Charger plates have been in use since the early 19th century, but as formal dinners have become less common charger plates, despite adding SO MUCH to a table design, are rarely used… so it’s not surprising that lots of our clients will ask, “What is a charger plate?”
Allow me to fill in some gaps.
Charger plates go by different names around the world, sometimes they’re called a service plates, underplates, or chop plates. Chargers are larger than regular dinner plates since dinner plates are meant to sit on top of them – and you still want to see the pretty charger when you lay that dinner plate in place. That layering effect is GORGEOUS! If you want to really dress up a place setting, layer a few elements together – charger, dinner plate, napkin, menu, favour, ribbon… there are tons of options and combinations to explore… and I digress.
Alright, since you’re still here, let’s really dive into this. You ready?
First off, what is a charger plate, exactly?
Charger plates are decorative plates that sit under the dinner plate. They are not to be used for food (dear god, please don’t use them for food! We’ve had chargers come back with cake all over them… who’s eating cake off a charger plate? OK… I digress again… sorry), instead, chargers are a decorative feature used to enhance and upgrade the look of a place setting – and boy, they REALLY DO! Since they are not meant to be used for food (seriously… don’t use them for food) you’ll find chargers made of all sorts of materials, including glass, wood, plastic, wicker, metal, and even pearl.
How long does a charger stay on the table?
There are different “rules” about when a charger plate should be removed from the table and this decision is controlled by the caterer (if they’ve done their job correctly… there should be no cake on the charger). In some cases, chargers are removed right before the first course is served. This is my least favourite option as it feels like a waste. Chargers are designed to allow other plates to sit on top of them – still, in some cases, the shape of the food make it challenging to keep chargers in place – so that becomes a catering decision. Most of the time though, this isn’t an issue.
The European custom is for chargers to be removed at the same time that the soup course is cleared. A hot plate would be put in its place for the dinner service. I’ve never seen this done in real life and I don’t know how often the custom is practiced in formal dinner settings over in Europe, but I do like this idea.
The most common practice here in North America, is for the charger plate to remain in place until just before the dessert course. That means that the plate for each preceding course, the soup, salad, entree, etc. would be placed on top of the charger plate. I love this because it makes every course just a little more fancy. The charger is then removed along with any other dishes that are no longer needed from dinner. I love it when caterers do this – the really good ones will even go around clearing crumbs from the table so that guests have a completely fresh start for dessert – and doesn’t that just make the dessert feel all sorts of fancy?
When should chargers be used?
Chargers are rarely used at home, they’re really reserved for special occasions – like weddings. I think that just about every wedding should be dressed up with a charger plate. If you have passed table service then yes, yes, yes, definitely include a charger plate in your table design.
Honestly, for an item that is typically an afterthought for many couples, chargers actually have the ability to be massively impactful on the overall table and room design. Because they occupy a lot of surface area, chargers can completely transform an event space.