The Essential Serveware Guide: What You Need for Big Parties and Impromptu Get-Togethers

Essential Serveware Guide

The best hosts produce good food and drink for guests with a minimum of fuss—whether the gatherings are planned or impromptu. How do they make it look so effortless? They’re prepared with a full complement of serveware that’s equal parts attractive and useful.

The old saying ‘there’s a right tool for the right job’ can be applied to home entertaining: ‘there’s a right serving dish for every purpose.’ Read on to learn about different serveware styles and the must-have pieces for your home.

Serveware Styles and Materials

The materials and design of your serveware work in tandem to define the style, which might be modern, rustic, sophisticated, farmhouse, or casual. Before building your collection, know your design style. You’ll use these pieces often and may even keep a bowl or platter on display in the kitchen between uses. Common serveware materials include:

  • Stoneware
  • Glass
  • Stainless steel
  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Porcelain
  • Slate
  • Marble
  • Melamine

Serveware Essentials

The Serveware Essentials

For a well-rounded collection of serveware, you won’t need every piece—many can serve a variety of dishes and desserts. Still, it’s helpful to think about the food you frequently serve for family meals, backyard barbecues, and large celebrations. This way you’ll have the essential pieces you need, and you can get creative with the rest. Serveware to consider for your collection:

Serving Platters

These are large dishes for serving main courses and side dishes family style or on a buffet. Serving platters feature a large flat surface in the center and flared edges to prevent food from spilling.

Serving platter shapes include round, square, oval, and rectangular. They’re crafted using a variety of materials, including metal, stoneware, glass, and melamine. Opt for oven-proof and microwave-safe stoneware platters to warm or heat food before serving. Melamine platters are perfect for outdoor entertaining.
Good for serving:

  • Carved turkey, roast beef, ham
  • Sandwiches
  • Barbecue ribs
  • Roasted, grilled, or sautéed fish
  • Roasted root vegetables
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Cupcakes, cookies, or brownies

Serving Bowls

Serving Bowls

Serving bowls are great for serving everything from your favorite candy to a tossed salad to roasted potatoes. Select serving bowls in various sizes and materials. Stoneware bowls convey rustic farmhouse style, and they’re great for outdoor entertaining. Artisan glass bowls are beautiful for serving food and to display between occasions. Simple nesting bowls are versatile and space-saving. And don’t forget your dinnerware—large stoneware soup bowls and pasta bowls make excellent serving bowl substitutes.
Good for serving:

  • Salads
  • Pasta
  • Muffins
  • Biscuits, rolls, and sliced crusty bread
  • Rice
  • Chips
  • Fruit

Dutch Ovens

Dutch Ovens

Choose a traditional Dutch oven in a bright color and there’s no need to transfer from the cookware to a separate serving dish.
Good for serving:

  • Soups
  • Braised meats
  • Roasts
  • Pulled meat
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Herbed vegetables

Charcuterie Boards

Cheese and Charcuterie Boards

These boards put a posh spin on snacks before dinner or during large parties. They’re made from marble, wood, bamboo, or slate, which lets you mark the name of each cheese in chalk. Many cheese and charcuterie board sets include knives and spreaders in the design.
Good for serving:

  • Cheese (brie, sharp cheddar, gouda, goat, etc.)
  • Crackers
  • Prosciutto
  • Cured meats (prosciutto, salami, etc.)
  • Toasted crusty bread
  • Olives

Chip and Dip Bowls

These convenient bowls are partitioned with a small bowl for dips and a large section for chips. The dip and chip sections are often attached, but sometimes they are two-piece sets.
Good for serving:

  • Chips and guacamole
  • Chips and salsa
  • Chips and onion or veggie dip
  • Crackers and pub cheese
  • Pita chips and hummus

Serving Trays

Serving Trays

Similar to serving platters, trays include handles for easy transport. You can use trays to serve a crowd or to carry dishes for breakfast in bed for one. Wood trays are best for dry food items, while stainless steel trays are more versatile. Lead-free crystal trays are striking and sophisticated.
Good for serving:

  • Sliced crusty bread
  • Biscuits
  • Cupcakes
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Carved meats

Condiment and Snack Bowl Sets

Sometimes called ‘hostess trays,’ these feature small matching bowls that sit on a tray. They are perfect for serving a variety of small snacks or sauces.
Good for serving:

  • Ketchup
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Multiple dips
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Candy-coated chocolates

Tiered Serving Trays

These tiered serving trays make it easy to deliver food to the table and easy for guests to serve themselves. They usually have two or three tears and a handle on top for easy transport.
Good for serving:

  • Cupcakes
  • Cookies
  • Fruit
  • Cake slices
  • Macarons
  • Sliced cheese and crackers

Cake Stands

Cake Stand

These stands elevate your desserts for a beautiful presentation. Some even include a glass cover to keep the dessert fresh until it’s time to dig in.
Good for serving:

  • Cake
  • Pie
  • Cupcakes
  • Cookies
  • Small hors d’oeuvres

Sugar Bowl and Creamer

These add a touch of elegance to coffee and desserts during holiday sit-down meals and buffet-style parties.
Good for serving:

  • Cream
  • Half-and-half
  • Milk
  • Non-dairy milk
  • Raw or turbinado sugar
  • Sugar
  • Simple syrup


Though technically ramekins are bakeware, they make versatile serving dishes and come in a variety of cheerful colors.
Good for serving:

  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Candy
  • Mini-sundaes
  • Compound butter
  • Condiments

Chafing Dishes

If you entertain often, chafing dishes are worthwhile serving pieces to own. They keep food warm for a crowd, giving you the chance to enjoy more time with your guests. You’ll find round, oval, and rectangular chafing dishes with removable food pan inserts and holders for Sterno-style fuel canisters. When crafted with polished nickel or hammered copper exteriors, chafing dishes can bring style to the table, too.

If you take every opportunity for sit-down dinners and entertaining, having a collection of beautiful serving dishes helps you set an elegant table or buffet. These dishes also help you stay organized so you can focus on your guests. After all, what’s the point of entertaining if you can’t enjoy yourself too?