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October 2006
Tabletop Takes on a New Twist

This year was about finding fresh twists on old product themes and classic style for new products. With more than 40 submissions entered in this year’s Tabletop/Servingware Competition, our judges found just what they were looking for: the newest products that provide the most stylish, durable and practical designs.

We tapped a diverse team of seven foodservice industry professionals to judge the competition, held at the offices Foodservice Equipment Reports, Skokie, Ill. Our operator judges included Kevin Appleton, an executive chef and faculty member at Robert Morris College, Chicago; Robert Bearman, Aramark’s retail director for Loyola University’s Watertower campus, Chicago; Heather Blume, general manager at Chicago’s Hotel Allegro; and Jay Lovell, executive chef and owner of Lovells of Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Ill.

In addition to operators, our judging panel included three dealers: Monica McCabe, table settings specialist for The Boelter Cos., Lincolnwood, Ill.; Scott Pusateri, national account manager for The Wasserstrom Co., Columbus, Ohio; and Sophia Rosillo, category manager for kitchen and buffet smallwares, Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill.

When the competition commenced, our team of judges began their process of uncovering the most innovative and aesthetically pleasing products in the group. The colorful servingware and contemporary buffet pieces displayed were all new-to-the-market products designed for front-of-house use. Comments flew through the air as judges tugged at buffet displays to test their durability and handled flatware to gauge its heft.

When the analysis had subsided, the clink of forks and plates grew silent and our panel gathered at a table to discuss what they had seen.

Determining which products deserved the winner’s seal this year was no easy task. Some judges argued for products that proved the most durable while others gave higher marks to those with newer, more innovative designs or features. Ultimately, it was the products that could stand up to abuse without showing wear and tear, while maintaining a stylish, modern design, that came out on top.

Read on for a full description of the nine products that made the final cut this year.

The Votes Are In

First up, from Front of the House: the Sampler Collection, a two-tiered metal stand that suspends up to 12 Mini Tulip Sampler wine goblets or other small glass cups. The collection gives wines, appetizers and desserts an elegantly modern presentation. The glasses come in several sophisticated colors such as green, cobalt, and amber; styles also include Mini Flared, Mini Martini or Mini Flute. The stands, made of epoxy-coated iron, also come as a six-glass holder size—ideal for tableside wine flights. Judges agreed the set is a “great way to display a product.”

G.E.T. Enterprises’  fielded two winning products this year: Mosaic Melamine Display Ware and Olympia Melamine Display Ware, both huge hits for their looks and durability. “I’ve never seen melamine this nice,” declared one of our judges. Giving the appearance of a heavy-weight ceramic, these durable serving pieces provide old-world style in the dining room and new-world reliability on the buffet. The Olympia series features a cream-colored base rimmed with a stylized fleur-de-lis pattern in shades of neutral browns and tans. The Mosaic series features a blue, green and mauve tile pattern that swirls along the edges with a definite Mediterranean feel. Both collections are available as rectangles, squares, ovals and serving bowls, in sizes ranging from 18” x 13½” down to a petite 6”x 6”.

Hollowick also won big, with two winners: the FX LED Tealight and Lighthouse Lamps. The tiny 50-hour LED tealight mimic the flickering of a candle with the flick of a switch on the bottom. “Unique look,” said one of our judges. Though another, slightly larger entry in the competition brought a similar idea to the table, it was ultimately the FX LED’s smaller size, flicker and price point that edged this product ahead.

Hollowick’s “very clever” and “modern” Lighthouse Lamps of mouth-blown glass feature a removable metal insert that seems to suspend the tealight in midair. Lighting the candle requires the user to simply lift, light and replace. Adding sophistication to any tabletop, these lamps come in clear and frosted designs, in small and large sizes.

Riverside Design Group’s Elements Collection—Stainless Steel line—which includes flatware, sugar/creamer set, demitasse and gelato spoons, trays and footed platters—features a rounded and wavy design in sturdy 18/10 stainless. As soon as the judges made their way to this entry, they were scooping up imaginary soup with the flatware and pouring invisible cream with the creamer, testing the line’s feel. Judges liked the “really sharp design” of the flatware, calling it “classy” and “simple and unique”.

An upgrade to an old classic that impressed judges was the black Lotus Tea Pot by Service Ideas. This highly textured, ceramic teapot gives the appearance of a classic cast iron Japanese teapot, minus the weight and price tag. Available in 0.75- and 1.2-liter sizes, this pot is “easy for a waitress to carry on a tray,” said one judge, and looks even better sitting on a table, said another.

The third double winner in the competition is Vollrath Co. for its Square Double-Wall Serving Bowls and FoodFrames Modular Buffet System.

The Square Double-Wall Serving Bowls provide insulation to maintain food temperatures—hot or cold. The judges liked the nested square bowls for their non-sweating, 18/8 stainless steel construction; the “practical, innovative dual wall”; and light weight. A satin-finished interior gives the bowls scratch-resistant durability, while the mirror-finished exteriors give an upscale look. Bowls are available in both beehive and smooth designs and come in five sizes, from 0.75 qt. up to 8.3 qts.

As soon as the judges looked at Vollrath’s FoodFrames Modular Buffet System, they were disassembling, reconnecting and admiring its possibilities. This unique food display uses interlocking frames to connect food pans at three different heights. The food pan shapes include standard hotel pans, “bowed” rectangles, curved rectangles and triangles, all available in three sizes. The setup works with hot or cold food, using canned fuel or ice. The set’s interlocking legs are made of strong, lightweight anodized aluminum, while the gray or black frames are made of aluminum composite material. You can start with a component kit (in eight styles), or buy sections individually to create your own designs. 

Bon Chef made its mark on the competition this year with its Asian Wok Copper Chafer. The eye-catching chafer, available in solid copper or stainless steel, would spark up any Asian buffet. The chafing set includes a fuel holder, waterpan and 18/10 food pan—with an optional induction-ready bottom for greater flexibility. Bon Chef also submitted two handcrafted plate collections: Visions Basket Weave Collection, and Visions Black Tie Formal Collection. The Basket Weave plates are clear glass overlaid with transparent blue, green and yellow strips for a woven effect. The Black Tie plates feature dramatic black stripes on clear glass. Choose from square, rectangular and other shapes.

Browne-Halco fielded multiple finalists, starting with the Emile Henry Buffetware line. These stackable, easy-to-clean insert pans made of Ceradon, an extra-strong ceramic, feature rounded edges that resist chipping and a scratch-resistant glaze. They’re fine for temperatures ranging from 0°F to 500°F, making them oven and microwave safe. Judges called them “solid” pieces that will “last a lifetime.” On the flatware front were Modena and Eclipse in 18/10 stainless. While both come with a satin finish, the Eclipse has a teardrop-shaped handle while Modena’s is tapered. “Nice weight,” said our judges.

E-Luminate by the Candle Lamp Co. was another finalist this year. “The flicker from the side is nice,” said one of our judges. Charged with 300 hours of light thanks to a single, disposable power cell, the candle can be placed in a variety of lamps and has LED technology to mimic a real flame. A push-button switch changes the mode from candle-like flickering to constant, steady light.

Here’s a creative way to display your daily specials: Consort Display Group’s Podia Tabletop Display offers a modern way to inform customers of dinner and drink specials. Simply print your two-column menu on standard 8½” x 11” paper, fold lengthwise, and slip it into the curved capsule for a double-sided, modern display. The clear panels are made of scratch-resistant polycarbonate plastic. Display bases come in dark grey or silver; with two heights for the tops—8½” tall or 12” tall. Our judges were impressed with how user friendly the product is.

Cyclamen delivered our next finalists with its Neo and Textura Dinnerware. Perfect for a Mexican restaurant or any other looking to add hand-crafted originality to tables, the Neo collection is colorful and dishwasher safe. Plates come in fiesta colors including warm reds, greens and blues. Meanwhile, the Textura collection provides the same great hand-made texture but in a more mellow, warm tone. Complete with a textured rim, this collection includes bowls and plates.

Looking for a more classic food presentation? Dudson USA Flair Plates may be the answer. Made of durable vitrified china, these creamy-bodied plates provide a modern update to the standard coupe shape. Complete with 36 pieces, the oval shapes and mix of wide and narrow rims provide great canvases for your most artistic chef.

Fortessa Metalware submitted three entries this year. First up: flatware patterns Acqua and Pantheon, available in stainless steel and silver plate, provide the perfect complement to any table setting. Acqua’s sturdy geometric handles comes with ripple-textured embossing, while Pantheon’s handles feature arcing “ergonomic” forms that fit the hand nicely. Also, if you’re looking for a way to display hors d’oeuvres or tapas, the stainless steel 4” Flat-Bottom Tasting Spoons offer an attractive solution.

Front of the House’s  Metroweave Vinyl Placemat Collection offers a great woven vinyl look for your tabletops and outdoor patios. Dishwasher safe and stain resistant, these placemats come in an array of subdued hues such as tan, gold, olive, silver, natural and beige. Front of the House also dresses up the buffet with its Metal Buffet Riser set. These versatile stainless steel cylinders elevate your food displays to three different heights. The cylinders hold most 8½”- to 12”-diam. bowls and plates.

G.E.T. Enterprises’ Cache Polycarbonate Displayware impressed our judges with its “good looks” and “durability.” The sturdy displayware looks like crackled green sea glass, minus the heft of glass. The platters are scratch-resistant and dishwasher safe, and come in an array of shapes and sizes. Another G.E.T. finalist: Salad Dressing/Juice Bottles. These modern, curvy bottles are made with of polycarbonate with interchangeable lids designed for storage, thin pour and thick pour. Each bottle holds 32 oz.

Running out of room on your buffet table? Check out Gourmet Display’s new Sierra collection of metal stands and heavy-weight stain-resistant melamine bowls. A perfect way to conserve space and add pizzazz to your buffet spread, these powder-coated metal stands hold a variety of bowls. Choose from bowls and platters shaped as a canoe, lotus, triangle or tulip, plus square and round. Corresponding buffet stand colors include gold, silver vein or platinum.

Lamson-Goodnow’s TreeSpirit Walnut Bowls are handcrafted from a single piece of American walnut in 7½”, 9” and 10” sizes. Each bowl is hand-rubbed with oil and comes with its own unique variation in color and grain. Also from Lamson-Goodnow: the diminutive Nesting Salt and Pepper Shaker. This dainty, stainless steel set stands 3” tall. The top piece holds pepper and nests in the bottom salt shaker.

Libbey Glassware’s Aficionado Stemware and Stemless Wine Glasses will have your customers swirling, sniffing and sipping. The Aficionado glasses come in seven sizes, while the fun Stemless glasses are designed with the traditional bowl but no stem. These are available in five sizes, including the new 8½-oz. flute and 13½-oz. martini, and are ideal for wines, cocktails, iced tea, soda, etc.

Next up is Pickard China with its stunning St. Petersburg dinnerware line. The white-bodied St. Petersburg plates are rimmed in a delicate lattice pattern of dark red and gold and dotted with tiny gold flowers. Dark blue accent lines and an outer gold band complete the design. The line includes 14 pieces—everything you need for a classic dinner presentation.

Riverside Design Group entered two products this year: the Elements Collection and Plates With Purpose. The Elements collection is made of recycled glass—dishwasher and microwave safe. The “Splash” glass dessert bowl looks like a droplet of water frozen in glass. And Plates With Purpose is a line of customized glass plates in three sizes and five abstract designs: a butterfly, sheaf of wheat, forget-me-not, stars and heart. A percentage of proceeds from these plates goes to five charity organizations.

“Chic” and “clean design” were some of the comments judges made about the Nuage Dessert Set from Service Ideas. The espresso cup and saucer set comes in translucent swirled brown, clear and white glass. Matching dessert saucers complete the look. The cups hold 2-oz. portions.

Go vertical! The Mini Flix Buffet System, the competition’s largest, heaviest entry, was hand-delivered to FER offices by a rep from Spring USA.This modular, freestanding buffet display consists of a sturdy central post with detachable metal plate-holders and a round wooden flat top. It can be assembled in about 10 minutes. The flexible display accepts rectangular, square, or round plates. The wood components come in natural ash, cognac, tobacco and ebony. The entire unit packs down into a handy storage and transport box.

Steelite Int.’l impressed our judges with its Rene Ozorio Collection—Aura Line Bowls.  This collection is made of white porcelain and features a subtle, ribbed white-on-white design. Also from Steelite: Distinction Collection—Float China is designed to draw the eye to the presentation, thanks to a food-well surrounded by an extra-wide downward-curving rim. A unique look to be sure.

Syracuse China fielded three entries: Inverness Dinnerware, Vibe Collection Structure Plates and Reflections Coupe. The geometric five-sided Inverness collection comes in three plate sizes and includes a 9”-rimmed deep soup and 10¾” pasta bowl. The Structure Plates let you create eye-catching presentations by fitting together small and large angled plates to form a square. And the Reflections Coupe offers a seven-piece line featuring the lighter, whiter Aluma White Body.

The most colorful entry this year came from The Ultimate Spread  with its new Sushi-Ushi displayware. This clear, acrylic rectangular platform appears to suspend food above a rainbow splash of multi-colored acrylic blocks. Sushi-Ushi comes in three sizes: 36”x 6”, 25”x 5” and 20”x 4”. The hand-made acrylic material is lightweight and will not yellow under normal exposure.

Vollrath Co.’s  <b>Rectangular and Round Stainless Steel Serving Trays<b> are made of heavy gauge 18/8 stainless steel that is highly resistant to corrosion, pitting and rusting.  The trays combine a satin-finished rim with a mirror-finished interior. The rectangular trays are available in 12” x 9”, 18” x 10” and 21” x 12” sizes. The round trays come in 12”, 14” and 16” diameters. Dishwasher safe.

World Tableware/Libbey spices up your table with its new <b>Chili Pepper Plates<b>, shaped like, you guessed it, colorful, giant chili peppers. These specialty plates are ideal for Mexican appetizers. The plates come in green, red and yellow, in 12-3/8”, 5¼” and 4¼” sizes.

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