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How to Arrange Food for Entertaining

My friend Stephanie sent me this email last week:

We are having a supper club over this weekend and I will be serving teriyaki flank steak.  I’m having trouble thinking how to arrange the platter… should I slice the pieces in half and arrange them on the two sides with something in the middle?

Lettuce? Cherry tomatoes? Help!

Thank you,


Here’s what I told her:

Sounds delicious. I would slice the steak across the grain into 1/2 inch slices and arrange on the diagonal on a white platter.  Keep all the steak together.  Then next some lightly grilled or roasted cherry tomatoes and then your sides either roasted potatoes or asparagus or zucchini. Keep each item together.  The colors and textures will have more impact.

Hope it goes well. Send me a picture of your platter.


So it got me thinking about parties and entertaining in the coming months. After you’ve spent time and money preparing wonderful food for your guests, you want to present it in an attractive and appealing fashion. I wanted to share some do’s and don’ts about how to arrange food for any occasion.

The Do’s

# 1 – Group food by colors

Have you every wondered why grocery stores group produce by type and color? It’s more attractive and therefore, you buy more.  Even types of the same produce, such as apples, potatoes, or squashes are grouped by color.

Food Arrangement

If you have red, yellow and orange bell peppers, arrange them by color.  If you have green (zucchini, celery), yellow (squash), and orange (carrots), keep each vegetable separate by color.  Line colors up by the most visual impact.

Arranging by color also lets your guests see each food more easily.

Here are some examples:

Food arrangement

In this example, each fruit is easily seen; if the strawberries and red grapes had been next to each other, the arrangement wouldn’t have been as pleasing.

Food Arrangement


In this example, I would have put the watermelon between the cantaloupe and honey dew melon to break up the shades of red.

Food arrangement

This is a nice arrangement.  Rolling up the meats is prettier than laying them flat.  Although the color variation is minimal, the textures compensate for that.

Food arrangement

This arrangement of grilled vegetables is on the right track.  I would have switched the orange peppers and the mushrooms for more color contrast.

Food arrangement

Although the yellow squash and zucchini are mixed and the orange and red peppers are mixed, this is still a very pretty arrangement on a round, clear tray.  Separating those components and having more color variations would have been even better.

# 2 – Group foods by type

Keep vegetables together, meats together, cheeses together, fruit together.  This arrangement makes it much easier for guests to make choices.  Try to keep proteins (meats, poultry, fish) and dairy (cheeses) separate from fruits and vegetables.  This just makes sense from a food safety standpoint.Food arrangement

Although this is a vegetable platter, it’s a messy presentation.  The vegetables look “thrown down”.

Food Arrangement

This dessert platter would be more attractive if each type of dessert were grouped together.  A larger platter would be an improvement, too.

Food Arrangement

I know this picture is a little fuzzy, but you can still see the pretty arrangement.  Instead of mixing up the different desserts, each type is lined up in a row ~ much more attractive and easy for guests to see what they like.

If you are serving several types of food, plate vegetables and starches (potatoes) on one platter, meats on another, and fruits on another.  For an antipasti platter, cheeses and meats are commonly served together.  Cheese and fruits may be served together.  However you arrange your food groups, always remember that neat, straight lines or groups of the same food bunched together is most attractive.

The Don’ts

# 1 Mix up foods together; unless you are serving a baked dish, such as a casserole, a salad or pasta dish, food mixed together just isn’t as attractive as food arranged as I described above.

#2  Serve meats with sauces on the same platter as other foods; this can get messy and unattractive.  Serve any sauce in a separate bowl on a plate with a ladle for easy serving.

#3  Food temperatures should also guide your serving arrangement.  Hot, cold, and room temperature foods should be served separately, for safety reasons and ease of bringing food from the refrigerator or oven.

I hope these pointers help you as we head into three months of holiday entertaining.


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