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Dish up a good time on whatever dinnerware you enjoy

The Oklahoman logo The Oklahoman 7/12/2021 Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Callie Athey and Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: Are there special dishes that you get out when you entertain? If so, what plates, glasses and silver patterns do you use? Any special serving trays? Should we avoid paper plates and plastic forks when we entertain at home?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: What’s the occasion you’re entertaining for? If you want to get out your china, think about clean up. A lot of the china is hand-wash. In a more casual setting, paper plates are more than fine!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: This is actually a fun question, and I hope you have fun thinking of all the different possibilities when you entertain. First, there are a million stories behind people’s tableware, whether china or pottery, silver or stainless or silverplate, crystal or glassware — so enjoy your own story and taste. People receive pieces for wedding gifts, collect them in antique stores or places they travel, inherit them from a favorite relative and more. They can remind us of loved ones when we use them or they can just add color and beauty to our tables when we entertain. They don’t have to be certain patterns at all.

a slice of cake on a plate: Using blue and white plates is Heather's favorite when setting the table. They go with everything and add some character. © Nathan Gray/Staff, TALK Greenville Using blue and white plates is Heather's favorite when setting the table. They go with everything and add some character.

In addition, there are some great paper plate and napkin choices out there for more informal entertaining, like a cookout. So pick what kind of gathering you’re having and decorate accordingly. Use pieces that you love, whatever the style.

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Most of all, enjoy your company, set a pretty table with what you have, and treasure gathering with people you care about, especially after the last year or so of COVID-19 isolation, even if it’s thrown together. My mom always advised me not to let my best china or silver sit on a shelf for the right occasion but to use it and enjoy it. I still think that’s good advice, so sometimes when I have people over, I just have fun with what I have. If you want new china or silver but buying a whole set isn’t in your budget, then go to a local store that has houseware, pick a pattern out that fits you and treat yourself to one piece at a time.

a table with wine glasses: Pick what kind of gathering you’re having and decorate accordingly. © West Elm Pick what kind of gathering you’re having and decorate accordingly.

HELEN’S ANSWER: I loved my mother’s china so much that I chose it for my own and so have a great supply of England Spode Chelsea Garden (hers and mine). It is beautiful and I always loved entertaining using this pattern, along with Rose Point sterling silver. My parents started giving me a piece of silver for my birthday when I was in the 6th grade, so I had a lot of it accumulated for family use when I got married. I picked up Baccarat crystal in France in 1961 while on a student trip.

Serving trays were silver-plated when I received them as wedding gifts, and I did have many of those, but when downsizing occurred there was no storage room for the trays, so they are now gone. Most trays these days are made for the dishwasher and certainly do not require polishing.

Plastic forks and knives are hard to manage, so I never use them. There are many varieties of sturdy, attractive paper plates and we have been known to use them for various functions at my house.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Kathy Walker, community leader: Nothing gives one more pleasure to sit at a breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner table that has been curated by a caring hostess. Whether it be casual, whimsical, informal or formal, your place settings, along with flowers, menu, linens, flatware and invitations, set the tone for your event.

Depending on the occasion, the time of day, and the food, I adore using different patterns of bone china, porcelain, stoneware, glass, crystal, and earthenware. Each time I set a table, I celebrate the provenance of the plate, cup or saucer, piece of silver or glass of crystal.

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I wouldn’t think about not using my paternal grandmother’s Noritake or my Herend wedding china at Easter lunch. For Christmas dinner, I use the Christmas Spode china my mother bought me and added to my collection through the years. If I’m serving Mexican food, I like to serve on the hues of grey/blue Mexican pottery I inherited from my paternal aunt which was purchased in Mexico. Pasta is served on my carnation pattern of Italian pottery that was given to me at a wedding shower almost 50 years ago.

My maternal grandmother’s crystal and glassware are used all of the time. Holloware and silver plate from my mother and my wedding make a beautiful and useful table along with a Towle King Richard sterling flatware pattern. If I’m serving Chinese food, I love to serve on blue and white Asian porcelain that I bought in Chinatown in San Francisco and I use it only with chopsticks!

One of my favorite buffet platters is a very large oval French white porcelain piece that my mother bought for me when we were in southwest France together one year. I think of her every time I plate it. I count myself fortunate to have inherited such wonderful pieces from the women in my family and to have been given gifts at my wedding.

I never allow myself to use paper plates and plastic silverware unless I’m going on a picnic. Even in that situation, I sometimes take along pewter plates and cloth napkins. It makes for an interesting layout.

One of the best places to fill in if you want to add more dishes to your collection is to browse the antique and vintage shops. Sometimes you can purchase several place settings of bone china for a mere fraction of what it costs to buy one plate in Anna Weatherley, Royal Crown Derby, or Herend patterns. You can also follow bloggers and Instagram posts such as @secretsofahostess or @hostesstoday to gather ideas for table settings.

More importantly, however, is the gathering of friends and family around the table for warm and spirited conversation.

Since 2009, Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth is 40-plus and Helen is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Dish up a good time on whatever dinnerware you enjoy


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