Tips on how to set a creative and colourful grazing table at your next party
Put together a beautiful spread of nibbles and canapes designed for people to pick up small bites
Forget about set menus, elaborate multi-course meals and sharing plates: the big thing in event catering these days is the grazing table. Otherwise known as feasting tables, these elaborate edible arrangements are currently the most fashionable, Instagram-worthy and, arguably, delicious option for feeding your guests at events such as weddings, summer parties, birthday bashes and more.
Kelly Dyason, operations manager at catering management company Dish, says grazing tables have been on events companies’ and caterers’ radars for a while now. “We created our first grazing tables back in 2012 on a request basis. The popularity has really taken off in the last couple of years, so much so that we now have a section on our website dedicated to the concept, with a number of different options.” Dyason believes that this demand can be to attributed to two main factors: a desire on the part of hosts to provide a more sociable, interactive experience compared to a traditional dinner; and the impact of social media and the seemingly insatiable hunger to populate feeds with images of swoon-worthy food (a need which the grazing table more than adequately fulfils).
A grazing table is not a buffet
If you’re confusing a grazing table with a classic buffet, think again – there’s nothing stuffy, staid or indeed beige about these modern masterpieces. “Grazing tables are beautiful spreads of nibbles and canapes designed for people to pick up small bites or plates with a fresh mocktail in hand. A buffet offers more of a main meal best eaten seated, at a table,” Dyason explains.
“A grazing table is essentially a giant platter,” adds Angela Bowden, chef, owner and operator of All That Platters, a catering company specialising in “perfect platters and amazing grazing” based in New South Wales, Australia, where the trend originated. “They are carefully built on-site by placing a food-safe liner on a table and assembling the platter on top of it – the food then essentially becomes the decorative centrepiece,” Bowden explains.
“One of the main reasons grazing tables are so popular at the moment is because they look so appealing,” she adds. “For a grazing table to really make an impact, it takes a lot of care and attention to detail; they need to be carefully styled and the arrangement and display planned in advance, so that there’s a combination of colours, fresh ingredients, and different textures and flavours.”
What to serve
This trend is all about abundance and food artistry: think towering piles of different cheeses bedecked with herbs, slivers of cured meats fanned out alongside gleaming antipasti, bowls of hummus, tzatziki and edamame pesto swirled with spices, baskets filled with bread (artisan loaves, mini focaccias, whole baguettes), slabs of quivering quiche, tall platters of seafood, cut and whole fresh fruit, jars of chutney and pickles.
Various serving platters, plates, boards and bowls of different shapes and sizes are a must, as is displaying the food at varying heights, for greater aesthetic impact – for example arranged on cake stands or layered on top of each other. This is not about refined presentation or fussy execution; bountiful and beautiful is the aim.
Rather than guests making their way steadily down a buffet line before heading back to their respective tables to eat, the grazing approach is more fluid and interactive. The table is the focus and inevitably becomes a talking point. Because of that, people tend to chat and mingle over their crudites and cheese with increased ease, and the overall mood instantly feels more relaxed and convivial than a stuffy sit-down dinner.
Both Dyason and Bowden say that while there are no hard and fast rules regarding the food that makes its way onto those tables, there are a few key points to keep in mind. Most importantly of all, it has to deliver on taste as well as looks; a grazing table that relies only on style over the quality of the sustenance would be very disappointing indeed. “On my platters and grazing tables, I like to offer a real variety, so that there’s something for everybody,” says Bowden.
“That often means a mix of hard and soft cheeses, a selection of charcuterie and cured meats, lots of antipasti – roasted vegetables, olives, pickles and peppers – as well as dips, cold finger food, crackers, sourdough, and fresh and dried fruit to match the cheese and add colour.” The team at Dish, meanwhile, encourages guests to create their own bespoke variant from an extensive menu selection – think salads, quiches, sushi rolls, mini wraps and canape-style bites, all of which, their website promises, they will transform into a work of art.
Dish’s top tips to create your own grazing table sensation
Choose a theme from the outset: are you after a modern Asian mood or do you want to conjure up a Mediterranean vibe? As well as the food, your serving equipment should reflect your chosen theme, whether that’s with rustic wooden boards and oversize plates or sleek Japanese-inspired dipping bowls and trays.
Check that the star of the show – the table itself – is a suitable size. You don’t want people to be crowded around a small countertop jostling for space, but at the other extreme, a table that’s too large for the number of guests will feel off-putting.
- Keeping the previous point in mind, grazing tables are all about abundance, so make sure you have enough food and decoration to cover the entire table – it’s fine to repeat items several times over.
- When it comes to those extra bits of decoration, foliage, bunches of fresh herbs and big bowls filled with citrus fruits all work well.
- Make things easy for your guests: cut the majority of the food into bite-sized portions so that it can be picked up by hand, and check that there are sufficient serving utensils for items that are left whole (cheese knives, salad servers and the like).
- Don’t put all the food out at once – keeping a bit back means that you can replenish the table as and when it’s needed.
Three Instagram accounts that offer grazing-table inspiration
For out and out beauty: @grapeandfig
Known as one of the first companies to bring the luxe grazing table approach to the UK, Grape and Fig produces seriously good-looking food: think lavish wedding meals and corporate dinners, breakfast and brunch spreads and child-friendly tables groaning with popcorn, crudités, crackers and fruit.
For cheese lovers: @saycheese.bne
From wheels of Parmesan to wedges of Edam and creamy blue, as well as cake towers made entirely of brie, and finished with honey and figs - cheese, cheese and more cheese is the order of the day here (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
For the sweet stuff: @dessert_station
If you’re all about puddings, pies, bakes and cakes, not to mention lollies, macaroons, mini-doughnuts and the like, you’ll find plenty of pastel-inspired food for thought right here. Warning: this is serious baby-shower territory.
Updated: August 14, 2019 09:58 AM