Melamine dinnerware and serveware offers operators a wide variety of benefits ranging from budget-saving operational durability to fashionable styles and improved guest and staff safety.
Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a budding pro, you may have questions about the melamine in your operation. Or maybe you’ve never used melamine and want to learn more. This buying guide will answer all your melamine-related questions and perhaps even some you didn’t realize you had.
This melamine buying guide was written in collaboration with G.E.T., the first to bring melamine from the residential market to the commercial market.
Glen and Eve Hou, G.E.T.’s founders, realized melamine’s natural durability could translate into savings for foodservice operators due to reduced replacement costs from broken and chipped porcelain. Today, G.E.T. specializes in fashion-forward dinnerware, drinkware, and displayware built with operational durability to help operators reduce costs.
G.E.T. melamine dinnerware is designed to serve. Check out G.E.T. at Central.
What is Melamine?
Wood pulp is the base component of melamine, which, when heated along with hardening components, creates a very durable material. Melamine is not unbreakable and can chip along the edges when handled roughly over a long period of time. However, in terms of durability and in-service life, melamine far outperforms porcelain.
Thanks to improvements in technology and production processes, today’s melamine is as stylish as traditional porcelain. In fact, with high quality glazed melamine, it’s often difficult to distinguish it from porcelain without touching it.
These days, operators can find all manner of fashion-forward styles for melamine serveware. From vintage and farmhouse aesthetics to artisanal, modern or minimalist styles, melamine dinnerware designs are available for nearly all types of operations and service volumes.
When it comes to serveware, few things can match melamine’s durability, which is a primary reason it’s earned a spot in commercial kitchens. When cared for properly, melamine is typically replaced at a rate of 10% – 20% annually while porcelain’s annual replacement rate is 50% – 150%.
As you can imagine, the lower annual replacement rate of melamine translates into a significant cost savings for the operator. Melamine dinnerware is not always less expensive than porcelain for the initial investment – it may cost the same, or perhaps a little less or a little more. The best cost savings come over time from melamine’s low replacement rates and increase exponentially the longer you use melamine instead of porcelain.
- Rinse immediately after use
- Gently scrub away leftover food that didn’t rinse off
- Follow with normal washing in a commercial dishwasher, both high or low temp machines are options
- Pre-soak for 15 – 20 minutes (or overnight if time is tight) every two weeks in a bleach-free granulated detergent
- Use scour pads, steel wool or other similarly harsh cleaning supplies as they will scratch melamine over time
- Use with steak knives
- Put in the microwave, under heat lamps, in an oven or expose to open flame
Different Tiers of Melamine
While no formal tiered system exists for melamine, manufacturers often sell their melamine based on weight and density. All melamine is durable and lightweight, but with shades of gray as you move through the spectrum from budget-conscious to luxury serveware.
Most budget-conscious melamine tends not to be very dense and therefore is typically the lightest weight and least expensive option. Luxury melamine is dense and heavier than its budget-conscious counterpart, but will still be lighter than porcelain. This type of melamine is usually priced similarly to porcelain, but will outlive porcelain as we mentioned above. And of course, most manufacturers have middle range options as well.
Is Melamine Dinnerware Microwave Safe?
Earlier, we mentioned the base component in melamine is wood pulp, and that is why melamine is not a good candidate for the microwave. If microwaved often, the wood pulp dries out, making the melamine brittle, which in turn shortens its service life because it will chip, crack or break far earlier than if kept out of the microwave.
Further, even if melamine is used in the microwave only once, but for several minutes, it can develop scorch marks on the surface and ruin the plate. These scorch marks look similar to what happens when a hot curling iron is left on a countertop for too long.
Additionally, melamine should not be used under heat lamps, in ovens or over open flame as these types of heat will similarly dry out your melamine.
Is Melamine Itself Safe?
Yes. Melamine as a food-contact material is safe. It’s been used in foodservice for roughly half a century and nearly every person has eaten from a melamine dish at some point (more likely several points) in their life.
When melamine serveware is used as intended, which is to say as a food-contact surface in a typical commercial foodservice operation, it is completely safe. It does not leach chemicals into hot, cold or ambient temperature food when used as serveware.
For those who seek more formal assurance of the safety of their melamine, which we recommend, look for the NSF logo (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) on the bottom of the serveware.
Seek Out Melamine With an Official NSF Certification.
Look for manufacturers who earn and maintain NSF certification, like G.E.T. This certification guarantees only pure melamine was used in the construction of the product and that the product was designed in a way that it will not harbor bacteria. Factories and their production processes also receive at least one unannounced annual inspection and review, further ensuring the product is safe from start to finish.
Official NSF certification appears on the bottom of serveware and is always embossed.
Some manufacturers of ill repute have used chemicals to stretch their product, which makes it less durable, but also raises questions from operators about what exactly is in their dinnerware. The absence of an NSF certification does not mean for certain that a manufacturer has used additives, it just leaves the door open for that to be the case. NSF certification takes away the guesswork (more on NSF melamine certifications here).
Melamine Dinnerware Ordering Guide
To ensure you get the best in-service life from your melamine dinnerware and serveware, we recommend maintaining a ratio of 3:1, that is, three plates per person served. For example, if you serve 1,000 guests a day, you’ll need 3,000 plates (or bowls, side plates, etc.).
A 3:1 ratio sets your operation up for success because it allows one plate to be in use, another to be in the wash and another to be in rest. Essentially, this ratio builds in some beauty rest for your dinnerware, ultimately extending the in-service life as far as possible.
When the plate-to-persons-served ratio slips below the 3:1 mark, you’re in danger of serving on wet plates, eventually running short of plates and/or plates that chip or crack well before they would with a healthy 3:1 ratio.
Is Melamine Recyclable?
Melamine cannot be recycled alongside other common plastics in traditional curbside recycling programs. Due to the wood pulp base, melamine can’t be melted, which is necessary when recycling everyday plastics.
When ground down, though, melamine can be packed into some plastic and wood composite materials, creating a pathway for reusing the product. However, doing so is not a common service. We recommend reaching out to your local recycling facility to learn whether this is a service they can provide.
Who is Melamine Not an Ideal Fit For?
Melamine is an excellent material for commercial foodservice, but due to some of its natural limitations, it’s not for everybody. Operations that frequently practice the following are not great candidates for melamine:
- Exposing serveware to heat sources (i.e. microwaving, browning in an oven or salamander, leaving under heat lamps for extended periods of time, etc.)
- Frequently use steak knives
Some operators may just prefer to use porcelain and that’s perfectly fine, too! We understand every operation has different needs, and we’re here to help you find the best solution to make your operation a huge success.
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.