Choosing Commercial Disposable Dinnerware


Going out to eat has become a primary function of our culture. Studies show that over half of all food consumption in North America takes place outside the home, suggesting that Americans are cooking less and using a greater amount of single-serve, disposable goods while dining. Thus, many quick-service establishments have developed a preference for disposable plastic, paper, polystyrene foam and even bioplastic dinnerware to reflect the quick and easy feel of their menu items. When traditional, reusable dinnerware is not an option, look below for ideas on how to choose the best disposable dinnerware for your food service establishment.

Paper Dinnerware

paper dinnerware
Paper dinnerware is the most economical choice when it comes to disposables. There are some options to consider when purchasing paper products, such as coated or uncoated paper. Coated paper, often twice as expensive as uncoated paper, helps increase strength and rigidity, ideal for dense meals like pasta, meat and heavy sauces. Coated dinnerware also resists grease absorption, eliminating chances that plates will leave greasy stains on tabletops or worse, on someone’s lap. Uncoated paper dinnerware holds lighter foods like salads or sandwiches. It is also less expensive and composts more easily than coated paper.


  • Least expensive choice of disposable dinnerware
  • Thinner and requires less storage space than plastic or Styrofoam
  • Microwave safe
  • Uncoated paper is biodegradable and compostable

  • May bend or fold under weight of heavy food
  • Uncoated paper may absorb and leak grease or moisture from food

Styrofoam Dinnerware

Styrofoam dinnerware
Commercial establishments choose dinnerware made of polystyrene foam—or more commonly, Styrofoam—because it is light, strong and durable. Laminated Styrofoam provides extra durability, strength, and cut resistance, perfect for barbeque sandwiches or heavy pastas. Non-laminated Styrofoam dinnerware provides a good value for lightweight use, such as for salads or light appetizers. Due to its inability to biodegrade, a good deal of criticism surrounds Styrofoam dinnerware and its use as a disposable material. Still, when there is no other option Styrofoam can be a practical, disposable alternative to reusable china dinnerware.


  • Superior insulating qualities
  • Cut-resistant and nonabsorbent
  • Stronger than paper dinnerware

  • Does not biodegrade
  • Not intended for repeated use
  • Not recommended for use in the microwave

Plastic Dinnerware

plastic dinnerware
Plastic dinnerware is the strongest and most durable choice when it comes to choosing disposable dinnerware. Sturdy, nonabsorbent and cut resistant, plastic holds entire meals of heavy foods and even liquids without bending or leaking. Plastic has a glossy finish for a more upscale look, ideal for menu items requiring a more stylish presentation.


  • Cut-resistant and nonabsorbent
  • Stronger than paper or Styrofoam dinnerware
  • Leak-proof

  • Generally more expensive than paper or Styrofoam
  • Does not biodegrade as fast or as safely as paper products
  • Not intended for repeated use

Bioplastic Dinnerware

bioplastic dinnerware
Bioplastics are the new wave of disposables in today’s foodservice industry. Bioplastics, also known as PLAs, are made from renewable, raw materials including corn and other plants. They are intended for use as non-toxic, disposable alternatives to Styrofoam and other non-biodegradable products. These Bioplastic plates are just as sturdy, nonabsorbent, and cut-resistant as plastic, but are not tolerant of high temperatures. Therefore, baked goods, cold salads and sandwiches are ideal for these plates. Learn more »


  • Shows customers a tangible effort to go green
  • Non-toxic to the environment
  • Stronger than paper or Styrofoam dinnerware
  • Cut-resistant and nonabsorbent

  • Require uncommon recycling centers and unrealistic composting conditions
  • Cannot withstand high temperatures; not microwaveable
  • Most expensive dinnerware option


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