The Art of Food Presentation: Turning Dishes into Visual Masterpieces

three plates of food and water glasses

Food presentation has always been an integral part of the culinary arts. The art of food plating allows a chef not only to control the appearance and juxtaposition of flavours and textures on the plate but also the nutritional composition and portion size.

The right food plating techniques can bewitch a diner’s senses and add a sense of occasion, grandeur and theatricality to the dining experience. While this has always been essential for professional chefs and restaurateurs, it is even more important in the social media age, where a dish is sure to be snapped and shared on Instagram, Twitter or Tik Tok before being heartily consumed. The art of food presentation has arguably never been more important for restaurants to grow their brand, strengthen their reputations and delight their customers.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or an enthusiastic amateur, we share some food presentation techniques to help turn your dishes into visual masterpieces.

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Start with the basics

When exploring the possibilities of artistic food plating, a strong grasp of the basics is essential. These basic tenets of food presentation are the foundation on which creative flourishes like sauces, garnishes, gels, foams and filigrees will be built.

In mastering the basics, chefs need to marry the tenets of both the visual and culinary arts. Therefore, they will need to master:

  • Colour theory
  • Relationships between different tastes and textures
  • Negative space
  • Size, shape and proportion
  • Juxtaposition

It’s important to combine foods that not only look good together but complement one another’s flavour profiles, creating a sensation that elevates the component ingredients. If you need some inspiration, by all means, carry out some competitive analysis to see how restaurants in your area create their culinary compositions.

Plate selection and styling

Your choice of plate, bowl, dish or platter plays a vital role in artistic food presentation. Much as a painter must choose the right canvas to bestow their art upon, so must a chef build their culinary masterpieces onto appropriate crockery.

Do you want to choose a larger plate that will use negative space to draw attention to the food’s presentation? Or would you prefer a smaller plate to create a greater sense of bounty? Will your dish be presented on a circular, square, rectangular or ovoid plate? Will its design be clean and modern or patterned and rustic? Do you want a pristine white plate or something more colourful?

As well as complimenting the food, your choice of crockery should also be tied into your overall food concept or branding.

Finding the right tools for the techniques

The right kitchen equipment is essential in adding an extra wow factor to your food presentation. The most exquisitely presented dishes require a little more dexterity than even the most capable hands can muster. As such, it may be worth investing in the right tools for some food presentation techniques.

These include:

  • Piping bags for purees
  • A syphon and diffuser nozzles for culinary foams
  • Precision tongues and tweezers for placing small, delicate items
  • Plating spoons
  • Saucier spoons and brushes
  • Plating wedges for structuring or smearing soft ingredients
  • Squeeze bottles for precision application of sauces

Painting your canvas with colours

Vivid colours provoke our appetites because they tend to signify that food is fresh and ripe. Think of how we feel when we perceive a vibrant red tomato, a lush bouquet of green salad leaves, a firm golden egg yolk, or a pristine white fillet of cod. A plate that is alive with vibrant colours makes promises of freshness, nourishment, and deliciousness.

As such, chefs need to think about how to paint with a palette of rich colours using food. Think about how the relationship between different colours can create vivid contrasts and provoke a rich tapestry of feelings for diners.

Experimenting with textures and layering

As well as painting with a palette of vivid colours, chefs should also consider the importance of textures and layers not just in terms of visual appeal but in terms of flavour profile and mouthfeel.

How will you pair the crunchy with the creamy? Or the crispy with the chewy? Or the smooth and clean with the crumbly and comforting? The layering of textures creates wonderful juxtapositions that are just as joyous to the eye as the palate.

Using garnishes and edible decorations

Garnishes and edible decorations can provide a visual flourish while also adding a hint of extra zest, piquancy or savouriness that lends extra depth and dimension to the flavour profile.

A sprig of herbs, a slice of lemon, a drizzle of sauce or a patina of chilli flakes. All of these are great examples of how garnishes can add a flourish to a dish in visual and culinary terms. If, however, you want to be a little more adventurous and artistic, try going beyond these basics to include:

  • Streaks of sauces, pastes or purees
  • Gel spheres or domes
  • Baked crusts, discs, tuiles or crumbs
  • Foam, snow and sorbet

Keep experimenting

Like any art, great food presentation is an ongoing process of experimentation, discovery and reflection. It requires an ongoing commitment to an artist’s commitment to creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box. Especially if you are a professional chef or restaurateur.

That sense of constant experimentation and evolution can give restaurants a competitive edge, keep food bloggers guessing, and ensure that customers remain intrigued.

Square for Restaurants POS and kitchen display system can help to ensure operational efficiency while improving your customer experience.

So you can spend less time in the office and more time in a chef’s natural habitat–the kitchen!

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