Q. I am interested in purchasing service plates. How are they used? When are they removed from the table? Are they typically painted with wide gold rims, or scenes, and what is their diameter?
A. The most typical thing about service plates (a.k.a., place plates) these days is, Miss Manners regrets to say, their absence. She congratulates you on the desire to have them, and will congratulate you again when you actually have them.
Place plates should be about 10 inches in diameter. Esthetically, they should be an agreeable contrast to the rest of the dinner service.
China ones may match a china centerpiece, or have scenes painted on them, or gold rims, or simply be a pattern that goes with, but does not match, the rest of the china. (Miss Manners' own china, for example, has a gray rim banded in platinum; her service plates have scalloped platinum edges with gray sprigs on the plates. Oh, good for her, she can hear you saying.)
One also can have silver or pewter place plates, and they may have the monogram of the lady of the house, or of a generous ancestor.
They are on the table before people sit down, and have centered on them the napkin, which may or may not have a place card on top. The oyster plate or the soup plate is put on the service plate and they are removed together when the main course is served, and a dinner plate is substituted.
With any luck, they will hardly need more than a quick rinse to be ready again to perform this noble duty. Oh, dear, now even Miss Manners is pandering to the idea of expediency.