Crockery and cutlery are both used in the serving and consumption of food, but while crockery is typically a vessel into or onto which food is placed, cutlery refers to a variety of hand tools used by both cooks and diners to prepare and eat meals. Types of crockery include plates, bowls, and cups, and cutlery consists of knives, forks, and spoons. In addition, specialized types of crockery and cutlery exist to accommodate foodstuffs that require special handling.
The term crockery is commonly used in the United Kingdom to describe what Americans often call dishes, dishware, or dinnerware. Distinctions are sometimes made between crockery used for holding food that has not yet been served and individual pieces of dinnerware off of which individual diners eat. Many crockery sets include large platters, plates, and bowls that are designed to hold significant amounts of food from which individuals may be served or help themselves. Depending on cultural practices, individual diners may have their own plates and bowls into which they or their hosts place the food they intend to eat. These diners then eat directly off their own plate or bowl. In some areas, formal meals are distinguished by the use of several different types of crockery at a single meal, which may include separate plates or bowls for meal courses as well as side dishes such as a salad or bread and butter.
As with crockery, distinctions are made between types of cutlery that are used for preparing, serving, and eating food. Kitchen knives, for example, are typically very sharp and used to cut and chop food in preparation of being cooked or added as an ingredient to a dish. Serving forks and spoons are typically large pieces that can be used to serve food to individual diners from communal serving plates and bowls. In many countries, each diner has his own set of cutlery, which typically consists of a knife, fork, and spoon, all of which are designed to assist him in eating his food.
Both crockery and cutlery are considered household necessities in many countries, particularly in the United States and in other countries in which it is commonplace to eat food from individual plates and bowls and to use utensils when doing so. Many households will have separate sets of crockery and dining cutlery for formal and informal meals, using inexpensive and simple designs for everyday dining, while reserving the more expensive and elaborate items for special occasions. In some families, sets of crockery and cutlery become family heirlooms, passed down through the generations.