In today’s food photo- and Instagram-obsessed world of dining, chefs from every segment know the importance not just of plating food beautifully but also of selecting the right plate, bowl or vessel to round out the whole presentation. Even cocktail specialists have become presentation artists in their own right — from choosing the simplest of glasses to let their beautifully garnished creations shine to reaching for more ornate glassware to add a special je ne sais quoi to a simpler drink.

Why go to all this trouble? For one, it’s fun and a form of creativity for the chefs. Perhaps more importantly though, diners these days simply demand this kind of quality, style, “scene” and experience when they go out, regardless of the menu, style service and, yes, even price point. It’s not just a possibility that diners will take pictures of their food; it’s an expectation, and those making the food take that into consideration on a daily basis. Chefs, restaurateurs and even noncommercial institutions such as forward-thinking colleges and universities simply understand the value of better food presentation.

Stubborn Seed Desert Daisy Photo Credit Grove Bay Hospitality GroupStubborn Seed’s Dessert Daisy, made with tequila, beet, orange bell pepper, habanero shrub, lime and carrot habanero dust. Photo courtesy of Grove Bay Hospitality Group

Even the design planning and opening stages of restaurants now allocate more time for tabletop and presentation planning. “Chefs and restaurateurs are becoming very thoughtful in that they are allowing more time to plan for their presentations and customize the pieces that they want, from creating their own steak knives to etching logos on a plate or glassware item,” says Morgan Tucker of M. Tucker/Singer NY, a New York-based equipment and supplies dealer. “They want more flexibility and room to be creative in terms of designing their own immersive and interactive dining experience.”

There seems to be no end in sight for the variety of tabletop items now available. Here’s a visual array of what’s new and trending.


Starters and Snack Presentations

The Restaurant: Fisk & Co. in Chicago

salmontartare

  • The Chef: Austin Fausett
  • The Dish: Salmon Tartare with avocado and curry emulsion
  • Presentation Notes: Chef Fausett reaches for a slate grey board (more commonly used for cheese plating) to emphasize the pastel pink color of the salmon and light greens of the avocado balls he creates using a melon baller. He uses a vegetable peeler to shave market-fresh carrots pickled in sesame and soy with herbs and pairs this with pickled shallots sliced about 1 1/2 inches thick. Using tweezers, Faucett carefully places chopped chives upright like a small bunch of wheatgrass along with black and white sesame seeds.
  • Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

The Restaurant: Vol. 39 at The Kimpton Gray in Chicago

  • The Chef: Brian Millman
  • The Dish: Turkish meatballs
  • Presentation Notes: To support his attempt to recreate his childhood’s most comforting food memories, Millman chooses playful vessels for his various dishes. He serves his Turkish meatballs in a white porcelain version of a mini crock pot.
  • Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

Greens on Display

The Restaurant: Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, Fla.

Stubborn Seed SIMPLE GREENS Photo Credit Grove Bay Hospitality Group 2

  • The Chef: Jeremy Ford
  • The Dish: Simple Greens
  • Presentation Notes: Ford swaps a traditional bowl for a carved-out, roasted Japanese squash in which he layers mixed, locally sourced baby greens garnished with fresh herbs, Meyer lemon zest and shredded aged parmesan.
  • Photo by Gina Shonek

Pasta Staging

The Restaurant: Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago

Sable pasta

  • The Chef: Amber Lancaster
  • The Dish: Sweet Corn Raviolo
  • Presentation Notes: Lancaster serves her homemade ravioli creation in the center of a round, white plate with 1/2-inch deep sides for a more geometric twist on the once ubiquitous coupe plate. She makes the dish using her own pasta dough and, instead of smaller pieces, stuffs two giant dumplings with fresh corn, ricotta and goat cheese before topping it all with basil, truffle and brown butter.
  • Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

The Restaurant: Biella Ristorante in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.

Biella SpaghettiAllaRuotta

  • The Chef: Jorge Cabrera
  • The Dish: Spaghetti alla ruota
  • Presentation Notes: A decadent tableside preparation, the spaghetti alla ruota is the latest dish to join the menu at Biella. First, a whole block of Parmesan cheese is split in half and its surface is set on fire to lightly melt the first layer. Next, Cabrera throws a pan of house-made spaghetti with pancetta on top of the cheese, carefully mixing the ingredients on the warm surface of the wheel until it catches the robust flavors of Parmesan. The spaghetti is then plated in a classic white bowl, along with the scrapings of the crusty surface of the cheese and a garnish of truffle oil and fresh parsley. Placing a mound of wound pasta in the middle of the white bowl’s deep well creates visual intrigue for the diner.
  • Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

Meat Exhibition

The Restaurant: Kuro in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Kuro Wagyu Ishiyaki

  • The Chef: Alex Becker
  • The Dish: The Japanese Wagyu Hot Stone Ishiyaki
  • Presentation Notes: Staff grill aged Wagyu beef and vegetables over Japanese binchotan (white charcoal) and serve the food atop a mixed-material platter combining two types of glazed ceramics that create different compartment-like spaces on the vessel.
  • Photo by Michael Pisarri

The Restaurant: El Che Bar in Chicago

El Che Bar

  • The Chef: John Manion
  • The Dish: Parrillada
  • Presentation Notes: One of national dishes of Argentina, the parrillada takes its name from the simple iron grill barbecue, a parrilla, found prevalently throughout the country. Meant for family-style sharing and tasting, Manion compiles this summer parrillada using spicy chorizo verde and morcilla sausages, tender sweetbreads, decadent bone marrow and asado-style flank steak. Smoked salt, salsa criolla made of pickled chili peppers, onions and tomatoes and homemade chimichurri make up the accoutrements. A rustic menu item like this deserves a rustic presentation, and it gets one courtesy of the oval-shaped wooden serving vessel that showcases the meats, vegetables and sauces in a sophisticated yet approachable manner.
  • Photo Courtesy of Chicago Food CoOp

Seafood Semblance

The Restaurant: Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, Fla.

Stubborn Seed JOJO TEA CURED SNAPPER photo credit Grove Bay Hospitality

  • The Chef: Jeremy Ford
  • The Dish: JoJo Tea–Cured Snapper
  • Presentation Notes: Ford gently simmers the fish in tea from local brand JoJo, and using tweezers, interplays the white fish with pops of color from cara cara oranges, compressed radish and bright green herbs along the curved rim of a shallow, hand-indented, pottered white bowl. Servers pour celery broth tableside.
  • Photo courtesy of Grove Bay Hospitality

The Restaurant: StripSteak by Michael Mina in Miami Beach, Fla.

Lobster Pot Pie StripSteak Photo Credit Kevin McCullough copy

  • The Chef: Chef De Cuisine William Crandall
  • The Dish: Lobster pot pie
  • Presentation Notes: The restaurant bakes and serves lobster brandy cream, seasonal vegetables and truffle in a rose-colored copper pot. The pie pastry puffs up for ooey-gooey goodness when the forks hit the crust.
  • Photo by Kevin McCullough

The Restaurant: Salt Traders Coastal Cooking in Round Rock, Texas

Salt Traders Whole Fish

  • The Chef: Chris Ten Eyck
  • The Dish: Snapper collar with bull red sauce
  • Presentation Notes: A blue-lined, white tray presents the whole, roasted snapper collar and its variety of accoutrements: bull red sauce in a squeeze bottle, tartare sauce, ceviche in a speckled blue bowl, a handled tin of sardines and, in a mini cast-iron dish, hushpuppies with jalapeno, cornbread batter and remoulade.
  • Photo courtesy of Kenny Braun Photography

Dessert Displays

The Restaurant: ETARU in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

ETARU dessert platter

  • The Chef: Hamish Brown
  • The Dish: Dessert Platter
  • Presentation Notes: Meant for sharing, this indulgent selection of ETARU’s most popular decadent desserts arrives tableside in a large, dark green and brown ceramic bowl set with ice and a mix of smaller ceramic vessels. The treats include guava mousse with grilled papaya, mango biscuit and passionfruit sorbet; smoked coconut with passionfruit parfait and raspberry; peanut, vanilla and chocolate sundae with sesame poki sticks; dark chocolate and green tea pudding with crunchy jivara and pear ice cream; and a selection of assorted fruits and Japanese mochi.
  • Photo courtesy of ETARU

The Restaurant: Mason in Miami

Mason Jars Photo Cred Robert Packar copy

  • The Pastry Chef: John Maiel
  • The Dish: Cake Jars
  • Presentation Notes: At Chef Brian Nasajon’s late-night eatery, Maiel lines mason jar upon mason jar for deconstructed cakes that resemble trifles in different flavors such as carrot cake, red velvet and banana cream.
  • Photo by Robert Packar

The Restaurant: Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, Fla.

Stubborn Seed CORN PAVLOVA horizontal photo credit Grove Bay Hospitality

  • The Pastry Chef: Dallas Wynne
  • The Dish: Corn Pavlova
  • Presentation Notes: Wynne prepares a classic meringue infused with bay leaves that’s spread thin, cracked into pieces and served with summer berries atop a Meyer lemon and sweet corn pudding spread onto a solid white stone dish to match the meringue. A quenelle of buttered popcorn ice cream and a light dusting of chile and tiny edible flowers gently placed throughout round out the dish.
  • Photo courtesy of Grove Bay Hospitality

Breakfast and Brunch Tabletop Trends

The Restaurant: The Nest, a Breakfast Joint, in Bellflower, Calif.

the nest breaky combo

  • The Chef/Creator: Ron Sararana
  • The Dish: Custard french toast with tres leches sauce
  • Presentation Notes: Sararana’s team reaches for black porcelain coupe plates with gentle grooves to allow the colors of the dish to pop more than they would on a stark white plate. The white of the eggs, whipped cream and bourbon sauce and the toasted caramel colors of the toast, bacon and waffle really stand out in this presentation.
  • Photo by Ron Sararana

The Restaurant: Sunday in Brooklyn in Brooklyn, N.Y.

SundayInBrooklyn 0166

  • The Chef: Jaime Young
  • The Dish: Granola with dried apricot, almond milk and mango
  • Presentation Notes: As bowls continue to be all the rage, chef Jaime Young turns to a rustic wooden version to create an appearance that is casual yet allows the white of the milk and orange-hued mango and apricot to stand out better than against plain white.
  • Photo by Evan Sung Photography

 Cocktails with Pizzazz

For Brunch

The Restaurant: 312 Chicago

BYO Mimosa

  • The Bartender: Marko Milunovic
  • The Drink: Build Your Own Mimosa
  • Brunch goers can purchase the Build Your Own Mimosa, complete with a bottle of Prosecco and freshly squeezed juices.
  • Presentation Notes: A copper pail keeps champagne chilled, served alongside an iron basket holding fresh-squeezed orange and other juices.
  • Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

For A Show

The Restaurant: Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, Fla.

Stubborn Seed Half Baked Photo Credit Grove Bay Hospitality Group

  • The Drink: The Half Baked cocktail at Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, Fla., with eight-year rum, Swedish punsch, sweet potato, orgeat, angostura, lime and real smoke from a smoking gun.
  • Presentation Notes: Bartenders mix the cocktail in a wide-bottom beaker and then fill it with aromatic smoke for a full sensory presentation.
  • Photo courtesy of Grove Bay Hospitality Group

For Tableside Service

The Restaurant: Council Oak Steaks & Seafood in Hollywood, Fla.

Council Oak Macallan Beverage Cart partial with Juan 6 17pl

  • The Drink: The Smoked Rare Manhattan. At Council Oak Steaks & Seafood at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, bartenders mix and pour cocktails tableside. The Smoked Rare Manhattan features Macallan Rare Cask single malt whisky, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, a sugar cube and smoked cinnamon sticks.
  • Presentation Notes: The mixologist mixes and smokes the cocktail tableside using a smoking gun and dome and then pours the final product over an ice sphere.
  • Photo courtesy of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel

Trending Tabletop at a Glance

millennial pink dinnerware littlemtucker editedA rainbow of tabletop products on display highlights emerging color trends. Photo by Sarah Bulmer

carrara tanzy boca brunch lmtMarble-inspired plateware at Tanzy Restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida. Plating by chef Charles Voudouris. Photo Courtesy of Tanzy Restaurant

haand kilkenny reevewines marslasarRustic slate dinnerware at Auberge Resorts in Napa County, California. Plating by chef Ross Kilkenny. Photo by Mars Lasar

chena pink untitled table lmtShades of pink dinnerware at Untitled in New York City. Plating by chef Suzanne Cupps. Photo by Sarah Bulmer

the usual plated tabletop anfora lmt nycMatte black dinnerware at The Usual in New York City. Plating by chef Alvin Cailan. Photo by Sarah Bulmer