How to Plate Food For a Special Event



Last Updated: Aug 27, 2021

Whether you’re hosting a five-course meal or just having a special luncheon with friends, you want your food to look just as good as it tastes. But how do you plate pasta or other foods and have it look like it came from a five-star restaurant? We’ve rounded up the best tips on how to plate food from expert chefs and food stylists.

Create a plan for how to plate the food

Just like you make a grocery list before going grocery shopping, you need a plan for your meal. Your shopping list helps you get through the store faster and ensures you don’t get home only to find that you forgot an essential ingredient. When you plan out your meal, you can avoid forgetting important elements.

Tip: Avoid grocery shopping altogether by ordering your food and other groceries with Instacart.

1. Visualize how you want your plates to look

Once you have your menu set, think about how you want the foods to look on the plate. If you’re a visual thinker, you may want to close your eyes to help picture what the plates will look like, then make a quick sketch. If you process things orally, pretend you’re describing the dishes to a friend and pay attention to what you say. You might even find sketching it out helpful.

2. Make sure you have the right tools

There’s nothing worse than getting to step three of a recipe and realizing that you don’t have a sieve. Sure, you can ask Alexa to find a workaround, but to avoid last-minute mishaps, read the recipes thoroughly to see which special tools you need. Borrow from a fellow cooking-inclined friend or buy your own.

Here are some kitchen tools that may be helpful when learning how to plate food.

  • Multi-purpose grater for veggies, cheese, chocolate, and spices
  • Squeeze bottles for sauces
  • Brushes for marinates or adding decor
  • Precision spoons
  • Molds for desserts or ice
  • Tongs and tweezers for placing food in just the right position
  • Immersion blender

3. Do some advance prep work

As you read through the recipes, note which things you can do ahead of time so that preparing the meal can be a joy rather than a stressor. Some things you may be able to do several hours beforehand include,

  • Make sauces and put them into squeeze bottles
  • Wash and chop vegetables
  • Marinate meat
  • Bake bread or rolls
  • Freeze ice in ice molds

Choose suitable dishes

Professional chefs recommended using practical tableware for the foods being served while still being an attractive background for the food. Use these tips to choose the perfect dishes for your next dinner party.

Sea bass dish on white

1. Match Dishes to the Food

When serving chicken with cranberry sauce, you want a plate with a well in it so the sauce doesn’t spill over the edge. Likewise, a slice of chocolate cake with a small scoop of ice cream will not be in a bowl.

2. Choose a neutral color

White, ivory, or a light color are ideal colors because they let the food take center stage. However, if you plan your meal around your brightly colored dishes, choose foods with vibrant, contrasting colors. For example, chicken or fish may look rather bland on a yellow dish, but a dark brown steak with a bright green spinach salad will look great.

3. Use an appropriate size of dish

You want the amount of food to look right on the plate. Not too much, not too little. There should be enough blank space, with room for garnishes, but not too much so that your guests look at it and wonder, “Is that all?”.

4. Use a variety of colors and textures

As you create your menu, think about the mix of colors that will be on the plate. For example, a salmon fillet with a couple of broccoli pieces or spears of asparagus will create more contrast and look better than carrots or potatoes. You can intensify the colors of vegetables by steaming or blanching them in boiling water.

Roasting vegetables and fruits in a hot oven will give them a sweeter flavor and add texture they wouldn’t have when cooked on the stove or served fresh. Grilling gives a similar effect, especially when you have char lines on the food. Likewise, searing meat in a frying pan will give it a crisp, golden outer layer.

Whenever possible, use edible garnishes like mint with a chocolate souffle, basil leaves atop a pile of pasta, or a lettuce leaf under a pork chop. Don’t forget slices of veggies and wedges of fruit also make excellent garnishes.

5. Layer foods for added interest

Some foods lend themselves to being layered, like salad greens topped with protein and veggies, with dressing and croutons to top it off. To layer like a pro, use three layers. If you’re adding individual items like pieces of shrimp or olives, opt for odd numbers. Finally, don’t worry if the second plate isn’t a replica of the first. Having asymmetrical plates is perfectly natural and allows your creativity to show if you switch your strategy with subsequent plates.

gourmet roast cod fish fillet with herb crust in lemon cream sauce

Ready to start planning your next dinner party?

Now that you know the tips and tricks for how to plate pasta, steak, and salads with ease, it’s time to start planning your next dinner party. Want to cut down on grocery shopping? Let an Instacart shopper help you out and deliver them to your door.



Instacart is the leading online grocery platform in North America, partnering with more than 700 beloved national, regional and local retailers, including unique brand names, to deliver from more than 65,000 stores across more than 5,500 cities in North America. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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