Wedding Registry Flatware 101

When it comes to knives and forks, the possibilities might not be as straight-forward as you think.
by Tracy Guth

Think flatware is just about knives and forks? It's that—and so much more. Read on to learn about your options, from stainless steel to silver and something in between, then manage your picks on your own registry.


A basic five-piece place setting consists of: a dinner knife, a dinner fork, a salad fork, a tablespoon, and a teaspoon. Hostess sets are made up of serving utensils and generally have either four or five pieces. A four-piece set generally includes a large serving spoon, a pierced serving spoon, a sugar spoon, and a butter knife. A five-piece set adds a cold meat fork to the mix. Other pieces you may consider registering for or buying include soup spoons, butter knives, a large ladle, a small ladle, a sugar spoon, a salad-serving set (consisting of a large fork and spoon), a large fork to use when serving meat, a cake server, and several serving spoons in various sizes. If you're both true gourmets, you could even think about registering for more obscure pieces such as oyster forks, lemon forks, iced tea spoons, cream-soup spoons, fruit spoons (the pointed type you use to eat grapefruit), and demitasse spoons. Use our Bridal Registry Checklist for a complete list.


  • Plain: Plain flatware has a pleasant, rounded appearance. It's simple enough to match with the most ornate china, but can also be paired with simple white china to create a modern-looking table.
  • Floral: This flatware can be heavy and ornate, with much embellishment and detail, or it can have a delicate floral design etched onto its handle. If you're a romantic at heart, this flatware's for you.
  • Banded: This flatware contains an etched band around the edges of its handles. It's the perfect complement for banded china. If you plan on doing a lot of formal, elegant entertaining, consider banded flatware.
  • Angular: This type of flatware is basic and streamlined, perfect for modern tables. It's a great match for plain white china and can go from casual to formal without a hitch.


  • Sterling: Flatware (usually eating and serving utensils) made of at least 92.5% pure silver.
  • Silver Plate: Silver plate is a dishwasher-safe, less-expensive alternative to sterling that will probably last nearly as long. A layer of 100% silver coats another metal, usually nickel or brass. Nickel is best, because it's harder than brass and silver adheres to it well. The thicker the silver layer, the better the quality.
  • Stainless Steel: Most everyday flatware is stainless steel, which doesn't rust, tarnish, chip, or wear out. The best grades are 18/8 and 18/10.
  • Vermeil or Gold Electroplate: Decorative, thin layers of gold—10-karat or more—applied to sterling (a.k.a. vermeil), a metal alloy, or stainless steel (gold electroplate).


  • Frequently used silver pieces need less care than those banished to cabinets or silver chests, waiting for a formal occasion. The tiny scratches silver acquires from constant use and cleaning will form a soft finish called patina, which gives each piece a unique signature (like the natural flaws in leather).
  • For everyday use, wash sterling flatware by hand in hot, sudsy water, followed by a hot rinse (although it can brave the dishwasher in a pinch).
  • Silver plate and stainless steel are machine-washable, but be sure to separate them in the dishwasher basket.
  • Polish sterling silver and silver plate at least once a year, or it will oxidize or tarnish. Remember that the more often you use your silverware, the less it will tarnish (use it every day and save on that elbow grease). You can buy various sprays, liquids, and pastes, or create your own paste by mixing baking soda and water.
  • Use a soft cotton or flannel cloth, stroking up and down so the patina stays in one direction.
  • Finally, wash the piece in warm water with a mild detergent and a soft sponge. Warning: Don't use "dip" polishes; they contain chemicals that can leave behind a white residue.


Store sterling silver and silver-plate flatware in felt rolls in a silver chest with slotted insets (or a tightly closed drawer) lined with felt linen to prevent scratching, denting, and tarnishing.

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