Building a home together is one of the most important—and exciting—aspects of marriage. For many engaged couples, that process begins with their registry. While you may know exactly what knife set or vacuum you’ll want to request, china and dinnerware can be a trickier topic. With so many different patterns available, plus changing notions of how many different sets and pieces you’ll need, making decisions in this department can feel overwhelming. The first thing to understand is the difference between formal china and more casual dinnerware.
"Formal china typically tends to be made of bone china or porcelain, while casual dinnerware is a broader category that incorporates all types of dishes," says home expert Kelley Carter.
Meet the Expert
Kelley Carter is the fashion director of home for Bloomingdale’s. She is based in New York City.
In the past, formal china was typically used during holidays, celebrations, dinner parties, and other events involving guests. It often features intricate patterns and designs. Everyday dishware, on the other hand, is often simpler in style—sometimes all white or another solid color—and was reserved for meals involving just the couple or their nuclear family.
These days, the "rules" surrounding dinnerware are a lot laxer. There’s no need to register for multiple sets of dishes if that doesn’t suit your lifestyle, and the dishes you do select can be as fancy or as casual as you like. For the full lowdown on what to know about wedding china—including average costs and how many pieces to register for—read on.
Average Price of China and Dinnerware
As with most goods you’ll add to your wedding registry, the price of china pieces can, per Carter, vary widely based on factors like materials, design, and brand. Dinner plates in simpler styles and from brands such as Fiesta can range from $8 to $25 each, while more collectible heirloom pieces from brands such as Wedgwood and Royal Copenhagen can fetch between $50 and $250 per plate.
If you’re starting your dinnerware collection from scratch, you’ll likely register for full place settings, which include three to five pieces of coordinating dishware (dinner plate, the smaller salad or dessert plate, bowl, coffee or tea cup, and saucer). The cost per place setting can range from $30 to over $500, with many collections of quality hitting between the $50 and $200 mark.
How Many Place Settings to Register For
"The range tends to be eight to 12 place settings, but this truly varies," says Carter, who notes that the two main factors a couple should consider when choosing their number are the size of their home and their overall lifestyle. If you’re frequently entertaining or have young children that may be less careful with the pieces, it’s best to skew on the higher side.
How to Decide Where to Register
With many big brand department stores offering the same brands and styles of china, you may want to look beyond just dinnerware when deciding where to register. "It’s helpful to ask yourself if the place you’re thinking of registering can meet any of your other wedding needs," says Carter. Do they also, for example, offer the bed linens or luggage sets you may have your eye on?
Easy-to-navigate return policies, post-wedding perks and discounts, and partnerships with other wedding-related businesses, such as travel agencies, can be further incentives, so it’s best to do your homework before deciding on your selected services. These days, many couples create two to three registries for added flexibility for their guests.
You’ll want to register with at least one well-known brand with brick and mortar stores located around the country (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Crate & Barrel, etc.). Some shoppers may prefer to pick out their gifts in person, and this will allow them to do so more easily.
Picking The Right China for You
No idea where to begin when it comes to picking out your china? No worries! Most stores with registry programs also have dedicated registry consultants to guide you through the process. "The best way to guide the registry consultant you’re working with is to bring pictures of items that you like," says Carter. "Having references is really helpful as it speaks to your personal style and the consultant will be better able to recommend items."
It’s also helpful to visualize what mealtime will mean in your household. Will you be regularly hosting dinner parties featuring multiple guests and catered meals? Then you’ll likely want to have fancy plates on hand that can match the festive nature of your gatherings. Prefer to cook at home for just you and your boo? Go with a smaller collection of everyday dishware. And, if you're planning to regularly do both, know that there’s no shame in registering for two sets.
Colorways and patterns are another important factor but can be hard to whittle down. For this, it’s best to look around your home, particularly in the spaces where you’ll eat and entertain. What colors most often repeat themselves? Those will be the shades to look for when selecting your dinnerware. (When in doubt, you can almost never go wrong with classic blue and white.)
Finally, the required care and maintenance of the pieces you select are important to consider. "Dinnerware with hand-painted designs or metallic finishes are best to be hand-washed," says Carter, who notes that the same can be true of certain gold-plated or rose gold flatware sets. If you’d rather place pieces in the dishwasher post-meal, it’s best to avoid this route.
What Other Dinnerware Items Should I Register For?
"Couples that love to entertain should consider additional tableware like serving bowls or platters, an etagere, and serving utensils," says Carter. "I would also recommend an ice bucket or chic champagne cooler if you enjoy hosting cocktail hours in your home."
It’s also helpful to register for extras of items you’ll use most. If you’re a caffeine fiend, be sure to include extra cups and saucers. Spend more time snacking than eating full meals? Add extra dessert or salad plates to the mix.
You’ll also need drinking vessels. "An everyday tumbler is essential for your registry," adds Carter, who recommends starting with 12 glasses per set. "From there, think about the drinks you’ll serve in your glassware to determine the specific glasses you need. If you’re a cocktail connoisseur, look at old fashioned or highball glasses, while flutes are better suited for those with an affinity for champagne."
Flatware is another must-have and is typically sold in sets of three (fork, dinner knife, tablespoon) or five (dinner fork, salad fork, dinner knife, teaspoon, tablespoon). Silver is often considered the most versatile shade, but there’s no need to limit yourself! If you love a matte black or the cheery resin shades of Mepra, go for it. Just know you’ll want to start with the same amount of flatware sets as you have dinnerware sets, and that it’s best to steer away from limited-edition collections or of-the-moment colors. That way, if you need to replace pieces down the line, there’s a greater chance you’ll still find them in stock.