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What is a Charger and Why Use One?

What is a charger plate and why are they used? Drop into any boutique that sells place settings, and you will see tables decorated with, what appears to be, exceptionally large dinner plates. Chargers, sometimes called an underplate or service plate, can set the tone for your entire look. This is the one piece in your setting that will stay on your table throughout most of the meal, and it is the item that will be most visible to your guests once they are seated.

The easiest way to think of a charger is to equate it to accessories we wear. I can put on a solid white or black dress and completely change my look based on the scarf I choose, the earrings I don, or the purse I carry. I think of my dress the same way I think of my dinner plate. My dinner plate represents the base, just like my black dress represents the base. Hand me a simple ceramic dish, and I can turn it into something fabulous with the right charger. As a side note, napkin rings hold as much design influence as do underplates. If I have these two accessories, in a snap I can change the look of any table.

The charger has a functional use, too. The reason it is sometimes called an underplate is that it sits, under, the soup, salad, or dinner plate. A charger protects your table or tablecloth from food spills. It also serves to keep plates warm throughout the meal. And because food is never eaten directly from a charger, these decorative pieces are produced from a variety of materials, meaning the style choices are endless.

The word originated from the word chargeour and was used in 11th/12th century England to mean a large tray that could carry heavy items. These entertaining items were typically seen holding sizable portions of food in the center of a table.

We can even go back to the King James version of the Bible and see where the decapitated head of John the Baptist was placed on a charger, “And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger…” (Mark 6:27-28 KJV).

As dining styles evolved, so, too, did the charger. Today, they serve other uses in addition to elevating the style of the dining table. They are perfect for displaying a selection of candles, protecting your table from a damp floral arrangement, or serving food. You do not have a cake stand? No worries. Pull out a charger (just make sure to avoid toxic chemicals by using only chargers safe for food!).

We will dive into the etiquette of chargers, and how to use them in another post. For now, happy tablescaping!

Together with you,

Lisa Lou


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