Seven tips to dress up your plate

By Diane Chiasson

Food that looks beautiful awakens our senses so that it actually tastes better. That is why many chefs place so much emphasis on food presentation. These days, it’s not uncommon to be presented with a dish that could be considered a serious work of art.

I’m not suggesting that you run out and start studying molecular gastronomy right away so that you can form liquid nitrogen salad dressing balls, or sugar strands suspended in mid-air. A few simple touches here and there can turn the simplest foods into something special.

It does take some imagination and effort to avoid the three-heaps-on-a-plate format of meat, starch and vegetable. As restaurant and foodservice owners and operators, your job is to not only feed your customers good food, but also to give them an experience that they will remember, and keep them coming back for more.

Here are a few tips to bring some pizzazz to your operation’s food presentation.

1. Use bigger plates

Placing your food on a larger plate will make the dish look more appetizing. Try keeping all the food in the centre of the plate to create a larger border around the dish. This way, diners can zero in on the food. Using white plates will also enhance the visual appeal. Don’t just stick to traditional round plates. Consider using non-traditional vessels as well.

2. Use garnishes that belong

It used to be that a sprinkle of chopped parsley was considered a garnish. But today’s sophisticated diners have come to expect the garnish as part of the total flavour enhancement of the dish. For example, don’t place a sprig of thyme on a dish that has no thyme in it, or a confetti of diced red peppers if red pepper does not play into the theme of the dish.

Every ingredient on the plate must serve a function to the overall taste. Microgreens, delicately fried vegetables or dehydrated fruits and vegetables are some of the more popular garnish items used today. The right garnish will also help to add and create different textures.

3. Create colour contrasts

When you are creating your menu, keep in mind the different colour contrasts that you will be able to make on your plate. Use fresh vegetables and greens or lively fruits to enhance not only the flavour of your dish, but the beauty of it as well. Instead of the blandness of mashed potatoes, try purees of more colourful vegetables like squash and carrots.

4. Create height

Taller almost always appears grander, so give your food some height. Stacking is a well-known trick and is still widely used today. But keep in mind that diners still need to be able to eat the food. Don’t stack everything into a huge tower and leave diners puzzled as to how they should deconstruct it to eat it. You can still keep things simple and still gain some height. For example, if you serve a steak, mashed potatoes and a vegetable, it could be as simple as using a pastry tube to create more height for the potatoes, and laying the steak on an angle against the potatoes, or propping it up on the vegetables instead of flat on the plate.

5. Sauce underneath

Never ladle sauces over your food, as you are covering the star of the show. Ladle sauces under or beside the main components of the dish. By doing so, you can add depth to the visual composition of the plate and show off the food itself.

6. Composed plates

Compose the items in your dish on the plate so that diners can see the individual ingredients and the architecture of the foods. Deconstruct some of the items to allow diners to mix it up themselves. For example, if you are making a caesar salad, consider topping the salad with shaved Parmesan, slivers of anchovies and a raw egg yolk in the centre.

7. Don’t overdo it

Lastly, try to keep it simple and clean. Today’s dining trends lean toward local, organic, fresh and seasonal foods where the ingredients are the stars of the show. Also keep in mind that every dish you send out of your kitchen must be consistent, so each one of your chefs must be able to recreate the dish that you make. So, elaborate stacking, drizzling, saucing and other fancy tricks might be too much to handle for a busy kitchen.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or, or visit

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