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What is Flatware?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Flatware refers to table utensils used to serve and eat food, such as forks, spoons, butter knives and plates, all of which are fairly flat in design. This is contrasted to holloware, which refers to items in the shape of hollow vessels, including coffee pots, teapots, sugar bowls, salt and pepper shakers, cream pitchers and bowls.

Many homes have two sets of flatware, one for everyday use and a more expensive set for special occasions. An example of an expensive flatware set is sterling silver and china, while everyday flatware might be stainless steel tinsels with ceramic, stoneware or Corelle dinnerware.

Flatware utensils come in a wide variety of prices and styles. Their design can be austere and utilitarian, or highly decorative. Price depends on quality and the number of settings included, and can range from about US$10 for stainless steel at your local department store to several hundred dollars for sterling silver. Large placements of sterling silver flatware can easily cost well over one thousand dollars.

Among recognized names of flatware, like Oneida, Waterford, Tuttle, C.J. Vander and Lunt, some designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein also offer flatware. Other designers like Versace and Vera Wang have lines of coordinated dinnerware and flatware, sold separately. These highly artistic and decorative sets might be preferred to a traditional china set, and the dinnerware will include some holloware.

Expensive patterned flatware is available in single units as well as sets, usually of five. Purchasing the set saves money when getting started, but later it is possible to replace a single utensil or increase the setting "by one" or "by two" to meet your needs, without having to purchase an entire additional set. It is important to make a note of the manufacturer and the name of the pattern for this purpose.

Couples to be wed often register a pattern at a department store. The pattern might be available not only for flatware and coordinated dinnerware, but also for serving platters or hostess sets, crystal decanters and goblets or wine sets.

With the wide variety in styles, price range and availability, the right flatware can be found for any purpose, taste and budget. Many vendors are available online, so you can get a good look at patterns and cost without even leaving the house. For every day flatware, save money by checking to see that the set has what you require, without extra utensils you won't use.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon318941 — On Feb 09, 2013

As a Brit, I find this article very US oriented. We don't use the terms flatware or holloware at all and even silverware is pretty much archaic. We call knives, forks and spoons "cutlery" and plates, bowls, etc "crockery". A spatula would be a kitchen utensil, if you had to put it into a particular class of things.

Seriously, I shouldn't worry too much about whether you've called your dishes by the right name. If someone doesn't understand the term "plate", "bowl", "platter" or "knife", it's not you who needs to worry!

By ahain — On Jun 18, 2011

My mom always loved to use Corelle flatware, so I grew up eating with that kind of dishes and silverware in my household. When mom passed away a year ago, I couldn't bring myself to look through her things, but I inherited her Corelle dishes.

It took a long time to be at peace with the fact that she's gone...now the dishes are a keepsake that reminds me of her and all of the great food we shared eating with them.

I've decided to start using the Corelle dish set again for just that reason. Mom was a practical woman -- she wouldn't want me to preserve these in perfect shape somewhere untouched, she would want me to use them!

Now that I'm finally sorting through them, I'm finding that several pieces of the set are missing. The brand is Corelle, but I don't know the names of the flatware patterns that were used back when mom bought these dishes. I think she bought them around the mid 1980s.

Is there anywhere that I could go online to browse through Corelle patterns that have been used over the years, maybe, to see if I can match up the patterns on mom's set to a name so that I can buy replacement pieces for the missing ones? Are some patterns "out of print" at this point, and unable to be bought anymore?

Thanks for any help you can give me on this -- it would mean a lot to me if I could make a complete set of mom's dishes again.

By seHiro — On Jun 16, 2011

@hanley79 - Actually, the article only says that dinnerware can include some hollware, not any flatware.

Your comment and this WiseGEEK article piqued my curiosity, so I looked up "dinnerware in Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary. According to the dictionary, the very definition of "dinnerware" is tableware that isn't flatware. That's why I can say with confidence that dinnerware can contain hollware, but not flatware.

I think "dinnerware" actually refers mostly to the dishes, such as bowls and cups and serving platters. Because bowls and other rounded, hollow-form dishes are technically holloware, we end up with dinnerware including some holloware as the article states.

Rather than distinguishing between holloware and flatware, I think the actual clear-cut line is between flatware and dinnerware with holloware sometimes overlapping.

By TheGraham — On Jun 14, 2011

@Hawthorne - Though the term "flatware" can technically refer to plates and other flat dishes as well as the silverware, when you go to buy a set of flatware it is typically just the eating utensils and a few other forks and knives.

It's not hard to get confused if you've been thinking of silverware alone as a flatware set, because most merchants support this belief by selling flatware sets of only place setting utensils!

In my experience, "silverware" is used to refer to the place setting utensils, e.g. forks and knives and spoons. Perhaps calling utensil sets "flatware" is done to tell people that the sets include serving utensils as well as eating utensils.

Larger utensils that are placed on the table and used for serving food as considered a part of a flatware set. For example, the big fork and spoon that many people use to scoop out servings of salad is considered part of a flatware set if it matches the eating utensils.

A spatula, because it is used more for stirring, mixing up dishes, and in general does not leave the kitchen, would not be considered a part of a flatware set. Even if the design of the spatula matched that of your flatware set, it is technically considered a separate utensil.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions.

By hanley79 — On Jun 12, 2011

@Hawthorne - The naming of flatware and holloware has got me a bit confused, too -- especially when I read about how the two can mix together.

The article says that brands like Vera Wang offer coordinated sets of dinnerware and flatware that match. My question is, what is dinnerware? How is dinnerware different from flatware?

The article also says that the dinnerware can contain some holloware and some flatware, so my best guess is that dinnerware is just the term for any utensils or dishes used for the evening meal.

I don't think I've ever examined the terms for dishes this closely before; as usual, reading WiseGEEK has got me thinking outside of the box.

By Hawthorne — On Jun 10, 2011

I always thought that the name flatware referred to just the eating utensils -- I had no idea flatware sets included plates or any dishes at all. It makes logical sense -- they're very flat -- but I wasn't aware that there was holloware in addition to flatware, so I guess this is a matter of not understanding how the naming conventions work.

My parents taught me that the term "flatware" meant "silverware" only it could refer to forks and knives and such that weren't actually made of silver anymore, too.

So, based on this naming convention of whether something is flat or hollow and rounded, is a spatula considered flatware, too? Or are big utensils excluded from being part of the set, and counted as individual pieces? Now I'm wondering if I refer to the terms for any of my dishes right.

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