Serving bowls vary by size, shape, and material. In addition, many serving bowls are painted or embellished in ways that can make them more suitable for certain types of events, such as formal dinners, casual parties, or holiday gatherings. Some serving bowls are designed to perform more than one function. For example, a bowl may be made from a material that can be placed in a hot oven, making it suitable for both cooking and serving. The material from which a bowl is made typically influences the type of food that it holds.
A serving bowl is used to hold food from which individual diners serve themselves or are served by their host. These bowls are typically placed on a table or buffet, and appropriate utensils are placed in or next to each serving bowl. In many cases, serving bowls also provide some ornamentation to the table and may be formed in whimsical shapes or embellished with various designs or symbols. Glass bowls are often used for serving cold foods, though some tempered glass bowls can be used for hot items. Wooden bowls are most likely to contain cold foods.
Serving bowls come in a variety of sizes, and cooks typically use a bowl that is proportionate to the amount of food that needs to be served. Certain foods that have a lot of volume, such as salads and pastas, are often served in very large bowls as well. Serving bowl sets may include a large bowl along with several smaller bowls. In some cases, a large bowl is the main serving dish, and the smaller bowls are filled from this bowl and then given to individual diners. In other cases, the large bowl may hold one particular type of food, such as tortilla chips, and the smaller dishes may contain various condiments, such as salsa, guacamole, or other dips.
Not all serving bowls are appropriate for use with hot foods. Typically, manufacturers will indicate on a bowl whether it can safely contain hot food. These manufacturers may also indicate whether the bowl is oven safe. In addition to serving bowls that can be used for cooking food, thus reducing the amount of clean-up required after a meal, some serving bowls are sold with a lid that can form an airtight seal. The lid helps to protect the food, making the bowl a storage container as well.