Food plating is an art that has become extremely important in the restaurant industry over the past 10 years due to the rise of social media platforms, and the internet in general. In Australia, 82.7% of the population were active users in February 2022, compared to just 58% in 2015. And as this stat continues to rise, so does the importance of making sure your food always looks appealing.
Why exactly is food presentation important? The display of your menu items is a critical element to your business. The way your food is presented to customers has a significant impact on their overall dining experience.
A well-plated dish should have the power to entice your customer's senses and leave them with a memorable experience when visiting your premises. While a poorly plated dish can be unappetising and can negatively impact the customer’s entire dining experience.
Speaking to Kraft Heinz Foodservice, chef Emma Evans admitted: “the difference between a cook and a chef is garnish. You can be an amazing cook, but if you slop lasagna on a plate, no one’s going to want it. You eat with your eyes first, so plating is hugely important.”
“We've moved away from dots of sauce and from plating things with tweezers in this very pretentious way and have gone back to the sense of nostalgia,” Chef Emma continued. “Dishes now need to look professional on a plate, but still also like something that almost your mum would have made, but with some flair,” she added.
When it comes to menu plating, it should highlight the quality of your food, while still being simple enough to execute on a busy night. Food should also be visually appealing to your customers, as the presentation is the first thing they’ll notice when they’re served their meal.
This proves the saying of ‘we eat with our eyes first’ true. When food is presented beautifully, it activates your customer's sense of taste, smell, and even touch.
It’s safe to assume that before the first bite, your dish has already been judged. With the rise of social media users, the importance of making sure your menu items look picture-ready has never been more important, as it can help make or break your business.
According to reports, billions of food pictures are shared on social media every year; with almost 70% of millennials – those born in the eighties and nineties – regularly uploading shots of food online before eating it. While there are pros and cons around the sharing of food photos on platforms like Instagram, it can be an effective way to generate attention and sales for many restaurants.
“Unfortunately, that’s how people eat nowadays, that’s how people share information, is via photos on social media and if your food doesn't look good, no one’s going to post about it,” Chef Emma admitted.
However, it’s not all about being sharable on social media. A well-plated dish also needs to highlight the different textures and flavours of your food, which then makes it more appealing to your customers overall. Plating also helps communicate your creativity and expertise within the kitchen and should be used as an opportunity to showcase your culinary skills and artistic side, while also reflecting your cooking philosophy.
“It’s personal in a way,” Chef Emma admitted. “Yes, we cook food and put it on a plate, but it's also [our] art. While there are [styling] rules, it's very much down to someone’s creativity. Plating techniques are personal. When other people have an opinion about it, it's a little bit painful because you think, ‘well, this is my creative process and now you're judging it’,” she continued.
When it comes to plating the perfect dish, the process should begin by incorporating the best and freshest ingredients, executing accurate knife cuts, and using precise cooking techniques that showcase the quality of the produce and your overall culinary talents. Your dish should then be pulled together with sauces and other complementary ingredients, like fresh herbs or garnishes. But it’s important to remember that each element should be there for a reason, adding flavour, texture, and colour that compliments the finished product.
Finally, menu food plating can also contribute to the overall ambiance of your restaurant. While taste is important, food that’s plated and presented well can help set the tone and perception for your restaurant.
The combination of the colours, shapes, and textures of your plated food can complement the décor and lighting of the restaurant. This can create a cohesive dining experience that helps make your customer feel more comfortable and relaxed. While a poorly presented dish that clashes with your restaurant's décor can generate an unappealing atmosphere.
“A food trend that I've seen, but it's not necessarily about the food, is that white plates are out, we’re done with white plates,” Chef Emma explained, adding: “People are using earthy plates. Plates that look like they were made by hand or are handmade.”
It’s important to remember that plating choices are also influenced by the style of food, and the overall image you’re trying to convey within your restaurant. For example, a fine dining restaurant may use porcelain to demonstrate a sense of elegance, whereas a casual restaurant may choose ceramic or stoneware that suits a more rustic dining experience.
Your food styling also contributes to your restaurant's brand identity. Your plating style can become your restaurant’s signature style, which can set it apart from other restaurants. A consistent and unique plating style can help create a memorable and recognisable brand identity, making it more appealing to customers. This can also assist with building a loyal customer base, as customers will associate the plating style with the restaurant's name and quality of food.
At the end of the day, plating is an important aspect of restaurant service that can’t be ignored. It has the power to create a lasting impression on your customers, enhance the taste of food, showcase your skills and creativity, contribute to the overall ambiance of the restaurant, and establish the restaurant's brand identity.
It is also important to stay updated with the latest plating trends and techniques to make sure that you’re offering your customers the best dining experience possible. With the right approach to plating, restaurants can establish a reputation for excellence and attract new customers to the establishment.
Looking to up your plating game? Enter your details below to download our guide to perfecting food plating here.