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7 Food Presentation Tricks to Bring the Restaurant Experience Home

A steak on a plate, covered in garnishes on a white tablecloth in a restaurant.

How to create a tasty meal is a skill, but so is bringing ingredients together to present an indulgent look. These seven presentation tricks will help you bring the restaurant experience home.

Plating Tools

Before we talk about technique, let’s talk about tools. The right tools help you take your decorating skills to the next level. You probably already have some of these items, but if not, they’re all pretty inexpensive:

  • A squeeze bottle: If you’ve ever wondered how a chef got that precisely drizzled chocolate swirl on your dessert, it most likely came from a squeeze bottle. You can use these to create more intricate designs or more intentionally place sauces and purees on a plate.
  • A saucier spoon: These are handy when you need to drag sauce across a plate to create the right look. A fancy spoon is nice, but if you don’t have one or can’t spring for one now, you can use a humble tablespoon (we did in the example photos in the next section).
  • Tongs: When you need to place food on a dish carefully, tongs are the answer. Use smaller tongs for meals with delicate components.

Mercer Culinary 18-8 Stainless Steel Saucier Spoon with Tapered Spout, 8-1/2 Inch

The tapered bowl on this spoon makes it perfect for drizzling sauces.

7 Presentation Tricks

You have the tools—now you need the tricks. Here are some really simple but effective ways to up your presentation game.

Plate Size, Shape, and Color

The color, shape, and size of the plate impact the way your meal looks. Sometimes, you have to experiment until you find the size or shape that looks best.

Generally, a white plate makes a bright-colored meal stand out, and a larger plate puts the focus on the final design. A rectangular plate might work for one meal, but a square plate might look more appealing paired with your dinner entrée, so try some different combinations.

Always Plate in Odd Numbers

When you plate your dish with odd quantities, it provides more visual appeal. This is why restaurants typically serve appetizers in odd-number groupings. You can bring that trick right home to your own kitchen.

Also, when you serve an odd number of helpings, it makes the dish look like there’s more on it, even if it’s only one extra stuffed mushroom.

Make Small Portions

Eggplant Parmesan on a white square plate next to a glass of red wine.
Emilee Unterkoefler / LifeSavvy

Small portions tend to stick out nicely—especially when they’re on a dish that’s a bit larger. You want eyes focused on the central part of the meal, but also to take in the contrast between the food and plate.

This can be tricky, though, because you also want to avoid too much white space. Play around with different combinations until it looks just right.

Use Colorful Ingredients

The protein in your entrée is always your focal point, but you can use bright-colored vegetables and sauces to create a lovely background. Choose colors that work well together as this enhances the appearance of your plate. People might just think you’re a chef!

Wear Gloves

When you prepare ready-to-eat food, be sure to wear gloves. This prevents any germs on your hands from contaminating the meal. You also won’t leave any fingerprints on the plate borders.

Before you send a dish out to your guests, check it carefully for any food marks that don’t belong. You can use a damp washcloth to carefully remove any imperfections. Most restaurants do this to ensure your plate is perfect before it hits your table.

Embellish Your Plate with Sauce

When you use sauce intentionally, it makes a world of difference when it comes to serving a gorgeous plate of food. Use a soup (or saucier) spoon to smear or drag sauce across the plate and create a stunning design. Check out the examples below we created with a strawberry coulis.

To replicate this design, plop down a spoonful of puree, and drag it across the plate with the side of your spoon. This is a neat way to add some flavor and visual appeal to your next dessert.

A spoonful of strawberry puree dragged across a white plate to create a design.
Emilee Unterkoefler / LifeSavvy

Use the same technique described above, but this time, use the bottom of your spoon to drag it across the plate. This design is more substantial, as shown below.

Strawberry puree design created by dragging the bottom part of a spoon across the white plate.

You can also create a simple design if you spread the puree to follow the shape of your plate. When you use this technique on a traditional round plate, you get a nice comet-like arc, like the one below.

Strawberry puree design created by dragging the bottom of a spoon following the shape of a round, white plate.
Emilee Unterkoefler / LifeSavvy

If you drizzle a thin amount of puree, you can use the tip of your spoon to drag the sauce in a zigzag pattern, as shown below. This fun design can add a little excitement to a plain-looking dessert.

Strawberry puree design created by drizzling the sauce, and then dragging it with the tip of a spoon in a zigzag pattern over a white plate.
Emilee Unterkoefler / LifeSavvy

Something as simple as creating a pattern out of a splash of sauce offers an immediate (and low effort) visual boost to your dish.

Complement Your Dish with a Garnish

Garnishes should always be edible, complement the flavors of your meal, and provide more appeal to your entrée without distracting from the focal point.

Before you select a garnish for a plate, make sure it nicely accompanies the meal and is small enough to eat in a single bite. Here are some easy garnishes you can use on various entrees:

  • Fish and seafood: Place a lemon wedge on top.
  • Savory poultry: Add a sprig of parsley.
  • Pasta with a red sauce: Place three basil leaves.
  • Enchiladas or a pico de gallo: Add a sprig of cilantro.
  • Pot roast or roasted turkey: Add a sprig of thyme or a sage leaf.
  • Desserts: Use bright berries or shaved chocolate.

Even if your guests don’t eat the garnish, the visual punch is substantial and really dresses up the plate.

Decorating your plate is a great way to bring fun into your kitchen. Next time you plan a dinner party, select your menu weeks ahead of time and practice some of these techniques before the big day.

Not only will you wow your guests, but you might even impress yourself!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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