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October 2002
[update March 2003]
By Janice Cha
SPECIAL REPORT: 5th Annual Tabletop Awards

Eleven winning tabletop and servingware products combine eye-catching style with practicality.

Despite wild differences in size and function, the winning products in our Tabletop and Servingware Competition all had one thing in common: Each offered practical design dressed up with eye-catching contemporary spin. You name it, suppliers sent it: oversized crystal wine glasses, a tabletop pizza stand with flair, a little ceramic teapot with a detachable stainless steel lid. The list goes on.

And we’re not kidding when we say that the tabletop and servingware entries filled a room to overflowing. With more than 80 entries, nearly double last year’s number, we prevailed upon the manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites in Skokie, Ill., to give us an additional room for setup and judging.

And oh, the variety of products! Items ranged in size from petite and easy to handle—think flatware—to humongous—such as the modular buffet display that came packaged in a crate too large to fit through a door. Between the two extremes were the latest designs in servingware, glassware and buffet displayware.

Choosing the best from that widely varied field was a task we left to our judges. The panel consisted of three dealer-distributor sales pros and two operators. The sales folks included Tracy Franas, tabletop supply and equipment consultant for The Boelter Cos.; Joe Palumbo, multiunit account executive for Edward Don & Co.; and Jim Schulze, regional account manager for The Wasserstrom Cos. On the operator side we invited Ty Dassler, manager of Davis St. Fish Market in Evanston, Ill., and David Shea, executive chef of Twelve 12 in Chicago. Bios for all appear on page 38.

When the dust had settled, our experts had agreed on 11 winning items, all judged on design, function, durability and practicality. Read on for details of the winning products—presented in alphabetical order—plus writeups of the many finalists.

Stand And Deliver
“Heightened sensibilities” describes American Metalcraft’s Contempo Pizza Stands. Black wrought iron displays—in the form of a spiral, drum or platform—merchandise pizzas from a 7” height while leaving space underneath for condiments. The risers can be used for buffet service or regular table service. Shea praised the stand’s design, while Schulze commented on its versatility: “You can use that for a lot more than pizza.”

Dents as design elements? They are with the release of Hammered Servingware, another winning entry from American Metalcraft. The banquet products, made of heavy-duty nickel-plated brass, get their handmade look from being pounded with ball-peen hammers. No two pieces are exactly alike. The line includes serving trays, punch bowls, wine bucket and stand, and a party tub. Round trays come in 18”- to 22”-diameter sizes; oval trays range from 15” long to 22” long. All are dishwasher safe.

Cardinal Glassware garnered high marks from judges for its Master Collection lead crystal stemware. “It’s a beautiful product, and the pricing is great on it, so I gave it a high score,” commented Schulze. The 24% lead crystal wine glasses in question were designed for professional wine tasters and upscale restaurants. Oversized 25-, 27- and 29-oz. bowls and extra height—91&Mac218;4” to 101&Mac218;2” tall—add to presentation. Thin polished rims deliver fuller wine flavor. The Master Collection is supported by 30 different items including goblets, martinis, flutes, highballs and cordials.

Dudson Group caught judges’ eyes with a new series of Fire and Water china serving pieces from the Elements Collection. The wide rims of the Fire dishes fairly crackle with energy, as if the plates have just come out of the kiln and are still melting into shape. The rims of Water Series sport smooth ripples radiating out from the bowl. Choose from seven Water pieces, three Fire pieces and two china cloches, or plate covers.

Gourmet Display’s Natalia, a three-tiered iron display stand supporting a trio of embossed oval glass platters, was another favorite with the judges, who referred to the platters’ versatility and high quality. An oval base resting on curved iron feet supports two side platters at staggered heights. The 23-lb. stand measures 16” x 28” x 14” and works well for upscale breakfast, lunch or evening functions. Art glass or “Copper River Salmon” are two display bowl options.

Libbey Inc. impressed judges with two different lines. Chablis Dinnerware stands out with an extra-wide 3” rim. On the 12” dinner plate, the convex rim focuses attention on the center of the plate. The 10” bowl has a well area deep enough for sauces and decorative touches, and the Royal Rideau clay body combines elegance with durability. Meanwhile, our panel appreciated Cimarron Flatware for its satin finish handles, straight lines and notched design element between handle and bowl.

From Service Ideas comes a ceramic Teapot with a practical twist—a stainless steel lid that clips on and off. As judges pointed out, this is one teapot lid that won’t break or chip. “Lids are always a problem,” Palumbo said, “but that stainless steel lid is great.” The teapots come in 10- and 16-oz. pours, the larger size holding two cups-worth of tea. Color choices include black, forest green, Wedgewood blue and white. The teapot and lid are both dishwasher safe.

Dassler called Service Ideas’ Italian-made ZePe Cereal Dispenser “the best looking cereal dispenser out there.” And probably one of the neatest ones, too. Breakfast cereal—or ice cream toppings, peanuts or candies—can be dispensed from an 18”-high column of clear polycarbonate via a portion-control “windmill” knob. The column appears to float on a metal rod above a space-efficient wood or stainless steel base that’s 14” x 12”. Wider 20” x 13” bases support twin dispensers.

“That’s hot,” said one judge of Steelite’s Sheer tableware. What sets the series apart is a dish with rim that’s been sheered off at an angle, giving the illusion that the dish is tilted toward the viewer. The offbeat presentation gives appetizers, entrées and desserts new flair. Sheer dishes come in 19 shapes and sizes and in three colors: white “Monaco” for fine dining settings; “Zen,” a white base with patterned burnt-orange design and gold rims; and the retro “Pastels,” in lilac, pistachio and aqua.

WMF’s Combination Buffet system is another way to say “flexible.” The modular setup allows you to arrange display hot or cold food in a straight line, around a corner, at an angle, or with access from both sides. Buffet pans, chafing dishes and trays all hook onto low metal railings. The double rails lets you set pans at different heights and angles to show off your food. Display options in-clude inserts for signage panels, flower vases and dish displays. The consensus from judges: “A nice looking piece.”
Read on for details of the 69 runners-up from the Tabletop Competition.

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