As a foodservice operator, understanding your long-term investments (e.g., equipment, smallwares, etc.) can help your overall budget planning. Here at G.E.T., we're experts in alternative material dinnerware, so let's focus on that part of your operation. Many operators invest in dinnerware made from melamine because it’s one of the most durable food-safe materials on the market.
But how long will your melamine dinnerware actually last before you need to replace it?
The truth is that a few factors play into this answer. And you actually have quite a bit of control over how long your pieces last. We'll tell you why.
What Factors Into the Service Life of Commercial Melamine Dinnerware?
The top three factors influencing how long your melamine dinnerware will last boils down to:
- Brand image
- What kind of dinnerware par level you maintain
- Care and maintenance
We'll explore these a little more to show you how they affect the service life of your melamine plates.
Pictured: 16 oz. melamine bowl with irregular texture in Cosmo blue, 4 oz. metal ramekin condiment cup
Because melamine dinnerware is so durable, some operators find it tempting to hold on to it longer than they should simply because it's not falling apart. However, with normal wear and tear, melamine dinnerware can:
- Lose its luster, fade, or, dull
- Form surface scratches from serrated knives, creating difficult-to-clean areas (which is why serrated knives aren't recommended for use on melamine)
- Chip or crack if mishandled
- Develop stains from some acidic foods and/or lax care and maintenance practices
Seeking out melamine dinnerware that's earned certification from NSF International is another smart move operators can make. Among many other qualifications, an NSF certification ensures products claiming to be made from melamine are in fact 100% melamine. Acquiring certification guaranties operators know what their product is made from and that there are no additives - unknown or otherwise - stretching the product, which may lead to decreased durability.
There's much more to NSF certification. If you're unfamiliar with it, we recommend brushing up with "Melamine Dinnerware & NSF Certification in Foodservice: Do You Really Need It?"
Most restaurant operators pour themselves into their concepts, aiming to develop admired, sought-after brands. However, allowing unsightly tableware of any kind - china, melamine, porcelain, etc. - to stick around can negatively impact your brand perception, costing you money and guests.
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You can keep your melamine dinnerware around for years upon years because of its durability, but, as with any material, it will inevitably fade and may chip or crack over time. The brand you worked so hard to build may suffer due to unsightly melamine dinnerware caused by normal wear and tear, which is likely to cost you repeat business.
A third-party study showed serving on clean, bright, and chip-free plateware is more important for creating a positive dining experience than the kind of material it's made from. If your plateware is missing the mark here, it can look dirty even if it's completely sanitized. From beloved dives to sophisticated roof-top service, your guests don't want to eat off plates that seem dirty or old.
PRO TIP: Let your melamine dinnerware retire with dignity to maintain the brand image you worked so hard to build. Quarterly or bi-annual audits can help you regularly retire the melamine dishes whose service lives have come to an end.
Beyond knowing when to let your pieces go, there are a couple steps you can take to prolong service life.
Maintain Adequate Par Levels
One effective way to get the most out of your dinnerware, melamine or otherwise, is to keep a ratio of 3:1. This allows for:
- One plate to be in use
- One in wash
- One in rest
This is important because it helps support a comfortable rotation of your plateware so that they don't get worn down before they should. The lower your plate ratio, the faster you'll go through them due to overuse.
Building a plate count into your quarterly or bi-annual audit will help you keep healthy par levels. Another thing to watch out for is wet plates making their way onto tables.
Wet plates are a sign that your 3:1 ratio has dwindled because you it shows you don't have enough on-hand to allow them to dry completely.
PRO TIP: Maintain a ratio of 3:1 to spread out how often your plateware gets used and it will help you achieve a longer service life than a tighter ratio will allow.
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Establish an Effective Care and Maintenance Program
Good care and maintenance of melamine dinnerware is as easy as:
- Rinsing immediately after use
- Gently scrubbing away any food that didn't rinse off
- Following with normal washing in a commercial dishwasher and allowing to completely dry
- Pre-soaking for 15-20 minutes (or overnight if time is tight) every 2 weeks in a bleach-free, granulated detergent
If you stick to the steps above, you'll:
- Avoid protein buildup
- Generally keep your melamine dinnerware looking newer, longer
Engaging with your dishwashing team can help them to not only feel good about their work, but understand that they play an important role in the overall success of the business.
PRO TIP: Take good care of your melamine dinnerware and you'll extend its service life.
If you follow these tips, you should only need to replace about 10%-20% of your melamine dinnerware annually. Further, letting go of your dinnerware when it's time to say goodbye will help maintain the charming brand you worked so hard to build and keep your guests coming back for years. Don't believe us? Check out "One Easy Customer Loyalty Tip for Restaurants," or tell us why in the comments.