is luncheon anyway? I thought it was just a posh word for lunch. Didn’t realise it had a specific plate. more ughhhh

    • gryphon Says:

      Well, what I realised is that all these different types of small plate are basically the same two plates: 7″ and 8″. They just get called different things because a) they can be used for a variety of things and b) everybody else is as confused as you are.

      And yes, “luncheon” just means lunch but the so-called luncheon plates aren’t big enough to hold what I would consider lunch!


  2. […] an occasional series of posts about things that are too boring to understand? I got as far as plates and no further. I was going to do lightbulbs but then realised it’s a way more complicated topic […]


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