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In a Formal Table Setting, What is a Charger?

The charger sits under and is larger than both the salad and dinner plate.
In the past, some charger plates were made from pewter.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2014
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At one time considered an essential for any well dressed table setting, the charger plate fell out of favor in the latter part of the 20th century, but it still has a place as an important component of formal dining. Chargers are simply underplates that are used at each place setting of a formal table. Interestingly enough, there are some varying schools of thought on how to use the plates to best effect.

The charger should be larger than the actual dinner and salad plates used to hold the food. At one time, a proper one was always made of either pewter or stainless steel coated with gold. Those used today can be made of everything from plastic resin to silver.

What appears to matter most is that the plate should compliment the choices of china, silverware, and general decor of the table dressing. It may be used with or without placemats, depending on the degree of formality employed by the place setting.

One school of thought states that charger plates are meant simply to act as placeholders until the actual china plates are brought to the table. This would mean that the server would remove it from the place setting at the same time the first course was offered to the guest. The plate is whisked away, never to be seen again for the remainder of the meal.

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Others claim that the charger should remain until the dessert course is served. This would mean it would remain in place to receive the soup, salad, and entree courses, and only be removed from the table when it was time to end the meal with the sweets. A relatively regionalized custom involves placing the plates to the side of the place setting once the meal begins, where they can be used for cocktail glasses and other dinner utensils as they are no longer needed.

Whichever procedure is followed, there is no doubt that the use of the right chargers can add a touch of elegance to the table. By picking up on design elements related to the table setting, the choice of colors, and the pattern used for the china, the plate will enhance the beauty of the other pieces and create a sense of a fully prepared table.

With so many different styles and materials to choose from today, it is relatively easy to purchase chargers that will fit into just about every budget. Many home stores, general retail dealers and china shops will carry them in a wide range of colors and designs, making it easy to find something to compliment any china pattern.

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anon128948
Post 6

Thanks, this is good information. However, I remember that the charger plates used to be heated and then the plate was placed on it to keep the food warm. Now that they are plastic, I doubt that heating is a good idea. But I still think they bring a certain charm to the table, especially at the holidays.

anon57737
Post 5

Why are they known as chargers?

anon49932
Post 4

Thanks. it was very useful information.

anon28743
Post 3

But why is it called a charger?

I bought some wicker ones because my sister used to have some wicker ones for putting under paper plates to make them more sturdy and I thought that was a great idea. The ones I bought however have such a huge rim that food spills over onto it, maybe I should trim them.

anon22654
Post 2

Thanks for this useful info!

anon15432
Post 1

Thank you. The article is very helpful!

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