Charger plates are for decorative use as part of a formal place setting. They are large plates, usually about 12 inches in diameter, upon which china is placed. Food should never be served directly on the charger plate. Chargers are usually made of gold, copper, silver, glass, woven grass or materials other than china.
A charger's role in the formal place setting is to dress up practical soup bowls and salad plates, according to the Emily Post Institute. The plate or bowl containing the first course is placed on the charger and remains on the table when the first-course plate is cleared. When the entr�e arrives, the charger plate is removed and the dinner plate takes its place, the Institute advises.
Charger plates were first used in the late 1880s and disappeared from the formal dinner party in the 1900s. They returned to stylish tables in the early 2000s. They are decorative and should match the table setting, but can also be useful. Chargers often catch stray bits of food that fall from the salad plate or soup bowl.
The charger plate should be on the table when the guests arrive, Manners International advises. Soup, fish and salad courses are served on their own separate plates, which are positioned atop the charger. The charger is usually removed before the main course is served, but some hostesses leave it for decorative purposes. This is an acceptable option, but the charger should always be removed before dessert is served.
As part of a formal place setting, chargers should be set about an inch from the edge of the table between the silverware setting. Though etiquette sources differ on when the charger should be removed from the table, all agree that it is never acceptable to eat or serve food off a charger plate.
In Great Britain, chargers are called ''underplates.'' The term charger is derived from the old French ''chargeour,'' or to load. This refers to the act of loading other plates, not food, atop the charger. The Emily Post Institute recommends using chargers of gold, copper, silver, black, emerald green or ruby red at holiday dinners to add a festive flair.