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What is a Decorative Charger Plate?

By Megan W.
Updated May 16, 2024
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A decorative charger plate is an elegant and underused element of a place setting. Also known as a chop plate, service plate, or underplate, a charger plate gets its "decorative" label because it never directly touches any food; instead it functions as an aesthetic resting place onto which food-bearing dishes and bowls are placed. A charger plate is usually larger than a dinner plate but smaller than a food-serving platter. As it need not hold food, it can be made out of a wider range of materials than regular dishes. In addition to standard china, plates made of metal, wood, mother of pearl, and even leather can be found.

Charger plate etiquette varies slightly depending on the preferences of the host or hostess, but some general rules apply. The plate should be set when guests arrive, placed 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the edge of the table and between the silverware setting. Some hosts remove it before any food is served, but more commonly, soup and first courses are placed on the charger, which is cleared before the entrée is served. Other hosts enjoy the appearance of the plate in combination with the dinner dishes and leave it on the table throughout the course of the meal. Most agree however, that the charger should be removed before the dessert course.

A charger plate is a terrific way to add color and texture to a dinner table. Though the plates are often associated with very formal dinners, they can be used for all occasions to spice up the hosting repertoire. A fine china underplate, sometimes part of a place setting package in bridal registries, is the classic choice for traditional, formal dinner parties. The pattern on these plates often complements the design on the other china, adding a second visual rhythm to the table.

A colorful charger can revitalize day-to-day dinner plates for a party. One with a harmonizing hue or made from a showy metallic material can add a less stuffy touch of class to an informal gathering. Dishes of a neutral color, such as white, can be used with nearly any color of charger.

Charger plates are an easy and inexpensive way to add seasonal variety to your selection of dishes. Holiday-themed chargers are commonly available. Alternatively, a mix of springy pastels and jewel-like winter tones will help match the mood of any season.

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Discussion Comments

By anon936453 — On Mar 01, 2014

Can they be used to serve cold fruit at a child's birthday party?

By amypollick — On Nov 29, 2011

@anon232113: As long as your desserts are wrapped, I see no reason you can't use a lovely charger for serving. I think the rule applies when you have unwrapped or uncovered food on the plate. If your treats are wrapped or on paper, I'd think it would be safe to use a charger.

By anon232113 — On Nov 29, 2011

I want to use a charger plate for a dessert tray. Just some bars and cookies and such directly on the charger and nicely wrapped for friends for christmas, but I hear you should not put food directly on charger plate. Is there a reason for this? Is there material that could harm my friends? I just want to use these charger plates instead of a boring plastic base for dessert trays

By anon205908 — On Aug 14, 2011

I recently purchased some very ornate and elegant dinner sized plates from Ebay. I was told that they are service plates by a friend and not to be used for food. They are a variation of a Lenox design called Ming Birds heavily encrusted a wide patterned gold rim. They have a numbered design that the Lenox website says is a special order made in 1924.

What can you tell me about service plates? Are they used like a charger? Can I use them for dinner plates?

By ahemandahem — On Feb 09, 2011

The charger plate was initially used by those guests "charging" at a buffet table. By removing the plate from the setting, others would know that that seat at the table is taken and (ostensibly) could be used defensibly while making one's way to the buffet.

By anon138635 — On Jan 01, 2011

It was my understanding that charger plates were metal and warmed to keep dinner plate and food from getting cold.

By anon85564 — On May 20, 2010

I have been told that chargers are a method of communication in a restaurant. By checking the tables, the hostess can tell if the entree is about

to be served if the charger has been removed with the first course plate. But no one has satisfactorily explained the origin of the word "charger". Love to know.

By ahem — On Nov 18, 2009

The etiquette does not differ. Hosts' preferences may, but the etiquette does not. The charger should be removed at least before the dinner plate, per Miss Manners. The 91-year old aunt is correct.

By anon44643 — On Sep 09, 2009

Why is it called a "charger" plate? Why is the word charger used rather than something more logical, such as underplate?

By anon41507 — On Aug 15, 2009

I guess one is never too old to learn something. I had *no* idea what a *charger* was until I searched this web-site. I am 71, but never moved fancy circles to be aware of this table-setting enhancement. Thanks for today's lesson.;) Naturalised Scot;)

By vickki — On Apr 06, 2009

Purchasing some dishes from walmart for $3.75 that are white with a sliver band. FAQ Would that be all right for now starting out on my own catering business?

By anon17561 — On Sep 01, 2008

Just where did the name "charger" come from?

By anon9943 — On Mar 17, 2008

I don't think they were/are always totally superfluous. I think in addition to the aesthetics, they serve (or served) a useful function. I work as a hostess in a restaurant; you would think setting a table with simple place setting - two forks on left, one knife & one spoon on the right, at each place, far apart enough that a food plate can be easily placed in between would be a piece of cake. You would be surprised at the different widths they are place: sometimes there's not enough room for a plate, sometimes you almost can put down two plates in the space that bussers or servers have left!

Formal place settings were probably set by domestics, and charger plates would be an easy guide. That way, when the tables are supervised, you don't need to go around making a lot of changes.

By swigajack — On Jan 14, 2008

I also like charger plates,if you want to sell it, I can give you some advice.

1.Use the international B2B

2.In the market, a majority of charger plates are made in China and India. You can try to find a China manufacturer, if you want plastic plate, metal-India.....

3.You can use the [internet] search engine

4.If you have a chance to visit China, Fuzhou city is a good place for it, there have a lot of charger plate factories, such as YIYOU...

By man888855 — On Jan 13, 2008

I want to sell charger plates, but i don't know where to wholesale charger plates, such as gold charger plate, silver charger plates and so on. Do you know? Can you help me?

By olittlewood — On Dec 07, 2007

yes, it's true that charger plates are a superfluous addition to the dinner table, but they are so gorgeous! they really add a lot of extra fun, sparkle or elegance to a formal or holiday dinner table. big chains like walmart or target always have really good deals on chargers so you don't feel too guilty about spending money on an unnecessary luxury!

By anon5846 — On Dec 07, 2007

I'm so glad I found this site. I used chargers at my Thanksgiving dinner, where my 91 year old aunt immediately told me I was using them incorrectly (in front of everyone) by not removing them before serving the meal. I can now show her I was using them correctly (and yes, I did remove before serving dessert). I now feel confident, since reading the correct usage on your site, to use them for a large, formal dinner party I'm hosting tomorrow night.

By anon5117 — On Nov 13, 2007

I always wondered what the big to doabout Charger plates were - see them everywhere. But nobody ever did anything with them. they were just in the way in everybody's house I've ever been to.

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