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What a Restaurateur Needs to Know About Stainless Steel

A degree in metallurgy isn’t a prerequisite for owning or operating a restaurant. Equipping the restaurant with the right flatware and cutlery however, is something that requires a little bit of knowledge about metals, their properties, and the places where, traditionally, they produce the best metals. For restaurants, the metal in question is steel, or one of steel’s alloys that are called stainless steel.

Stainless Steel
Image Credit: H is For Home, Creative Commons

First of all, a restaurateur should be aware that there’s no such thing as completely stainless steel. Every type of steel will stain and rust in time. The thing that’s so special about stainless steel, and the thing that gives it its name is actually the ability of some steel alloys to be very stain and rust resistant.

Under certain circumstances and if given enough time, even the highest quality stainless steel can rust and stain, but when compared to regular steel, or even lower quality stainless steel, that time can be really long, and those circumstances might be hard to produce.

But what is it that makes stainless steel stainless, or at least more stainless than regular steel? It’s the parts of other materials that are added to it. Steels are generally made by combining iron and carbon. Different ratios of iron and carbon produce different kinds of steels with different traits, and sometimes, in order to get a type steel with a specific trait that cannot be gained through the use of iron and carbon alone, other materials are added. For stainless steels, the material that’s added is chromium. To be stain and rust resistant, the stainless steel has to have at least 10% (or 12%, according to some sources) of chromium in it. Chromium, however, is not the only addition to the steel that helps it in the task of resisting stains and rust. Nickel is also used not only because of its high resistance, but also because it adds plenty of shine.

The content of chromium and nickel in stainless steel are used to form a grade every restaurateur should be aware of, as it is very commonly used to describe the type of steel used to make flatware. So, if a restaurateur sees flatware that’s made of 18/0 stainless steel, he or she should know that the flatware isn’t going to be expensive, that it’s not going to be very stain resistant, and that it contains 18% of chromium and 0% of nickel. If, on the other hand, the steel is 18/10, it will have a bigger price tag, it will be more stain and rust resistant, and it will contain 18% of chromium and 10% of nickel.

Another way to figure out a quality of stainless steel is by its reputation, or more specifically, the reputation of its country of origin. For example, Aava, a company from Finland which designs flatware and service sets, uses only Finish stainless steel for its flatware. Now, even without knowing the design of that flatware, a good restaurateur will know that Aava’s flatware is something to look for because of the reputation of Finish stainless steel, and steel in general. The same goes for Japanese steel, for example, and other places that have developed a reputation for producing extremely high quality steel.

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