Flatware refers to a variety of utensils used for eating and serving food. The different flatware pieces include common forks, knives and spoons used at the dinner table. They also include many specialty pieces for serving a wide variety of food, such as pie servers, pierced serving spoons and ladles.
The different flatware pieces made for eating are typically purchased in four or five-piece place settings. The four-piece place setting usually consists of a salad fork that is smaller and more squat than the dinner fork, the actual dinner fork, a teaspoon, and a knife. The place setting of five is usually made of those same four pieces, plus an additional wider spoon called a soup spoon. This often doubles as a dessert spoon.
There are specialty flatware serving pieces as well, include serving spoons, which are larger and hold more than a teaspoon; pierced serving spoons used for draining liquid; cold meat forks; and a sugar spoon. There also are different flatware pieces such as butter serving knives, pie or cake servers and gravy ladles. There are many more specialty flatware pieces most consumers never buy because they aren't used regularly. These different flatware pieces have very specific uses, such as bon bon servers, sardine servers, strawberry forks, jelly cake servers, lemon forks and asparagus forks.
There are basically three types of flatware: sterling silver flatware, stainless steel flatware and silver-plated flatware. To be called sterling silver flatware, flatware pieces usually have to be made of at least 92.5 percent pure silver. Pieces that meet this requirement will often be stamped with "925" to show the composition. The remaining 7.5 percent is usually copper, which makes the sterling silver flatware pieces strong enough to use. If flatware was made of 100 percent pure silver, it would be too soft and wouldn't hold up to everyday use. Sterling silver flatware normally is the most expensive of the three types of flatware.
Stainless steel flatware is made of an alloy containing no silver. Referring to stainless steel flatware pieces as "silverware" is common, but technically incorrect. Stainless flatware will sometimes be marked with numbers: 18/10 or 18/8. This refers to the chromium and nickel contents, respectively, of the different flatware pieces. The difference between 18/10 and 18/8 is practically nonexistent and is largely just a marketing device.
Silverplated flatware is made of stainless steel with a coat of silver bonded to the outside of it. The coat is extremely thin and is measured in microns. Cheap silverplated flatware will have up to five microns of silver on it; the more expensive patterns may have up to 60 microns.