How to Plate Food

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Studies prove that plating food right makes people want to pay for it. While not all are trained, it’s not very difficult to learn to plate well enough to make my meals more appetizing. In this post, you will learn how to plate food like a chef.

How to Plate Food

Plating food can seem daunting to some, but as long you follow the steps below, you’ll make better-looking plates in no time.

Step #1: Make a Plan

Just like any other art form, plating food also requires proper planning, mental preparation, and concentration. Be relaxed before starting to bring out the best in you.

Having the correct cutlery for arrangement is as important as having the right ingredients for your food. Keep your kitchen organized to help you work better.

steak and vegetable on wooden plate

Step #2: Choose a Plating Technique

You must be clear regarding the plating technique you wish to follow. Different techniques have different needs, and the approach must be known from the onset.

You can choose to plate your food like your plate is a clock. This method is ideal for beginners and helps you utilize every quarter of your plate wisely and uniquely.

You could also choose free-form plating where there aren’t any strict rules about placing the food items. You can be as creative and artistic while preserving the taste and quality.

If you have longer food to plate, and there aren’t a lot of layers to your food, you can go for the landscape plating technique. Usual steak recipes are plated in this manner.

Step #3: Pick the Right Plate

Think about it:

The canvas is a painter’s playground. A painter takes great care to choose a canvas that befits the piece. The plate is your canvas, so choose it wisely.

Choose a plate that’s of the perfect size. It should show all your work, without giving a crowded appearance but it shouldn’t be too big, making the food look insufficient. 

Your plates should have a proper blend of dark and light colors. The color of your plate can affect the diner’s appetite. 

Step #4: Arrange the Food

How you arrange your food goes a long in determining how much the diner will like it. You would love food that looks great, wouldn’t you?

Make sure not to overcrowd your plate. Focus on one item, like having beef with vegetables and sauces arranged around it to highlight the focal dish.

Place the focal point of your dish either on the left or right of your plate and not in the center. If you’re planning to take photos of the dish, think through the composition. Think of the white spaces as the rims of your frame, and use them accordingly.

Divide your plate into quarters; place all the proteins in the first quarter, carbohydrates in the second, and vegetables in the third.

Place the moist ingredients on the plate first and put other items on top of it to prevent them from running. Try and mix different textures. Crunchy fries with smooth veggies is a classic example.

Step #5: Think About the Quantity

The quantity of things you serve also has a part to play. When you serve small items, like shrimp, make sure you serve an odd number of them.

Colorful items make your dish that much more attractive. Choose the items you serve on the plate carefully and preferably choose contrasting colors.

Try leaning flat items on the taller ones. Build layers with food to visually stimulate the diner and increase the height on your plate.

Step #6: Paint with Sauces  

If your plate is your canvas, then your sauces act as the best kind of paints. The right combination of sauces makes your food both tasty and appealing.

You can keep the sauces in a squeeze bottle, use a spoon to spread them, or even use a brush, depending on how you want it to look and the amount needed.

Some of the approaches you can take are:

  • You can squeeze a large amount of sauce on your plate and smear it using a spoon where it is thickest. Use a towel to wipe off any extra sauce carefully.
  • You can make tiny dots of sauces on your plate where you feel necessary. Sometimes smearing those dots also give it an additional beauty which can be quite appealing.
  • Another popular way is to put your plate on a turntable, turn the table and pour your sauce. This gives an intriguing circular consistency to your plate.
close up shot of food plate with sauce

Step #7: Garnish the Food 

You must strike a balance between edible and non-edible items when it comes to garnishing your food. Avoid non-edible items unless necessary.

The items you choose to garnish your plate with should complement the food you are serving. The diner should want to eat it and not just throw it away.

Don’t place the garnishing items all in one corner. It may look like you are dumping them for the sake of it. Position them properly for the ideal visual impact.

Your garnishes should not be unappetizing. Refrain from using raw herbs or food with strong odors. Use items that are easy to apply. 

Here’s an excellent video guide by Babish Culinary Universe about styling food.

Food Styling | Bonus Basics with Babish

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Plating Food Expensive?

Most of the items used for plating are, in fact, part of the dish. So there is no real expenditure involved with plating. The extra items you would add are usually edible and make food a lot more appetizing, which makes taking the time to learn plating worth it.

What Are the Five Key Elements of Food Presentation?

The five key elements are color, shape and texture, arrangement, garnish, and plating.

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While you may be a long way from mastering food plating, with this guide handy, you can be sure that your next meal will look a lot more appealing than your last. Now, go find an affordable beginner DSLR camera and start taking food photos!

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.