SARASOTA, Fla. -- A charger or underplate is a tabletop accessory very much in fashion right now, although the custom of using one is old. Chargers generally come in round or square because that’s how most plates are shaped and they can be made of china, wood or some composite material. Today’s versions are usually lightweight, non-breakable and they stack easily making them just what you what for your table decor. Easy to use and easy to store.
A charger sits under the dinner plate and on top of a table cloth, placemat or bare table. Traditionally, in fine restaurants and homes with servants, the charger sits on the table for the first two courses and then is removed when the entree or main course is served. Dessert is never served on a charger. Some haute restaurants still conform to this custom.
But that’s not how homeowners typically use chargers today. The charger is most often used as a plateware accessory object and it stays on the table for the whole meal. It’s a good accessory. It adds interest, color and richness to your table setting and invites you to layer your table from bottom up.
Chargers also make excellent trays and serving platters especially for dessert items such cupcakes, brownies or fruit tarts. But, you would never eat off a charger. It’s a decorative accessory.
When you want some variety to your tablesetting for a party or family dinner, consider the charger and consider starting a collection of your own. If you collect all silver or all gold, remember that you can swap out with a friend who collects another color or who might have square chargers when you have round. I’m a big believer to borrowing things like chargers from friends and relatives. So, before you buy what you may not need, shop your sister’s home or ask to borrow from a friend. And, by all means, have a collection of chargers (12 at least) so friends can shop your home too. Share the wealth.
You can find them for as little as $2 in gold, silver, red and green during the December holiday season at places such as Target and HomeGoods.
China chargers are more expensive often available as part of a set of china so that the charger matches the design and color of your china.
White chargers don’t do much for your table. Pick a color or a metallic finish.
It’s fine to put a charger on a bare table, such as a glass top, or to use the charger as part of a layering scheme – tablecloth, placemat, charger and then dinner plate. Layering adds richness and interest to your table and doesn’t have to make it formal. It all depends on the fabric and plates you use.
If you’re going to buy chargers, get it over with and buy a dozen. They are thin and stack easily for storing. And you can use a charger as a tray for light dessert items such as cupcakes or brownies.
You would never eat directly from a charger.