A quick look at trenchers, 
the introduction of Chinaware 
and today’s kitchen plated food.


One would want to think that there is a big gap in quality between the reasonable American coffee-shop-chain restaurant and the price winning restaurant…

. . . today’s plate service and

Today PLATE SERVICE is the latest style of service. But let us look at the use of plates first. Not too long ago porcelain was very expensive and only the richest of the rich were using such fragile surfaces from which to eat.

At dinner time, at almost every European castle, throughout the middle ages, trenchers were used instead of plates. These were flat pieces of bread. On these trenchers one served and ate meat. After the meal these baked flat objects were flung to the dogs or handed to the poor and hungry.
The porcelains from China arrived in Europe as the trade with Asia opened up around 1500. Still it took another two centuries until hard porcelain was made in Europe. Such happened around 1700. After that it took another two centuries to make the use of porcelain common and to guarantee its place in every household and every table.

It might come as a surprise, but kitchen-plated food, as we know it today, would have been unacceptable 50 years ago in fine European restaurants. To have a plate of food put in front of one was common at home. At a restaurant however the guests expected to be pampered, to get a large selection to choose from and the ones who could afford to eat at restaurants were quite willing to pay the prices charged.
Only at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s, restaurants all over Europe started to replace the silver food-platters with individual plates. Portion controlled, plated food was then successfully introduced.

By the mid seventies very few restaurants still used rechauds and platters in Europe. By end of the 1970s, internationally almost all the hotels and European style restaurants had changed to plate service. In the eighties rechauds disappeared and large platters were only occasionally used for banquet service.

Today it is kitchen plated food, or self served food wherever one travels. The reasons are: Cost cutting, portion control and down sizing. “If it takes less monetary layout to create the same revenue, than why not?”

Getting closer to the year 2000 even the finest of the finest restaurants, on certain occasions, cut down on service. Owners or managers do not tell their clientele “We plan to cut service, to cut cost.” They do such by offering special events. Such non-service is often disguised by great names and advertising. But in reality even the greatest Friday Night Seafood Buffet or Sunday Brunch Buffet setups are nothing but self service tables. They are a glorified cafeteria style, or more precise non-service-pick-your-own-food displays. The same is true for any salad bar.

The latest two AMERICAN STYLES (Cafeteria style and Franchised Fast Food) are worldwide accepted as successful ways for restaurant operations. First there is the Cafeteria Style. What many of us consider CAFETERIA STYLE is not new to California, it is said to have originated during the goldrush-days. The first self service restaurant appeared in 1849 in San Francisco. There everything was a la carte, customers were serving themselves and paid a cashier for each item they chose. Now in 1996 nearly a hundred and fifty years later cafeteria style is found everywhere around the world.

The other AMERICAN STYLE is newer. It took less time for the AMERICAN FAST FOOD FRANCHISES(1) to stake out new territories, than what it took for the cafeterias. The franchises, which emerged in large scale in the 1950s, have grown in numbers and are becoming the main feeding points for millions of working people in cities in nearly every country. Many of these franchises don’t even provide plates. The franchises have in common that they offer a limited selection of in advance prepared food which can be served fast. Looking at the past: Americans grew up with hot dog, hamburger and similar snack food stands. The idea to grab a bite to eat while on the go is not new to American standards.
In many countries around the world nowadays both men and women work to earn the income needed for a modern day household. The time to cook regular meals is limited. Fast-food becomes tempting especially when the price is right.

Fast-food establishments can be either franchises or chains. By selling virtually the same at every outlet of one name brand, the production cost is kept low and a reasonable profit is possible.

For the hungry traveler who doesn’t want to pay for a restaurant meal, but wants more than self-service-fast-food the American coffee-shop-chain restaurant has wide appeal. Here the concept is the same as fast-food. The menu is based on in advance prepared food items which can be heated up and served in minutes. Added to it are a range of easy to prepare and serve restaurant items. These restaurants are very successful near mayor highways.

Different companies use a different approach to ownership. McDonald’s owns all its outlets, Kentucky Fried Chicken sells and leases outlets to the operators. And Burger King which used to be an independent corporation is owned by a British company. This is to name just a few examples of successful fast-food business corporations.

The American coffee-shop-chain restaurant, uses plate-service, so do all restaurants in the upper price class. The so-called better restaurants have individual decor, they have a chef and not just a warmer-upper-person and their menu offers items which are special for such type of restaurant. Some of these restaurants make their own sauces, soups, desserts and charge accordingly. Many don’t, the reason being less labor is used by buying preprocessed ready to serve soups, sauces, salad-mix, deboned and portioned meat, or ready to cook fish.

Now one would want to think that there is a big gap in quality between the reasonable American coffee-shop-chain restaurant and the price winning restaurant. I have to disappoint you, that’s not always the case, many a times acclaimed great restaurants use the very same sauces, soups, salads, bread and desserts as the coffee-shop, only the garnish, the service and the guest-check are different.

In plate service the guest doesn’t have to see a whole rack of lamb or venison, or a whole duck, or a whole sole, from which the waiters fillets, carves and serves his table. Large food supply companies knowing that the people working in the kitchen expect everything to be delivered portioned according to plate size, ready to cook and serve, cater exactly to such needs.

1. Franchise, here the right granted to operate a business under the general regulation of the one who grants it.

by helmut schonwalder