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Enhancing Food Presentation

Enhancing Food Presentation

Planning a design before arranging a spread will greatly enhance the visual appeal and practicality of a buffet presentation. (photo by the CIA)

Culinary Institute of America


Exchanging full serving pieces for empty ones is an important part of service for any buffet. Obviously, no empty platter or chafing dish should be left sitting on the line for any appreciable amount of time. Each operation may have a different standard concerning exactly when to pull a platter and replace it with a fresh one. It depends somewhat upon the item being served and the size of the serving piece itself. However, the decision should be made ahead of time, then clearly communicated to the entire staff. The kitchen should be prepared to supply full platters promptly. The dining room staff should remove platters and chafing dishes as appropriate and immediately replace those items to avoid disrupting service.

Large mirrors or silver platters provide a dramatic backdrop for the food displays that are the hallmark of a buffet. They demand considerable space on the buffet and considerable time to set up and dismantle, however. They are also a challenge to replenish. Moving big pieces around during service invariably inconveniences the guest and slows service. It can be awkward or dangerous to attempt moving marble slabs or big mirrors with guests in proximity to the buffet table.

If the buffet is meant to accommodate quests over a long period—for instance, throughout a two-hour reception—it can be difficult to keep the display attractive. As the guests help themselves from the display, the arrangement begins to look messy and, eventually, skimpy.

The modern buffet often features a more contemporary approach to food display in order to make the buffet as attractive, fresh, and appealing as possible, as well as to make it easier to replenish the buffet.

Instead of using one large piece, the garde manger is more likely to arrange foods on smaller serving pieces, then arrange these individual serving pieces into a larger overall composition. Use that arrangement to reinforce or to enhance the concept or theme, as well as the arrangement of each platter.

Another distinct advantage of more frequent replenishment of smaller platters or chafing dishes is that it permits you to adapt quickly to the guests’ behavior. During planning for food production, you estimate how many platters containing a certain number of items to prepare. If your prediction is off, you can more easily adapt to prevent shortages or to cut losses on items that are not in significant demand. This information can help you keep the customer satisfied and control costs by limiting wasted food.

Smaller serving pieces generally eliminate the temptation to combine fresh items with those that have already been on display. Uneaten portions should be counted and recorded on the appropriate form and then dealt with according to safe food-handling policy.

There should be a clear-cut policy on how to handle foods that are returned unused to the kitchen. Foods still safe for use in other applications should be carefully processed to keep them safe and wholesome.

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