After over 30 hours researching more than 60 dinnerware collections, and testing and evaluating seven of them, we found that the Fitz and Floyd Nevaeh Dinnerware Collection is the best for most people. It’s made of high-quality bone china with 50 percent bone ash content, so it’s thinner, lighter, and appears more delicate than porcelain, yet it’s surprisingly durable and resistant to chipping. The material also gives it a bright whiteness and an elegant translucence not found in the thicker, duller porcelain typically found at this price. The Fitz and Floyd set has a white, classic look with defined rims free of excessive patterns; although the set has been available for eight years, it has changed little in design. And if you need to replace a dish at any point over the years, the pieces are sold as open stock.
Though we liked the Fitz and Floyd set best, the Williams-Sonoma Open Kitchen Dinnerware Collection is a less expensive alternative that’s porcelain. This set is more casual and has fewer pieces to choose from compared with our top pick. It lacks the durability and translucency of the Fitz and Floyd bone china, but it has a comfortable weight and an even glaze. This Williams-Sonoma set is a timeless one that’s been around for years, so replacing items shouldn’t be an issue. The Open Kitchen Collection is sold in open-stock sets of four online, or as fully open stock in stores only.
If you prefer a dinnerware set with a more substantial weight, we suggest the Williams-Sonoma Brasserie All-White Dinnerware. This set feels similar to restaurant dishes, making it strong enough to go under the broiler. It’s more expensive than our top pick, but it has almost no visible pitting and a very even glaze. The Brasserie collection is sold in five- or 20-piece sets or in a 16-piece set with mugs instead of teacups and saucers. It’s also sold in open-stock sets of four (online only).
I’ve worked in the food and restaurant industry for 10 years. I’ve reviewed all-purpose plates, electric kettles, and immersion blenders, as well as other kitchen gadgets for The Sweethome, and I’m a graduate of International Culinary Center, where I also worked as an editor. I also previously worked as a recipe tester for the cookbook Meat: Everything You Need to Know.
For this guide, we also talked to a number of experts about what they look for in a basic dinnerware collection, including Eddie Ross, East Coast editor of Better Homes & Gardens and author of Modern Mix: Curating Personal Style With Chic & Accessible Finds; Marion Hover, former tabletop decorative gifts buyer at Macy’s; and chef Candy Argondizza, vice president of culinary and pastry arts at International Culinary Center. The American Ceramic Society provided us with resources about ceramic production and terminology, and we gained insight from wedding magazines such as Brides as to which dinnerware collections were the most popular among wedding registries. To determine the longevity of dinnerware collections, we relied heavily on customer reviews from Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Macy’s, Amazon, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Whether you are newly engaged and registering for your first collection of dinnerware or are just tired of eating off the same plates you’ve had since college, buying a set of everyday white dishes with classic styling and proven durability makes a lot of sense. These picks are well-suited for everyday use as well as entertaining.
If you’re purchasing dinnerware for the first time or you’re due for an upgrade, it’s helpful to know the meaning behind some basic terms—including china, porcelain, and bone china—to ensure you get quality materials. British and American standards for some of these materials vary slightly, which can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar with ceramics terminology.
China, the material, takes its name from China, the birthplace of porcelain making, and is an umbrella term defined as “any glazed or unglazed vitreous ceramic dinnerware used for nontechnical purposes.” (“Vitreous” means the product is glassy and brittle with little ability to absorb water, like dinnerware, toilets, and sinks.)
Porcelain, a type of china, is primarily made with a combination of clay, feldspar, and quartz, and heated in kilns at very high temperatures. It is generally heavier and harder than bone china, with a brittle composition that can be more prone to chipping.
Bone china is made with the same ceramic materials as porcelain, but with the addition of calcified bone (up to 50 percent) and fired at a lower temperature. Calcified bone, or bone ash, is derived from animal bone and adds a creamy color and translucency to dinnerware that’s missing from porcelain. Bone ash softens the composition of china, making it less brittle and less prone to chipping compared with regular porcelain (however, the glaze on bone china is usually softer and not as strong as that on porcelain). Even though bone china is thinner and lighter and appears more delicate than porcelain, it is surprisingly durable.
In general, higher-quality bone china will have a higher percentage of bone ash. However, buyer beware: In the US, the American Society for Testing and Materials allows use of the term “bone china” for china with a bone ash content as low as 25 percent. You won’t know what percentage content you’re paying for unless you contact the producer or manufacturer directly. If a manufacturer is unable to tell you the exact percentage of bone ash in its bone china, you’re probably better off avoiding that manufacturer’s bone china.
“Fine china” has a somewhat ambiguous meaning, but generally includes any porcelain or bone china made from higher-quality clays. An article in the Journal of The American Ceramic Society defines such clays used in whiteware production as “raw materials that provide plasticity and green strength [the strength of unfired clay] during the forming stages of porcelain production and that contribute substantially to the color of the fired ware.”
Manufacturers use a variety of ceramics to make dinnerware, but we’ve focused our selection on dinnerware made from porcelain and bone china due to those materials’ aesthetic appeal, resilience, and practicality. However, out of all the whiteware sets we reviewed, our testers were drawn to the overall look, color, weight, and unique translucency of the bone china sets over porcelain ones. We aren’t alone in that assessment, as many of our experts agree. For basic dinnerware, design and entertaining expert Eddie Ross said he “really like[s] the thinner, white bone china that’s dishwasher and microwave safe.” Marion Hover, a former tabletop decorative gifts buyer at Macy’s agreed “My favorite is bone.” Aside from its aesthetic appeal, bone china offers greater durability and is less prone to chipping than porcelain. Hover noted that “the biggest lesson in china/dinnerware is the sustainability of the product.”
Ultimately, you want a set that provides both beauty and strength, and we found that bone china with a high bone ash content offers both of these. In our research, we found that most inexpensive bone china suffered in quality due to its low bone ash content, and most high-quality bone china collections were exorbitantly priced. We prioritized finding a high-quality bone china set that was both durable and elegant at a reasonable price.
According to our experts, the best dinnerware set is versatile: durable enough for everyday use, but attractive enough for entertaining guests. Martha Stewart says a classic whiteware set should be “versatile and … perfect for any occasion. It goes easily from day to evening.” Good dinnerware should also be a neutral canvas for any meal. Chef Candy Argondizza noted that “a simple white plate allows the food to make a statement so that the diner’s eye is drawn to the food with no distractions.”
Decorated sets can be exciting, but they’re also more likely to become dated with time. For this reason, we limited our search to sets with a classic white look with defined rims free of any patterns or designs.1 Overall, we preferred dish sets with proven longevity and little change in design over the years.
We searched for dinnerware sets that you can purchase as open stock, which allows the freedom to customize collections to suit your needs and to replace the dish or two that will inevitably break over the course of your ownership. Ideally, we wanted sets that allow you to choose between shallow soup bowls or deep cereal bowls, mugs or dainty teacups and saucers, and a variety of different dinner and salad plate sizes. At the very minimum, we felt each set should contain salad and dinner plates, cereal bowls, and coffee mugs. We were able to rule out any sets with bowls that were too deep or too shallow. Collections that offered additional serving pieces outside the main place setting were viewed as having a nice bonus, but offering serving pieces was not a required factor in our selection.
A note on fine china for newlyweds: Though plenty of these sets are available, our research showed that long-term couples often regret registering for a fine-china set. The dishes simply don’t get used enough and take up too much storage space. Very fine or hand-painted china collections are expensive—some cereal bowls sell for $250 apiece. Likewise, hand-painted designs may date quickly, and may not be dishwasher- or microwave-safe. Because of this, we prioritized finding sets that were elegant enough for fine-china occasions like dinner parties with friends and family, but also sturdy and casual enough for everyday use.
After considering over 60 dinnerware collections, we evaluated and tested seven sets. We examined each set under light to check for any visible flaws, such as pitting on the surface of the ceramic or inconsistent glaze. We scratched a plate from each set with a fork and knife 50 times to test for too-soft, cheap glazes. We also compared the sets’ hue and brightness. Finally, we asked testers to handle each set to evaluate weight, comfort, and overall ease of use.
Our testers liked the simplicity of the Fitz and Floyd Nevaeh Dinnerware Collection best of all the sets we tried. The set is timeless and elegant enough for formal dinner parties, but not so classy that you’d hesitate to use it everyday. It’s also dishwasher-, microwave-, and warm-oven-safe (up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit). The Fitz and Floyd set is a high-quality bone china because it’s made from 50 percent bone ash (compared with lower-quality bone china that can contain as low as 25 percent). The addition of bone ash makes this set thinner, lighter, and more pliable, so it’s less prone to chipping than regular porcelain. The Fitz and Floyd set also has an elegant thinness that was lacking from the other bone-china set we tested. Its high bone-ash content also gives the Fitz and Floyd collection a bright white hue, an attractive translucency, and a comfortable weight.
This set not only uses quality material, but it’s well-made, and the design of individual pieces made them easy to use. Our fork and knife could not scuff the plate during our scratch test, and all pieces had a very even glaze, unlike the drippy, inconsistent glaze on Macy’s Cellar Whiteware Rim Collection. The flat-bottomed teacups didn’t wobble in the saucers and were very comfortable to hold. The cereal bowls have an appropriate width and depth, unlike the bowls in the Crate and Barrel Maison Dinnerware Set, which were too deep and awkward to eat from.
Also, the Fitz and Floyd set is available in four- or five-piece place settings or as open stock, so you have the freedom to customize the collection. You can choose between shallow soup bowls or deep cereal bowls, mugs or dainty teacups and saucers, and a variety of dinner and salad plate sizes (pay close attention to dish sizes when purchasing items as open stock to be sure you match sizes appropriately). You can even use the saucers in the five-piece set as bread plates for more formal occasions, because they lack cup-centering ridges. Fitz and Floyd also allows you to buy multiple serving pieces to grow your Nevaeh collection, which wasn’t a possibility with some of the other sets we looked at.
This set is sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond, and Fitz and Floyd is a trusted brand that’s been around since 1960. A Fitz and Floyd customer service representative we spoke with said that the Nevaeh Dinnerware Collection has been around for eight years, so replacing any broken items in years to come shouldn’t be an issue. On a personal note, I’ve grown my own collection over the last four years and haven’t noticed any changes to the original design.
The only drawback to the Fitz and Floyd set is some faint pitting on the surface of the glaze. We detected these minor imperfections on the plates only when we examined them closely under the light, but not when we were seated in front of them at a table.
I’ve owned this set for four years and have had no breakage, although the plates have developed minor scratches on the glaze’s surface—most likely due to improper stacking. If you use any dinnerware long enough, some scratching may occur (see our Care and maintenance section).
Some of our testers with larger hands found the teacup’s handle a bit dainty. If you prefer a larger cup, we suggest opting for the four-piece set, which includes a heartier, 16-ounce mug. You can also purchase the larger mugs as open stock.
After nine months of daily use, we still highly recommend the Fitz and Floyd Nevaeh Dinnerware Collection. Though we haven’t chipped or broken a single piece from this set, some reader comments indicate that hairline cracks have developed on a couple of the plates and coffee mugs. We haven’t experienced these issues ourselves, but we’ll continue to long-term test to see if any problems arise.
Though we liked the Fitz and Floyd set best, if you prefer something less expensive and slightly more casual, we recommend the Williams-Sonoma Open Kitchen Dinnerware Collection. This set is porcelain, so it’s slightly heavier, more brittle, and less resilient than bone china.
This Williams-Sonoma set is a grayer and cooler white that lacks the translucency of the Fitz and Floyd set, but has almost no pitting and a very even glaze. Aside from being more casual, it has fewer pieces to choose from than the Fitz and Floyd set. The Open Kitchen collection doesn’t come with teacups and saucers, but has a nice-sized mug with a wide, comfortable handle that we preferred over the square, dated mugs in Macy’s Hotel Collection Bone China Dinnerware. This Williams-Sonoma collection comes with the option to purchase cereal bowls or shallow soup bowls—or both—and is sold online in open-stock sets of four or in stores as fully open stock.
The Open Kitchen collection has proven longevity, with one reviewer on the Williams-Sonoma site saying they haven’t broken a single piece in over 13 years. We’re confident this set will remain in style and pair nicely with other serving pieces for years to come.
If you’re partial to heavier dinnerware that’s substantially thicker than our other picks, we suggest the porcelain Williams-Sonoma Brasserie All-White Dinnerware collection. There’s no denying its durability—Williams-Sonoma advertises it as being sturdy enough to go under the broiler—but most of our testers found the pieces to be a little too heavy, though not as clunky as those of the Williams-Sonoma Apilco Tradition Porcelain Dinnerware collection. Also, some of our testers thought the saucers in this set were a bit wide and didn’t match the rims of the plates.
Because the Brasserie All-White Dinnerware collection is available in open-stock sets of four online, you have the option to add cereal bowls to the primary set. The collection has a brighter white hue compared with the slightly gray-blue of the Open Kitchen set, almost no visible pitting, and a very even glaze.
A Brasserie set is considerably more expensive than our top pick (at around $56 for a five-piece place setting). Despite being more expensive, this set has been around a while, with one customer review on the Williams-Sonoma website praising it after 18 years of use. Another plus for the Brasserie set: Our testers preferred the size of the teacup in this collection compared with our pick’s and runner-up’s teacups.
If you’re very picky about your dishes’ appearance, you can take extra care to reduce wear. Because the dinnerware’s under-rims are unglazed, most manufacturers and retailers recommend placing cloth, round coffee filters, or paper plates between stacked plates to avoid light scratching. You can even purchase precut plate dividers. However, Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, suggests saving money by buying felt and cutting out pieces yourself to use as dividers.
Also, avoid stacking plates too high, and always retrieve plates from the top of a stack to avoid subjecting them to unnecessary pressure that could cause breakage. Also, avoid putting your dinnerware through extreme temperature changes, such as placing a cold plate in a very hot oven, as this can cause spontaneous breakage (porcelain is more resistant to thermal shock than, say, tempered glass, but better safe than sorry).
Because we specifically chose dinnerware sets with proven longevity, we’re confident they’ll be around for years to come should you need to replace pieces. However, if for some reason pieces become unavailable in the future, companies like Replacements, Ltd. specialize in selling discontinued dinnerware.
The Crate and Barrel Maison Dinnerware Set had nice color and weight, and we especially liked the styling of the mug. However, our testers found the cereal bowl was much too deep, making it awkward to eat from.
The Williams-Sonoma Apilco Tradition Porcelain Dinnerware had almost no pitting and a very even glaze, but had heavy plates (each weighing just over 2 pounds) and felt clunky next to our top picks.
The Williams-Sonoma Apilco Tuileries Porcelain Dinnerware collection felt similar to the Fitz and Floyd set, but it’s double the price and the handle on the teacup was a bit small.
The Macy’s Cellar Whiteware Rim Collection had significant pitting and an inconsistent, drippy glaze.
The Macy’s Hotel Collection Bone China Dinnerware had mugs with square, dated handles reminiscent of the ones used to serve hot beverages on airplanes; all of our testers hated the mugs.
The Villeroy & Boch Artesano Dinnerware Collection is available as open stock, but we ultimately felt it didn’t look classic enough. The plate-rim style is trendy now, but it may go out of style in years to come.
Fitz and Floyd’s Nevaeh Coupe Dinnerware Collection has a more modern look that we worry will date it in years to come.
One of our testers has owned the Sur La Table Bistro 24-Piece Dinnerware Set for about five years. Reports of supbar quality from our experts and reviews were borne out by her experience: She has chipped and broken several pieces. Therefore, we opted not to test the set.
Mikasa’s Lucerne White collection is reputable, but we felt the mugs were a bit too whimsical for most people and decided not to test the collection.
The Pottery Barn Great White Rim Dinnerware collection’s plates’ rims have a dramatic slope and width akin to shallow soup bowls, which looked unusual and felt odd to use.
Many reviews indicate that the Martha Stewart Collection Kensington Whiteware Collection has an off-white ivory color. For ease in matching serving pieces, we feel a “pure white” collection is best. The bowl in this set looks extremely deep and there’s no option for a shallow soup bowl.
The Fishs Eddy Diner Whites pieces seem too clunky for formal use. And the pieces in the company’s Finer Whites collection are too casual for you to use at a nice dinner party—the set seems clunky and better suited for restaurant use.
Crate and Barrel’s Aspen Dinnerware collection has a classic look, but multiple reviews indicate that it can be prone to chipping. One customer review said pieces that should match varied slightly in color and size.
Though we recommend the dinner plates from Pottery Barn’s Caterer’s 12-Piece Dinnerware Set as our top pick for all-purpose plates, they’re only sold in open-stock sets of 12. We suggest using these plates as backup for large parties or holiday gatherings.
Crate and Barrel’s Roulette 16-Piece Dinnerware Set suffers from customer reviews that indicate that the underside of the plates have glazing issues.
The Corelle Livingware 16-Piece Dinnerware Set is undoubtedly durable, but it’s made from vitrelle glass (a type of tempered glass product). Corelle’s very light weight and its plates’ lack of a lip wouldn’t quite be suitable for formal occasions.
The mug handles in Restoration Hardware’s Chinese Porcelain Grand-Rimmed Dinnerware Collection had sharp, dramatic angles, so we opted not to test the collection.
Though Fiestaware has been a popular American dinnerware for decades, it was too heavy and casual for formal dinners. We also weren’t fans of its flat-bottomed bowls.
We were also able to rule out a number of dinnerware collections from Villeroy & Boch, Wedgwood, Lenox, Royal Doulton, Noritake, Michael C. Fina, Bloomingdale’s, and Target for a variety of reasons, including insufficient or unfavorable reviews, limited stock, replacement issues, high prices, or quality issues.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: April 22, 2016