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Blog at Chefify

The psychology behind food plating

Apr 18 2019 - 9:54am
When it comes to creating the perfect dish, you might start with the ingredients, technique and the tastes you can produce. However, while many of us understand that a plate of food needs to look good, not everyone gets just how much influence food plating really has on the taste.

According to Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University, "when the plating is artistic, people tend to enjoy the food more than if the same ingredients were just dumped on the plate." In fact, the science of plating goes much deeper than that.

We eat with our eyes

Most of us are familiar with the idea that what we see on the plate will influence how it tastes. However, a full 50% of the brain is involved in visual processing and is driving a wide range of decisions and experiences - therefore what you see has a huge amount of impact. A great example is the way that white wine dyed red will taste of red fruits (according to a study by Dubourdieu & Brochet). Presentation has a big impact on whether the food meets expectations when we eat it and also on our first impressions.

What your plating really means

The importance of capturing the imagination of the diner should not be underestimated. The best chefs always have a story to tell and that story is told via the food on the plate. Whether you use the sequence of dishes, evocative ingredients or inspirational arrangement of the food, your story is what will make your food stand out so it’s worth intentionally crafting one. In addition to the storytelling there are also some very practical ways to make an impact.

Quality and quantity – if you’re plating to express quality, don’t forget that most diners will prefer fewer high quality items (e.g. ice cream with a topping) than a larger volume of lower quality items (e.g. more ice cream, no topping).

Artistically plated food does better – in an industry study of 60 participants, 18% preferred artistic presentation over ‘neat’ or ‘normal.’ Plus, diners were willing to pay twice as much for the artistically arranged food.

Serving style – the plates you use can say a lot about the dish. For example, broth served in a cup or a glass – as opposed to a bowl – indicates that it’s a standalone dish in terms of strength of flavour. Plates that complement the dish are key – it’s important to make sure you don’t overload the plate and therefore overload the brain.

Odd vs. even – using an odd number of components in a dish makes it more interesting to the eye. Plus, according to studies, diners are willing to pay upwards of 10% more for a dish constructed in this way.

What should you be looking to incorporate into your plating style?

  • A modern approach that is relaxed and deconstructed but still has structure 

  • Artistically arranged food always tastes better

  • Focus on the main element in the dish – place this in the centre of the plate

  • Consider the colours you’re using and whether they go together

  • Include some green – herbs etc – as this indicates freshness

  • And finally, make sure dishes go out clean – no unintentional spatters or smears

Whether you have much time for the science, or you’re just interested in the results, there’s no doubt that plating is as much a part of the impact of the dish as any other stage of preparation.

Now you have the perfect food plating skill, they deserve to be shown off - here's 10 food photography tips to get the perfect picture to put on social media, or have a look at our creations page for some food presentation examples.

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