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By Katherine Pendrill
Proper food plating and food presentation are essential to running a successful restaurant. You wouldn’t turn up to a job interview in your pajamas. And likewise, you wouldn’t serve your guests a bland and uninspiring plate of food.
And the science backs this up. Multiple studies show that diners actually perceive food to taste better – by as much as 18% – when it is well-presented.
And the importance of food plating and presentation only continues to grow. With the rise of social media and smartphones, food influencers are able to upload images of your plates to millions of users within seconds. This has caused expert food plating to become so important that restaurants are even styling plates specifically for food Instagram photos.
To help you take your plating to the next level, this article will cover how to plate food better step by step, including:
When you see an experienced chef plating an exquisite artwork onto a plate, it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to do the same at your restaurant. But if you break it down, there are a few key skills, techniques, and general principles which make the whole world of food presentation and styling less daunting.
Aside from restaurant portion size, here are five key considerations to keep in mind when you’re preparing to plate a dish.
Food naturally tells us when it’s fresh, ripe, and ready to eat with its vibrancy. We can use this natural trait to our advantage by using vibrant colors, blocks of color, or color contrasts to make a plate more appealing and interesting.
Whether you opt for a precision approach or a rustic style, the arrangement of the food on the plate is all-important to how the diner perceives it. Arranging your main ingredient, accompaniments, sauces, and garnishes in an attractive way forms the foundation for a well-presented dish.
Texture is an important component in how a dish is enjoyed, but it also changes the way a plate looks. Aim for a mix of textures and layers to add accents and interest to your plates.
Balance doesn’t just mean plating food symmetrically or evenly across the plate. Just as your dish should have a harmony of salty, sour, and sweet flavors, the plate should look balanced too. One color, texture, or element shouldn’t take over and spoil the visual appeal of the dish as a whole.
Above all, a plate of food should taste delicious and be enjoyable to eat. Never let any other factor get in the way of how easy it is for your guests to actually eat the food. For example, garnishes should be edible, and thought should be put into how the diner will pick up the food and what kind of plate is most appropriate.
With the five key considerations in mind, we can move on to practical techniques and common food plating ideas to help you at the moment when the food actually meets the plate.
First off, you have to choose what your food is going to sit on. More often than not, it’s some kind of plate or bowl – although some chefs opt for slates, boards, or items like fryer baskets for serving fries.
Different shaped plates can be used to emphasize or complement a specific element of the dish:
Plate color also impacts the look of the dish by providing a contrasting background:
Unless you’re a master of improvisation, it’s best to plan ahead how you want to arrange your elements on the plate. Using a variety of textures can break up a plate and add accents of interest. Foams, gels, and sauces against crunchy elements, soft meats, or leafy garnishes all help to create a more diverse and varied picture on the plate.
Another common technique is to use the rule of thirds.
Split your plate into three around the face of a clock. Place the main protein in the bottom third – from nine to three on the clock – the carb element in the top left – from nine to 12 – and the vegetable element in the top right – from 12 to three.
You can transform how a plate looks using a variety of design techniques. By slicing and cutting your elements into small pieces and arranging them across the plate with garnishes and sauces dotted, drizzled, and tumbled across the plate, you create a completely different feel than if you stacked elements into a tower to create more height.
You can also mix a broad palette of colors across your dish to highlight the contrast or use one color theme to create a striking effect.
Combinations of these techniques can be used for infinite possibilities but the key is to not overdo it and create a confusing plate of food. Have a vision for your plate and stick to it for the best results.
Sauces are a useful tool for chefs to use like paint on a canvas. Sauces can be piped on in precise dots, brushed across the plate underneath other elements, or swirled around to encircle and highlight the main element of the dish.
You can use a combination of these techniques and even use multiple sauces of different colors in different ways on the same plate.
Garnishes can add that final flourish to a dish. And they’re more than just an afterthought. Herbs, flowers, crisps or tuiles, shavings of truffle or cheese, nuts, powders, and many more can add pops of color, texture, and intense flavor to your dish.
Garnishes are very important and should be treated as such, but as always, if in doubt, keep it simple and don’t go overboard.
There are a million ways to plate food, but we can categorize most plates into three styles. There’s the more traditional approach of simply laying out the elements of a dish side by side, or stacked in the middle of the plate, the more modern landscape method, and the contemporary abstract style that you’ll see used at fine-dining restaurants.
Traditional and foolproof, the classic way to plate a dish is to arrange the elements side-by-side around the center of the plate using the clock method. Height can also be created by stacking ingredients on top of each other. The elements can then be brought together with sauces and garnishes drizzled across them or around the edge.
A more modern approach is to create a low-lying landscape of elements by placing the food across the plate. The elements often lean on one another, with dots of sauce or puree interspersed and garnishes draped over to bring everything together.
Free form plating is perhaps the most contemporary and most popular style among famous chefs in fine-dining establishments. Free-form plating treats the plate as a canvas for a work of abstract art. The chef may use splashes or splatters of sauce, or more precise brushes or dots and swirls. The other elements are then carefully placed in an artistic fashion across the canvas.
To achieve the designs referenced above, your chef will need specific tools for plating food. The most common food plating tools include:
The way food is presented on the plate clearly has a huge impact on the customer’s experience of the dish. And beautiful plates can spark exciting restaurant marketing ideas and inspiration.
Any restaurant chef, using a few simple principles and techniques, can produce far more appetizing plates of food for their guests. A little time and effort spent brushing up on food plating techniques and getting hold of the right tools can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.
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