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Food Presentation Tips

Food Presentation Tips

Last updated on 4/26/2022

If you own a food service business, you know that food presentation is crucial to marketing your restaurant on Instagram. Studies from Oxford show that a quality food presentation increases customers' perceived value of your meals, allowing you to raise your menu prices. Chefs tactfully arrange ingredients to curate flavor and textural complexity, and their creative plating techniques stimulate appetites before the first bite.

Read on to discover plating techniques, an instructional plating video, and the tools you need to create your own signature food presentation style.

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Click any of the sections below to explore the topic that interests you:
  1. Plating Video
  2. Plating Techniques
  3. Plating Ideas
  4. Plating Tools

Food Plating and Presentation Video

An understanding of food plating techniques will help your staff improve your meal presentation and enhance the dining experience for your guests. For a visual guide, check out our video on how to plate food like a chef.

How to Plate Food like a Chef

While there are no fixed food presentation rules, there are several important concepts to keep in mind as you arrange your meals.

  1. Remember your plate is your canvas.
  2. Arrange food items using the rule of thirds.
  3. Entice the eyes with visual stimulants.
  4. Use the sauce as paint for your plate.
  5. Garnish to enhance both appearance and flavor.

Plating Techniques

Conceptualize plating as an art form: you are the artist; the plate is your canvas, and the food is your medium. Master the following plating techniques to perfect your craft.

1. Plate Presentation Techniques

a white, square plate on a wood table

Selecting the right plate for your meal is the first step in the food presentation process. Consider the following to choose the ideal plate for your food presentation:

  • Plate Size - Your plate should be big enough to make your food stand out and petite enough to prevent your portions from appearing small.
  • Light vs Dark Plates - Use light and dark plates to make your meal stand out. White plates are popular because they offer a neutral background for brightly colored foods. Dark plates lend beautifully to light-colored dishes, such as a whitefish or creamy polenta.
  • Plate Color - A plate’s color can stimulate or reduce appetites. Red increases the appetite, so serving appetizers on red plates keeps customers interested in ordering large entrees and desserts. Professional platers consider blue dinnerware unappetizing because there are few naturally occurring blue foods.
  • Restaurant Style - If you operate a fine dining establishment, classic China dinnerware pairs well with traditional plating styles. A trendy gastropub should invest in unique plates with unconventional shapes that facilitate maximum plating creativity.

2. Food Arrangement Techniques

steak, carrots, and whipped potatoes arranged on a white, square plate

How you arrange your food determines your meal’s aesthetic tone, structural integrity, and flavor dispersion. Here are a few of the most important food arrangement techniques:

  • The Rule of Thirds - When applied to cooking, the rule of thirds prescribes placing the focal point of your dish on either the left or right side of the plate, rather than the center. Use white space by thinking of the rim as your frame and highlight your plate’s focal point(s).
  • View Your Plate as a Clock - As you place your ingredients, picture the face of a clock. From the diner’s point of view, your protein should be between 3 and 9, your starch/carbohydrate from 9 to 12, and your vegetable from 12 to 3.
  • Don’t Overcrowd Your Plate - Keep your design simple by focusing on one ingredient (usually the protein). Having a focal point helps you arrange your accompanying items to complement your standout item.
  • Moist Ingredients First - Plate moist ingredients first and prevent them from running by topping them with other foods. For example, you can angle sliced meat against mashed vegetables.
  • Create Flavor Bites - Flavor bites are forkfuls of food that combine all the ingredients in your dish into one bite. Flavor bites are essential to quality plating as they please both the eyes and the taste buds.
  • Mix Textures - Contrasting a smooth vegetable puree with crunchy onion straws or topping a steak with crumbled blue cheese yields appealing texture combinations that are classic in high-end cuisine.

3. Visual Plating Techniques

steak dinner plated using the free form plating method

Maximizing the visual elements of your meal is a key plating technique. While your arrangement develops around your protein, manipulating the colors and sizes of the other elements on your plate enhances your focal point and creates a gourmet presentation.

  • Serve Odd Quantities - If you’re serving small foods like shrimp, scallops, or bite-sized appetizers, always give guests odd quantities.
  • Color Diversity - Colorful dishes build the expectation of a flavorfully complex meal before your patrons take their first bite. Add green vegetables or brightly colored fruits that contrast with your focal point.
  • Monochromatic Meals - Plating color-coded items together visually builds the expectation that the dish only offers one flavor. When the palate receives multiple textures and flavors instead, it surprises the tastebuds, causing them to engage with the dish.
  • Add Height to Your Plate - Stimulate your guests' eyes by building height. While compactly stacking ingredients isn’t as popular as it was 5-10 years ago, building layers of food for guests to explore offers an exciting experience.
  • Create Visual Balance - Balance your plate’s landscape by leaning long, flat items against taller elements (ex: leaning asparagus spears at a 45-degree angle across a stack of lamb lollipops).

4. Sauce Plating Techniques

a chef brushing sauce onto a white plate

With your principal ingredients plated, you’re ready to top your dish with delicious sauces that enhance your food presentation. Think of your squeeze bottle or spoon as a paintbrush, and your sauce as a medium. Once you're done adding your sauce, make sure you wipe down the edge of your plate with a towel, so no drippings distract from your presentation. We explain some of the simplest, most fail-proof sauce plating techniques below.

  • Smeared Sauce Plating Technique - Fill a squeeze bottle with your sauce. Squeeze a thick layer of sauce and form a large, filled-in circle on your plate. Take a spoon or plating wedge and dip it into the middle of the sauce where it’s thickest. Quickly pull the sauce across your plate.
  • Accent Dots Plating Technique - Fill a squeeze bottle with your desired sauce. Analyze your plate from the perspective of the rule of thirds, then add accent dots. Use multiple sauces to create additional color contrast.
  • Smeared Accent Dots Plating Technique - Alternate between two sauce accent dots in a curved line along the side of your plate. Then, take a small plating wedge and place it at the center of the first accent dot in your row. Drag the plating wedge through the accent dots, creating a multicolored, single-sided edge.
  • Swirled Sauce Plating Technique- Fill a squeeze bottle with your desired sauce. Place your plate atop a cake turntable. Point your squeeze bottle face down at the center of the plate. Spin your stand while simultaneously squeezing your bottle. Adjust your wrist to vary your swirled design. You can use multiple sauces to create more visual contrast.

5. Garnishing Techniques

a chef using fried leek shoestrings to garnish a steak

In the past, chefs casually threw a piece of kale and an orange slice onto every plate. However, these garnishes added nothing exciting to the dish, and few guests ate them. Modern garnishes pair thoughtfully with the meal to create flavor bites. Follow these garnishing techniques and guidelines to master the last step of food presentation.

  • Edible Garnishes - As you finish plating, remember that garnishes should always be edible and enhance the dish. To determine whether a garnish belongs, ask yourself whether you would want to consume it in the same bite as the meal it accompanies.
  • Intentional Placement - Never heap garnishes in one corner of the plate. Instead, disperse them thoughtfully to add color or texture. For example, place crispy carrot shoestrings atop a delicate filet of fish nested in a curry sauce and decorate the plate with pomegranate seeds.
  • Less Is More - Never clutter your plate for the sake of a garnish. If your plate is full, opt for a drizzle of flavor-infused vinegar or oil to enhance the taste and appearance of your dish without overcrowding your plate.
  • Garnishes to Avoid - Avoid using unappetizing garnishes like raw herbs, large chunks of citrus, and anything with a strong odor. Also, avoid garnishes that take a long time to apply.

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Food Plating Methods

There are three popular plating methods: classic, free form, and landscape. Master each method to create meals worth photographing. We provide ideas on how to plate food using each method below. We’ve selected a white square plate as our canvas. Filet mignon, potato puree, carrots, demi-glace, pea puree, lima bean and pea blend, thyme, and fried leeks are our materials.

Classic Plating

  • A chef pipes potatoes onto a white square plate1.

    Pipe the potato puree onto the plate using a pastry bag.

  • A chef plates carrots next to whipped potatoes using precision tongs2.

    Place the carrots next to the puree using precision tongs.

  • A chef garnishes stacked carrots with thyme using precision tongs3.

    Garnish the carrots with thyme using precision tongs.

  • A chef plates a steak with precision tongs4.

    Plate the steak using precision tongs.

  • Using precision tongs, a chef garnishes a steak5.

    Garnish the steak with fried leeks using precision tongs.

  • A chef drizzles demi-glace around a plate using a spouted saucier6.

    Drizzle the demi-glace around the plate using a spouted saucier.

  • After plating his meal, a chef wipes the edges of his plate down with a clean towel for a clean presentation7.

    Wipe the edges of the plate with a clean towel.

  • Steak, fried leeks, whipped potatoes, and carrots plated in the classic food presentation style8.

    Finished classic plate.

Free Form Plating

  • A chef pipes dots of potato puree onto a plate using a pastry bag1.

    Pipe dots of potato puree onto the plate using a pastry bag.

  • A chef slices a steak into three pieces using a chef's knife2.

    Slice the steak into three pieces using a chef's knife.

  • A chef uses precision tongs to plate three pieces of steak next to whipped potatoes3.

    Plate the pieces of steak using precision tongs.

  • A chef uses a spoon to place a lima bean and pea blend around a plate using a spoon4.

    Place the lima bean and pea blend around the plate using a spoon.

  • A chef uses precision tongs to plate carrots by artfully leaning them against each other5.

    Plate the carrots using precision tongs.

  • A chef uses a squeeze bottle to place dots of pea puree around a plate of food6.

    Place dots of pea puree around the plate using a large squeeze bottle.

  • A chef uses a squeeze bottle to place small dots of demi-glace between large dots of pea puree around a plate of food7.

    Place dots of the demi-glace around the plate using a small squeeze bottle.

  • A chef uses precision tongs to garnish a plate with fried leeks8.

    Garnish the plate with fried leeks using precision tongs.

  • A chef wipes the edges of a square plate with a microfiber cloth9.

    Wipe the edges of the plate with a clean towel.

  • 10.

    Finished free-form plate.

Landscape Plating

  • A chef places dots of pea puree around a plate using a large squeeze bottle1.

    Place dots of pea puree around the plate using a large squeeze bottle.

  • A chef paints pea puree onto a plate with a brush2.

    Paint the pea puree onto the plate using a brush.

  • A chef uses a pastry bag to pipe mashed potatoes onto a plate3.

    Pipe the potato puree onto the plate using a pastry bag.

  • A chef creates a carrot stack with precision tongs4.

    Plate the carrots using precision tongs.

  • A chef leans a steak against piped mashed potato puree and a carrot stack using precision tongs5.

    Lean the steak against the puree and carrots using precision tongs.

  • A chef arranges a blend of lima beans and peas onto a plate using a spoon6.

    Place the lima bean and pea blend around the plate using a spoon.

  • A chef drizzles demi-glace around his landscape plated meal7.

    Drizzle the demi-glace around the plate using a spouted saucier.

  • A chef uses precision tongs to garnish a steak with fried leeks8.

    Garnish the steak with fried leeks using precision tongs.

  • A chef wiping a plate clean9.

    Wipe the edges of the plate with a clean towel.

  • A landscape plated steak dinner10.

    Finished landscape plate.

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Plating Tools

Having professional tools is essential for commercial plating. We’ve rounded up the foundational items you need to create restaurant-quality food presentations.

  • Decorating brushes aid in detailed line work and broad sauce strokes. You can also use decorating brushes to create a puree or coulis base for meats or vegetables.
  • Garnishing kits come with everything you need to garnish your signature dishes, including plating wedges, tongs, squeeze bottles, and brushes.
  • food garnishing tools arranged side by side on a wood background
  • Molds keep plates clean and increase visual appeal by cutting ingredients to specific shapes and sizes. Ring molds help you develop height and structure when stacking ingredients.
  • Precision tongs help you place garnishes or small, delicate items. Many tongs feature micro-serrations for improved grip and stability.
  • Plating wedges come pre-cut with flat, round, or pointed edges and are perfect for smearing soft ingredients and creating sauce designs.
  • Shavers allow you to top your dishes with shaved or grated chocolate, hard cheese, or soft vegetables.
  • Plating Spoons in varying sizes are essential to the art of food presentation. Saucier spoons help you drag sauce across your plate and slotted spoons quickly separate solids from liquids.
  • Squeeze bottles help you apply sauce and aioli to your finished plate. Many come with adjustable precision control tips.

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Whether you own a fine dining establishment, gastropub, or eclectic cafe, thoughtful plating will attract customers and earn their loyalty. Even before they sample your meal, your guests will eat with their eyes. To test this theory, Oxford researchers plated the same meal two ways, artfully and without attention, and diners reported that the artfully plated version tasted better. By integrating basic food presentation techniques, styles, and tools, you can enhance your plating process and increase your menu prices without deterring customers.

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