Top Wedding Registry Questions, Answered

Place SettingDid Cupid bring you a diamond for St. Valentine's Day? Or perhaps you found your engagement ring under the tree? I ask, because late winter seems to be wedding registry season, the time of year when I'm inundated with inquiries about what to put on the list. I find that even older, self-confident gals and guys are flummoxed when it comes to the bridal registry. My first advice is to stick with the traditional and must-have items like dinnerware, flatware, and drinking glasses. For help in this arena I posed many of the questions I'm most frequently asked to tabletop expert Donna Ferrari. Here's her very smart advice.

Q: How many place settings should I register for? Should I list a different number for my everyday china than for my formal china?

A: If you know starting out that you won't be hosting lots of large fancy dinner parties, six place settings of formal china, which for the record has a gold or platinum band, is a good number to get you started. It'll give you enough plates to have four guests over for dinner--two of your best-friend couples or perhaps both sets of parents. For everyday dinnerware, six to eight place settings is a good number. As you'll be using these often, you'll have plenty of dishes to use while some are in the dishwasher. If your casual pattern will be your only set, you'll definitely want eight settings so you can also use them for guests. Many experts recommend registering for as many as twelve place settings but I find this overwhelms couples who wonder where they'll store it all in their starter apartments. If you only register for 6, it's also more likely you'll get everything you registered for instead of a mish mash of pieces. And more place settings make ideal anniversary gifts!

Related: 13 Wedding Etiquette Questions, Answered

Q: What's in a place setting?

A: A standard formal five-piece place setting consists of a 10½-inch dinner plate, 8-inch salad or dessert plate, bread and butter plate, and a cup and saucer. Many brides add a 9-inch accent plate and a rimmed soup bowl. You can make up your own place setting by registering for "open stock" or the individual pieces you want instead of a predetermined place setting. For the way we eat today, I think only 3 pieces are essential: the dinner plate, an accent plate which can be used for appetizers, salads, and dessert, and the rimmed soup bowl which is great for soup, stew, and pasta. I'm a big advocate for the rimmed soup bowl. In the year 2013, you're probably not serving cream of celery soup but you're very likely to be dishing up mulligatawny or pad Thai or even beef stew, all of which are easier to eat from a wide soup bowl than a flat plate. For coffee and dessert you can change things up with a totally different pattern. For everyday, you'll want a 4 piece place setting consisting of dinner plate, salad or dessert plate (the one you'll use for toast in the morning and sandwiches at lunchtime), all-purpose bowl for cereal, salad, or soup, and a mug.

Q: I love color and prints but everyone tells me to play it safe and opt for timeless white. Is this a good approach?

A: Have you dressed and decorated with patterns and lots of bold color all your life? Chances are you'll continue to love them. But if you're at all uncertain or are acting out of impulse, don't think of a set of white plates as safe but rather as a backdrop to enhance your food. Distinctive textures and shapes can make white anything but boring. If you start with a white pattern, you have a canvas to which you can later add colored and decorated accent pieces as your tastes change or you add to your collection. If you really want to try introducing color to your table, opt for bright serving pieces. Think about how eye-catching hot pink jeans look paired with a crisp white shirt or the way bright blue walls benefit from white moldings and ceilings. Right now, it's very popular to register for place settings made up of pieces that don't match. I don't think that's a smart choice. You'll find if you start with a core set of matching pieces, patterned, banded, or solid, it'll be easier to add other patterns and colors and personalize your table settings. Over time, you're bound to inherit family heirlooms or be tempted by dishware at flea markets. Perhaps you'll want to have fun accessorizing with holiday-themed appetizer plates, square Asian dishes, or vintage glass plates. You'll find it easier to mix and match add-on pieces to a set of basics and especially if it's white.


Q: How do I know for sure that what I love today, will still be attractive to me in 20 or 30 years?

A: You don't! That's why I warn couples not to fall into a trendy trap and register for a fashion forward pattern that will one day leave them scratching their heads and saying, "What were we thinking?" There's a reason so many dinnerware patterns have stood the test of time. When you're browsing on the web, look under patterns organized by "classic," "traditional", and "contemporary" for designs that have proved to be enduring. If you're seriously in doubt or "in love" with something trendy, your best bet is to avoid a very expensive pattern that you'll feel obliged to use forever. Just as you'll own more than one great handbag or sofa in your lifetime, chances are another dinnerware pattern will appeal to you down the road and you can have just as much fun updating your tabletop wardrobe as you do revamping your clothes closet.

Q: What's the deal with sterling silver? Is it worth registering for? It seems so high-maintenance.

A: Most people opt for stainless steel because it's relatively inexpensive and easy to care for and there's an abundance of patterns to complement every taste. But, if you're smitten by silver and think it's in your guests' gift budgets, there's no reason to shy away from it. Silver has a color and luster that you just can't get from stainless. If you love it, use it every day and you'll find tarnish won't build up as long as you rotate the pieces in your drawer. While you can safely wash silver in the dishwasher, I think it's worth taking the time to dry it by hand to prevent water spots from baking on during the dry cycle. With use, you'll notice a patina of tiny, fine lines build up on silverware's surface, giving it a warm glow -- think of this as a sign the pieces were used and enjoyed.

Related: 20 Wedding Dos and Don'ts

Q: I'm sticking with stainless steel. But I do want my flatware to be sturdy and high-quality. What should I look for?

A: Stainless steel flatware that's marked 18/10 and 18/8 is the best quality and won't discolor over time. Check that fork tines are smoothly polished on their tips and inside edges. Compare bowl shapes to find the one you like best. Of course you want a pattern that appeals to your eye, but make sure it also feels comfortable in your hand. Give it the twirl test -- spin it as if you're eating spaghetti. In the store, rest the fork and knife on the rim of a plate to be sure they're well balanced and don't roll off the plate's edge. Unless you want to coordinate your flatware to a specific dinnerware pattern consider classic designs such as the rat tail, beaded edge, or a hammered texture that go well with most dinnerware styles.

Q: Is most china dishwasher safe these days?

A: Dinnerware is pretty tough stuff and dishwasher safe, especially if it's been manufactured by machine and even when it's hand painted or has a metallic band. In some cases, however, dinnerware that's hand-thrown until it's very thin could be too fragile to hold up to the stress of a dishwasher. Some current high-end dishwashers claim to be super gentle on tableware but your best bet is to follow the china maker's care guidelines.Tip: High-fired porcelain, fine china, bone china, stoneware, and pyroceram are incredibly strong and durable, whereas, low-fired earthenware, a.k.a "pottery" is prone to chipping.

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Q: Stemmed or stemless wine glasses?

A: I like the way the height of stemmed glasses adds drama to a table setting drama and with stemware, there's a lot more options in terms of decorative cuts and colors. In order to be able to create a high/low landscape, register for some of both, stemmed goblets for wine and stemless glasses for water or soft drinks.

Q: Do I need a variety of glasses for different beverages? Can you recommend a few all-purpose shapes/sizes?

A: Stemless glasses are good as an all purpose option -- they work for wine, spirits, mixed drinks, and soft drinks. If you like to serve Champagne or sparkling wine, ask for flute-shaped glasses which make the bubbles last longer and keep the wine cool, as long as you hold the flute by the stem. Make sure flutes aren't so lightweight that they can easily tip over. If you want a good variety of glassware get flutes, wine glasses, highballs, DOFs (Double Old Fashioned), and beer glasses. Add martini, margarita, or coupes glasses if you serve cocktails.

Q: Any brands that you specifically recommend?

A: Companies that have been around for a long time are responsible for classic patterns. While many designers have recently gotten into the dinnerware business, it's not as certain that their collections will be available when your family grows and you decide to add another six place settings. By choosing from brands with a long heritage, you have a better chance of being able to add to your collection or buy replacements in the future.

Q: What pieces are essential for entertaining?

A: In addition to dinnerware, flatware, and glassware, you need placemats, napkins, serving pieces, and utensils. Most elementary are large forks and spoons plus a few small ones for condiments. I suggest registering for, a chip and dip set, cheese board, wine cooler, snack bowls, and sandwich/cookie trays in an assortment of sizes and shapes. Other items to round out your registry are salt shaker and pepper grinder, bread server, water pitcher, gravy boat, mugs, cream and sugar set, cake plate or stand, and serving trays. Coasters, too!

What are your registry must-haves? Let me know in the comments!

- By Sharon Franke

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