What’s the difference between restaurant and home-cooked food? Plating and presentation. Restaurants get creative with their food presentations to create a feast for both the eyes and the mouth. The presentation is a part of the overall dining experience, and in fine-dining restaurants, it is absolutely crucial to get this part right.

But you don’t have to run a high-end restaurant to improve your food plating skills. Here are eight food presentation tips and tricks.

food presentation

1. Choose the Right Plates

Beautiful crockery will take your presentation to the next level and will serve as the backdrop to your food. Many restaurants opt for white or black dishes to pull all of the attention to the food. But you can also play with different patterns, colors and textures to really make the dish a feast for the eyes.

Just make sure that the pattern won’t distract diners from their food.

Light-colored plates will make bold, vibrant colors pop, while darker plates will make lighter-colored foods more visually appealing.

There are many different types of plates for food. Just make sure that the ones you choose complement your dishes instead of taking away from them.

Play with different dish styles, too. If you’re serving stews, beef bourguignon or hot dips, use mini-casserole dishes or ramekins for a fun, interesting look.

2. Use Contrasting Colors and Symmetry

Those who have mastered the art of plating understand the importance of using contrasting colors and playing with symmetry. It’s one of the best-kept food presentation secrets, and it can kick your plating skills up a notch.

Protein is generally the focus of the dish, but pay attention to the details of other elements in the dish that will create color and contrast.

Colorful vegetables and greens can be used as accent points. Pairing ingredients with complementary colors will enhance the dish’s visual appeal.

how to plate food

3. Position Your Ingredients Properly

Be strategic when positioning your ingredients on the plate. If you’re going for professional plating, think of the plate as the face of a clock.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to place:

  • Protein between 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock

  • Vegetables between 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock

  • Carbohydrate between 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock

Another rule of thumb for food plating and presentation is to place runny or moist ingredients first. These ingredients tend to move around during delivery if they aren’t held down by other ingredients. You can anchor these ingredients by placing other foods on top of them.

Flavor bites are an often-overlooked aspect of food presentation. Flavor bites are forkfuls of food that marry all of the dish’s ingredients into one bite. These flavorful bites satisfy both the taste buds and the eyes.

Don’t overcrowd your plate. Keep it simple, and only focus on one ingredient. Creating a focal point ensures that all of the accompanying ingredients will complement that one ingredient.

food presentation ideas

4. Don’t Ignore Food Decoration

For gourmet food presentation ideas, use herbs, edible flowers, spices and citrus zest. Edible flowers and micro herbs add beauty, interest and flavor to a dish.

But make sure that you’re garnishing purposefully. Flowers and herbs can really add to your dish presentation, but they can also take away from the meal if you’re not using them properly.

Garnishes should be related to the dish and edible. The goal is to enhance and complement the flavors of the dish and not distract from them.

Use these decorations to add color and texture to dishes. Disperse them throughout the dish instead of heaping them in one corner of the plate.

5. Use Texture and Height

Professional plate presentation techniques focus on the use of texture and height to draw the eye to the focal point of the dish.

Taller ingredients can also be balanced out by leaning flat, long items up against them.

Texture is another important thing to consider in professional food plating. Adding crunchy ingredients to smooth purees or soft cheeses atop steak can create appealing textures and flavors.

food plating ideas

6. Use Big Plates and Keep it Clean

Modern plating techniques call for smaller portions and bigger plates. Portions should be large enough to satisfy guests, but small enough to leave room to style the dish.

Using larger plates will help if you want to serve bigger portions. The extra space will provide more room for food presentation.

When guests receive their dishes, they expect to see a plate with clean edges – as if the food had magically appeared on the center of the plate. While plating the food, you may get a few drops of sauce or crumbs along the outer edges of the plate. Use a clean towel to wipe the edges of each plate before serving. This way, guests will be more focused on the food and less on the dribbles of sauce hanging over the edge of the plate.

7. Get Creative with Sauces

Sauces add wonderful flavor to dishes, but they also give you a chance to be more creative in your presentation.

Instead of mindlessly pouring the sauce over the dish, be more precise. Use the tools at your disposal to strategically place sauces using squeeze bottles or paintbrushes. Create accent dots along the side of the plate, or lightly drizzle the sauce over the main ingredients to ensure guests enjoy its flavor with every bite.

You may also want to use individual sauce boats when serving certain dishes to ensure that guests can help themselves to as much or as little sauce as they’d like.

food plating techniques

8. Make Sure You Have the Right Tools

To make your presentation as professional and visually-appealing as possible, make sure you have all of the right chef plating tools on hand.

Many of the food plating techniques we’ve talked about – and you’ve read about – require special tools.

These tools include:

Decorating Brushes

Decorating brushes are one of the most important food decoration tools in a chef’s plating tools kit. These brushes can be used to create broad strokes when applying sauces, or they can be used for detailed line work. You can also use them when plating coulis or purees beneath vegetables and meat.

Precision Tongs

Precision tongs allow you to place garnishes, decorations and delicate foods without disturbing the other ingredients on the plate.

Squeeze Bottles

For the precision application of sauce and aiolis, squeeze bottles are key. They're used to add accent dots along plate edges, or drizzle sauces either around or on top of the dish.

Many squeeze bottles have adjustable, precision-control tips that allow you to apply just the right amount of product to the dish.

Plating Wedges

Plating wedges are similar to decorative brushes in that they allow you to strategically and carefully smear sauces and other soft ingredients. Wedges allow you to create unique and appealing designs that please both the eyes and the taste buds.

Shavers

Shavers are ideal for grating hard cheese, chocolate of soft vegetables on top of your dishes.

Spoons

Ideally, you should have a variety of foods on hand to help with your food décor. Slotted spoons allow you to separate solids from liquids when completing your presentation. With a saucier spoon, you can drag smears of sauce across the plate. Spoons with tapered bowls can also be used for drizzling and pouring.

Whether you run a fine-dining or casual restaurant, attentive and creative plating can improve your customers’ experiences and impressions.