The number one rule of outdoor dining is: avoid breakable stuff. And that applies to everything from picnics and backyard parties to tailgates and camping trips. People tend to be clumsy when eating outside, and the last thing you want to do is drop a plate and leave a ton of stoneware shards that your friends (or animal friends) might step on. Also, it’s pain to replace nice plates. So if you’re looking for a dinnerware set that you can take on the go, here’s a list of highly portable options.
But first, a note on construction. Nowadays, most outdoor dinnerware sets come in two main materials: melamine (AKA plastic) and bamboo. Both are reusable, but bamboo dinnerware has the added benefit of being biodegradable. For practical reasons, however, you’ll often find that companies use both of these materials — because when you combine the two, you get something that’s both eco-friendly and durable. But no matter the material, you should know that your outdoor dishes are most likely not microwave safe. In fact, there isn’t a single plate on this guide that you should throw in the microwave, so keep that in mind, and don’t go making Hot Pockets with this dishware.
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Stylish, Sustainable Plates
Made from organic bamboo fiber and cornstarch, Poketo’s plates are compostable and, surprisingly, dishwasher-safe. They also have great design — an off-kilter grid pattern in this case, although we’re fans of their other plates too. Pick up a set and use it daily, whether dining indoors or out.
Outdoor Dishes That Look Like Indoor Dishes
“What nice ceramics you have,” is what a guest might say when they see these plates. You can then take the high road and politely explain that these dishes from TarHong are, in reality, made of bamboo and melamine. They’ll look great in pictures, and they won’t smash into a million pieces when you drop your picnic basket.
An Underrated Essential
If you want to immediately up your hosting game, invest in a nice serving bowl. You can use serving bowls for anything from noodles and veggies to snacks and proteins, and they automatically make you look like you know what you’re doing. This one is from TarHong (just like the plates above), and the material is the same bamboo/melamine mix that could easily pass for ceramic.
The Party Platter You Need
Everything we just said about serving bowls also applies to serving platters. You might already have a nice ceramic one, but it’s not like you can (or should) take that to the park.
Another Pottery-Like Option
Also made from a mix of bamboo and melamine (here referred to as Melaboo™), this is a 12-piece set for when you need something a little more deluxe. All of these plates and bowls are shatter-resistant, and they were designed to mimic those pricey terracotta dishes that you’d rather not break.
The Classic White Route
You’ll never go wrong with a simple white setup. This sturdy melamine dinnerware set from Q Squared comes with 12 pieces that are dishwasher safe, and it’ll help you throw a dinner party in your backyard that doesn’t feel like a fraternity function.
A Set With A Little More Flair
On the off chance that the above plates aren’t design-y enough for you, here’s a textural set that makes use of a raised, dotted pattern. It has just about as much flair as you could hope for with a monochromatic color scheme, and it’s light enough to tote around to any outdoor gathering.
The Conversation Starters
Why get a set of reusable dishes that look like paper plates? Because it’s a fun thing to do, and all of your guests will love them. With these melamine plates, you get that classic backyard feel without all the waste. They come in sets of 6 or 12, and there’s even a hot dog plate option, in case you’re a griller.
A Tasteful Colorful Set
Colorful yet muted, here’s an attractive bamboo/corn starch/melamine set that covers pretty much all your bases. Fable specializes in eco-friendly reusable dishware, so it makes sense that they have multiple sizes of plates, bowls, and tumblers to choose from. Get a 16-piece set, and you’re well-prepared for any outside dinner.
A Set That's More Festive
Fun, festive, and about $50, this 12-piece dining set from Zak Designs is part of your ideal party scenario. The plates and bowls are made from melamine (40% of which is recycled material), and you can whip them out for any indoor/outdoor function with clumsy attendees. Not a fan of pink confetti? There are five other shades to choose from.
A Key Add-On
Don’t forget to get a nice serving bowl to match your confetti dishware. This bowl has a three-quart capacity and is likewise made from 40% post-industrial recycled melamine.
Your Heavyweight Dinnerware
Unlike all of the above dishes, Bornn’s dinnerware is made from enamel — and we’re fans. The enamel has a very nice heft to it, and it looks nice enough for any dining situation. You can also use these plates in the oven (but not microwave) as well as over an open flame, in case you find yourself camping.
For Black-And-White Enthusiasts
If you tend to avoid color because your aesthetic doesn’t allow it, check out this chic black-and-white option. It’s made from melamine (with geometric designs to keep things lively) and comes with dinner plates, salad plates, and cereal bowls.
Bright, Affordable Dishes
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have these vividly colored plates from Gibson Home. You can get a whole (melamine) set for under $30, and — due to how bright they are — the odds that you’ll accidentally leave these plates in a park are pretty slim.
A Highly Aesthetic Choice
These Oceana dishes from Sur La Table are made from melamine, and, with their deep-blue swirls (similar to tie-dye), they’re some of the most attractive shatterproof plates and bowls you’ll find. If you grab this set for purely photogenic reasons, that’s completely understandable.
Dinnerware Dressed For Summer
This Kate Spade melamine dishware makes us want to plant a lemon tree and eat grilled food at a picnic table directly beneath said tree. In other words, it’s summery, and you can select all the pieces individually (including a big serving tray) to customize your setup.
An Old (And Charming) Standby
With all the plastic and bamboo dishware you see these days, it’s easy to forget about another classic option: wood. Acacia wood plates are not only visually appealing, they can also double as miniature cheese boards when you’re hosting a small gathering. There are two different sizes to choose from — just be sure to hand wash.
One Last Thing
Once you get your dinnerware squared away, it’s time to acquire one last essential. This key item is known as a chip and dip, and it’s an unparalleled invention that’s exactly what it sounds like. Put your dip in the middle, then surrounded with chips or crudités. For a complete set, add some optional snacking plates to your order.