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What Is a Charger Plate?

What Is a Charger Plate?

Last updated on 2/24/2023

A charger plate is a large, decorative plate that acts as a base for other dinnerware. Also known as service plates, under plates, or chop plates, charger plates are purely ornamental and aren't safe for direct food contact. They create attractive table presentations at weddings, corporate parties, and banquets, making them an essential item on catering supplies checklists for formal events. They're also a key feature at fine dining establishments. From how to use a charger plate to the different types of charger plates available, we explain everything you need to know about service plates.

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What Is a Charger Plate Used For?

Elegant table setting using clear charger plates with gold rims

Charger plates serve both aesthetic and practical purposes. Visually, charger plates provide elegance and enhance table decor. Practically, they protect the table and tablecloth from becoming dirty during service and help retain heat in dinnerware. Fine dining establishments use charger plates to serve full-course meals by presenting each course in a separate bowl or plate atop the charger. Discover the classic and creative uses for charger plates below.

  • Use charger plates as a base for dinnerware.
  • Charger plates retain heat in dinnerware, so placing your bowls of soup and dinner plates atop them preserves food temperature.
  • Charger plates protect tables and tablecloths.
  • Use charger plates as a tray or platter to pass around small appetizers or desserts, but make sure to place a doily or linen napkin on top of the charger so food isn't resting atop it.
  • Group pillar candles together atop charger plates to create elegant centerpieces.
  • Use charger plates as color bases for floral centerpieces.

How to Use a Charger Plate

Since charger plates are used as decorative table pieces in upscale settings, there are certain formalities that you should follow when you use service plates. Follow these fine dining etiquette rules when using charger plates at your upscale catered event, wedding, white tablecloth restaurant, or dinner party:

  • Prepare in advance. Charger plates should be dressed and ready when guests arrive.
  • Follow proper placement guidelines. For perfect alignment, place charger plates 1 inch away from the bottom edge of the table.
  • Avoid direct food contact. Never serve food directly on top of a charger plate, unless it is coated in a food-safe material.
  • Wait for guests to finish eating. Chargers are always removed from the table after all guests are finished eating the main entree. Chargers should then be taken away with the dinner plate still on top, as this clears the table and leaves it ready for dessert to be served.

How to Set a Table with Charger Plates

Earth toned dinner table setting using beige charger plates

Follow the instruction below to properly set a table with charger plates.

  1. Choose a charger plate. Select a charger plate that complements the decor of your dining table and adds visual interest to your event’s overall feel. Take into consideration the other tabletop elements that will be placed directly beside the charger plates.
  2. Set the table. Place a charger at each guest's place setting. Chargers should be 2 feet from one another to give guests enough elbow room. Set it on top of the tablecloth or placemat, in between the arranged flatware, and below the beverage glasses.
  3. Coordinate table accessories. Align menu cards, napkins with napkin rings, or name cards in the middle of the charger plate for use before the dinner service.
  4. Serve your guests. When you serve each course, place soup bowls, salad plates, and dinner entrees directly on top of the charger.
  5. Clean your charger plate: After each course, charger plates should be wiped clean or replaced to maintain the purity of the table.
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Types of Charger Plates

Charger plates come in many different sizes, styles, and materials. When it comes to picking the right charger plate for your dining area, there are a few common features to consider. Check out the different types of charger plates below to decide which service plate style works best for you.

  • Dishwasher-Safe Charger Plates - Opt for dishwasher-safe charger plates for faster clean-up at the end of service.
  • Environmentally Friendly Charger Plates - Choosing eco-friendly charger plates made from sustainable materials makes a positive impact on the environment.
  • Interestingly Shaped Charger Plates - Charger plates are available in a variety of shapes, allowing you to find the best shape for your table.

Charger Plate Materials

WebstaurantStore features charger plates in a variety of materials, including the ones listed below. You may use the links directly below the images to navigate to our selection of chargers in that particular material.

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Faux Wood
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Stainless Steel

Charger Plate FAQ

We answer frequently asked questions about charger plates below.

Why Is It Called a Charger Plate?

The term charger plate is derived from the Old English word chargeour which describes any method of carrying heavy items. Chargoeur plates, the early ancestors of modern charger plates, became popular between 1274 and 1325 in England. The Latin root of the word chargoeur is carricane, meaning “to load". The original chargoeur plates were much larger than the ones you’ll see in restaurants today; they were used to carry whole roasted pigs to the tables. As this is no longer a common fine dining practice, charger plates have evolved with the times to accommodate elegant plated service.

Why Are Charger Plates Not Safe for Food?

Most charger plates are not safe for food because they have decorative coatings and paints that aren’t safe to eat off. Toxins from the decorative paints can seep into food and pose health hazards. If you want to serve food directly off your charger plate, choose service plates that specifically say they are safe for food contact.

Are Charger Plates Out of Style?

While fine dining isn’t as popular as it used to be, charger plates themselves are not out of style. On any occasion where caterers and restaurants want to create an elegant table setting, charger plates are useful tools. They’re still a key feature of fine dining, banquets, and weddings.

Do You Use Chargers with Placemats?

Yes, you can use chargers with placemats. When you set your table, place the charger plate atop your placemat beneath the beverage glassware, sandwiched between the arranged flatware. However, you don't have to use a placemat with a service plate and can place the charger directly on the tablecloth. Whether you use a placemat or not, always arrange your charger plates 2 feet from each other to provide guests with ample elbow space.

Do You Use Charger Plates for Buffet?

Charger plates prevent tables from looking bare at buffets. Your guests will likely grab a plate at the buffet line, so dressing your table with the charger plate in advance creates an elegant presentation at each place setting. Make sure guests understand the chargers are not their actual plates and they must not eat off of them.

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Whether you're hosting a formal get-together, catering a wedding, or planning a reunion, charger plates are an important part of bringing a table together. No matter what formal event you're planning, use the information above to adhere to the proper use, etiquette, and presentation of charger plates.

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