What do you call those tiered plate things that people use to serve desserts on—you know, at tea parties and such?
You’re not the only one who’s confused about what to call what we at The Brooklyn Teacup typically just refer to as “tiered stands.” If you’ve been searching for something that looks like this….
… you’ve likely seen them referred to as everything from cake or cupcake stands to tiered trays, platters, serving towers, étagères or accessory towers.
A simple explanation for why there are so many names out there for essentially the same thing, is that tiered stands have countless applications, numerous sizes, configurations, and patterns, and are made using a variety of materials. Overall, their delightful aesthetic, combined with the ability to maximize space on any surface, makes them appropriate for so much more than a fancy afternoon tea party—not that we don’t adore those!
You’re likely to see tiered stands anywhere there’s a buffet or an occasion where guests are invited to self-serve. I’ve personally seen them used at:
- Weddings, engagement parties and anniversary celebrations
- Tea parties and tea party-themed events:
- Bridal showers
- Birthday parties
- Baby showers and baby namings
- Mother’s Day
- Bar/Bat Mitzvahs & Sweet 16s
- Housewarmings and Open Houses
You may also see them in settings not related to serving food at all. For example, our customers have used them to showcase jewelry and accessories. For formal events, they make great props for displaying seating cards and even adorning with flowers to use as table centerpieces.
We 100% support you referring to tiered stands by whatever name suits the context you’re using them in.
Below we highlight a few features of popular tiered stand varieties on the market and call out some of their strengths and limitations. We’ll try not to be biased—but naturally, we think our tiered stands have the most going for them.
At The Brooklyn Teacup, we refer to all our 2-Tier and 3-Tier stands as “tiered stands.” Depending on the configuration, these include between 2 and 4 pieces of vintage china along with hardware, featuring a decorative metal handle. They come in a large variety of patterns and can be customized to match your décor or aesthetic. Customers love that our tiered stands are versatile and compact. Specifically, they appreciate being able to convert larger configurations into smaller ones (and vice-versa) and having the option to store them flat when not in use.
Because of the handle, our tiered stands can be used to serve passed hors d’oeuvres in lieu of standard serving trays.
Finally, because we source only vintage china, our tiered stands are always eco-conscious and environmentally friendly.
If you’re having a big party and have your heart set on serving lots of cupcakes, you may want to opt for a specific cupcake stand with many tiers. Because each tier is completely flat, unlike with most dishes used in more multi-purpose tiered stands, you can usually fit more cupcakes/baked goods on each tier. You can also avoid the type of overcrowding that almost always leads to a a smushed frosting situation—oh, the horror!
As in these examples, most cupcake stands are all about letting the desserts shine. In other words, they’re usually about function, not necessarily beauty or charm. Also, they’re not always easy to store. Another drawback of some cupcake stands is that they don’t come with handles, making it difficult to relocate the stand once the cupcakes have been positioned. They’re best suited to stationary dessert and buffet tables. The ones with many tiers will definitely make a statement—but if you’re going to invest in a tiered stand, we’re partial to ones that are more versatile, eco-conscious and design-oriented.
Étagère, from the French word étage, meaning shelf, stage, or floor, refers to a wide range of ornamental furniture that became popular in the 19th century for displaying ornamental décor on open shelves. Today, people typically associate étagères with bookshelves and shelving units. However, some also use it to reference tiered stands, when used to display both food and non-food related items.
This understated and inexpensive étagère made from environmentally friendly bamboo is sturdy and functional. Unlike the charming and more delicate-looking tiered stands, this piece looks like one that a family might keep out on a kitchen counter for everyday space-saving and practical purposes—like grabbing a banana before heading out the door. Because it doesn't come apart, this 2-tier étagère does not lend itself to easy storage or cleaning. Without a handle, it also wouldn’t work as a serving piece for passed hors d’oeuvres.
Tiered Tray & Tiered Dessert Tower
Tiered stands might also be referred to as tiered trays, tiered dessert stands, or tiered serving stands. Made of sturdy iron, this particular three-tiered tray provides a space-saving solution for any buffet table. What’s great about these kinds of tiered stands/trays is that you can swap in and out dishes you have on hand, provided they are the right size, and change up the look depending on your event. If you have decorative dishes or fine china you want to show off, this tiered tray is a great option. Also, it’s super easy to remove the plates and wash them after the event is over. Another benefit of this stand is the semi-circular handle construction of the frame which allows you to position and relocate the stand, as needed.
In general, tiered stands like these are usually plain and utilitarian. I chose to feature this one because of the adorable and festive little bird on top of the frame. The biggest drawback of this kind of tiered stand, however, is that it’s not collapsible. If you have storage limitations, I would advise against this option.
3-Tiered Cake Stand
Believe it or not, this adorable three-tiered cake stand is disposable. I normally wouldn’t recommend single-use products—but these are made of paper cardboard so can be recycled. Plus, you can actually squeeze multiple uses out of this tiered stand. Because it's made out of paper, it has some obvious limitations... i.e., don't let it get wet!
But if, for instance, your goal is to create an Instagram-perfect picnic on a lovely spring day out in Central Park and you don’t want to schlep delicate fine china plus two dozen macarons out to the Great Lawn, this Talking Tables product will fit the bill. I’m kind of in love with their whole chintz product line, actually—it’s just so charming. Michael's craft supply store also sells several 2-tiered cardboard cake stands from the Martha Stewart collection. They're less expensive but also not quite as adorable, in my opinion.
Cake Stands are NOT Tiered Stands
Before signing off, I just wanted to point out why regular cake stands are different from “tiered stands.” Though people often use the two names interchangeably, it's just confusing. A cake stand should conjure the image of a single plate or platform elevated by some sort of pedestal or "foot." Cake stands, cake pedestals or footed cake stands, like this lovely ceramic one by Jusalpha, are great in their own right—but are not tiered stands.
Cake stands are ideal for displaying birthday cakes and even multi-tier wedding cakes, depending on size. When paired with a cloche (a bell-shaped cover), cake stands are especially great for serving items that need to be out on display for a while, like cheese and charcuterie or other baked goods.The cover prevents your delicious and elegantly plated food from attracting bugs and becoming dried out—this is why you will often see cake stands being used to display goodies next to the register. That, and they prevent sticky fingers from getting too close to the baked goods before they’ve been purchased.