Dishing with Style

Dishing with Style

ON DISPLAY: Customers in line at this Virginia Tech station enjoy a sense of fresh abundance.

Food presentation is ultimately about just that. “You want to display product in ways that increase its perceived value,” says Ann Marie Solomon, associate VP of merchandising strategy and creative services for Aramark.

“Great food presentation involves two key principles. First, the presentation must be kept fresh and abundant throughout service. Second, the detail of the food in display vessels— how it is prepared, displayed and garnished— must be carefully managed.”

A Sense of Abundance

Customers equate freshness and abundance with quality. This has a direct impact on their value perceptions and purchase choices. Vessels should enhance the presentation of food, not distract from it. They should match, be in good repair; properly aligned; and angled so that food faces the customer.

Pans should be kept full; no customer wants the last slice of pizza or the last cupcake. Additionally, ensure that only fresh product is displayed. Just one dried out, crusty-looking piece of pizza can ruin the appeal of an entire case.

“Train staff to monitor food continually during service,” says Solomon. “Teach them to take pride in their presentations, to remove anything they see as unacceptable and to refresh presentations as a matter of course.”

Cleanliness is also a critical element. Clean towels and sanitizer buckets should be stowed behind every station so spills and drips can be addressed immediately. Floors, counters, tray rails, food vessels and utensils should be constantly monitored. “Don’t let an untidy environment distract customers from the food itself,” Solomon adds.

Often, presentation is every bit as important as flavor. It provides all-important first impressions and sets the stage for the sensory experience of enjoying a fabulous meal.

Plating styles abound. Minimalistic, Architectural, Artistic, European, Asian, Dramatic, Classic and Contemporary styles are just a few of many. Finding what works for your customers and operation is key to success.

“Let your chefs to help you merchandise the food,” suggests David Rothwell, director of image and décor for Bon Appétit Management Company. BAMCO has what they call a “10 to 10” meeting everyday. Just before a day’s opening, chefs and managers walk through an operation as if they are customers. The chefs talk managers through the menu, portioning and plating.

“The goal is to have everyone on the same page,” says Rothwell.

The Value of Tastings

Many operators say that sampling can be a key element in food presentation strategy.

“It lets customers try new products, making selection easier,” says Solomon. “ What better way is there to encourage trial of a new item?” Sampling also creates goodwill with customers. There two types: passive and active.

Passive sampling—displaying small portions of a featured item and inviting customers to help themselves—requires strong signage to draw customer attention, describe the item and give a clear invitation to partake.

Active sampling means actively offering customers a taste. It should always involve some verbal romancing by a front line associate, telling the customer something extra about the item.

“Letting customers know about a special ingredient, a new or exotic menu item or method of preparation provides added value to the customer. It also creates interaction, good will and culinary credibility.”

3 Easy Food Presentation Tips:

  1. Keep display containers looking fresh, abundant and clean.
  2. Tap into your culinary team’s expertise. Ask them to make plating and presentation suggestions before service. Then, as a team, review their ideas and look for ways to improve.
  3. Display plates must be kept looking fresh and appetizing. Refresh plates throughout service.