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Preparing a nice variety of food trays for a family, business, or social gathering

Updated on May 7, 2011

Preparing a presentable food tray

   Ok so you are having a party and you have a ton of things going through your mind, the most pressing seems to be what you intend on serving your guests. There are things you should think about before making your decision. Think to yourself or write some things down on paper. What type of party are you having? What do my guests enjoy? What are their cultures? Is it a formal party or a pot luck family style gathering? Now if you are preparing for a family gathering or a cookout with a few friends the answers to these questions should be simple. But what do you do if this is a business gathering and there are going to be a vast amount of people you don't know? My option is usually to go with variety and colorful but appetizing assortment of foods. Here are a few tips and tricks that may help you along the way to planning a successful party.

  The casual cookout or family gathering

  Cookouts and family gatherings often times seem to be the easiest to plan as you often know your guests and what they enjoy. Trays that are very popular at these events are deviled eggs, bread bowls, pickle and olive trays, vegetable trays, finger sandwiches, cheese trays and deli lunch meat trays both usually served with crackers, chips and dip, pigs in a blanket (every kids favorite), shrimp and cocktail sauce, and sometimes people will have their favorite restaurant cater to their specific needs. The trick to impressing your guests is not only presentation but tempting variety.  Here are a few tips for creating these trays to create an enjoyable party experience for your guests.

  •  When making a deviled egg tray use your favorite recipe or research one online or in a cookbook. By adding a couple simple ingredients to the egg mixture you can make them both flavorful and eye catching. Try mixing in some green olives, pimentos, black olives, or finely diced green or red bell pepper depending on your personal preference. If you omitting on the paprika topping this will still add color to your eggs. Also when placing your eggs on a tray lay the eggs on a nice dark green bed of lettuce that you choose.

  • Bread bowls can be appetizing just to look at. If you are making a few bread bowls try making a few different kinds.  By choosing a couple of different style breads your are giving variety. My personal favorite is Hawaiian sweet bread to go along with a spinach dip in the center. Another good choice is a seafood salad bread bowl on a type of Italian or sweet bread. And maybe try finishing off with a whole wheat bread bowl filled with tuna or chicken salad.After cutting out your center of the bread bowl place the mixture on the inside. After doing so place the now filled bread bowl in the center of your food tray. With the remaining bread that you have cut from that particular bowl slice it into bite size pieces and place them around the bread bowl. And for a finishing touch add a nice tablespoon with decorative features. Also you may want to try using a food try with color and possibly placing a food card in front of the bread bowl to inform your guests of what the mixture is inside. (e.g. Spinach and artichoke, crab salad. tuna salad etc.)

  • Pickle and olive trays usually seem to be the first to go at many cookouts. The problem I have ran into in the past is not knowing if the item is dill, sweet, or hot. If using a partitioned food tray try adding dill gherkins or spears, banana peppers, olives and black olives together as none of these are hot or sweet. If having a hot pickled garden mix add that to a tray or plate with your hot pickles and hot pickled peppers, and on yet another separate tray do your sweet pickles gherkins or spears and other pickled yet sweet items you may have. Last but not least label your trays, after all no one wants to see a crying child running for a drink after grabbing your grandma's speciality super hot pickles.

  • Now vegetable trays are a healthful bite to have at any party and anyone on a diet with give you credit for having something that they enjoy not to mention a vegetarians delight when they showed up at your rib cookout and you have fresh vegetables. When I prepare a vegetable tray assortment I usually go 3 or 4 types of trays with 3 to 4 kinds of fresh raw vegetables on them and colorful assortment and a couple of side dips. The most common are Blue Cheese and Ranch. On the first tray I will use a mix of colorful bell peppers, cucumbers, tomato and celery. On the second I I will usually add fresh uncooked broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini squash, and summer squash. On on the final tray some fresh pearl onions, carrots, eggplant, and some more tomatoes. I always have two trays with tomatoes because I almost always end up having to add more tomatoes if I have them on only one. If you opt to have fresh jalapeno peppers I suggest placing them in a small bowl and labeling them. To make your dips look nice put them in a glass bowl and place them next to the fresh vegetables with labels. Also placing your dips on a nice place mat is helpful with spills and can be appealing in appearance.

  • If making finger sandwiches make them on a variety of breads. Using whole wheat, white, rye and pumpernickel swirl gives guests a personal choice. If making different kinds of finger sandwiches make sure to place them on separate trays. Also if making deli finger sandwiches try using a variety of meats and cheeses.

  •  Cheese trays and deli lunch meat trays are a great party tray and also seem to go very quickly. When making these types of trays uses different cheeses and deli meats and place the cheese on one tray and the meats on another. The combinations use most often are white cheddar, sharp cheddar, moteray jack, pepper jack, and mozzarella cheeses, for the meat tray I usually use a simple combination of roast beef, ham, chicken, pickle and olive loaf, and turkey. When making a deli tray i always roll the meat up and then slice in to a medallion and place a toothpick in the center for easy picking up. Also the same for the cheeses only I cube them and place a toothpick in the center. Placing your deli meats or cheeses on a bed of lettuce can fancy up your tray a bit or by using colorful toothpicks can make them eye catching. Don't forget to add couple of selections of crackers next to your deli or cheese trays.

  • What cookout or gathering would be complete without the classic chips and dip or salsa. There really is no need to jazz these items up but for nice appeal place the chips in a cloth lined basket and your dips or salsa in a glass bowl with a nice spoon.

  • If you decide to make something like pigs in a blanket for your little ones to enjoy keep them in a warmer after cooking so that they will not chill but keep it at a low enough setting so they will not get burned when biting into one of these little bite sized munchies. Place Ketchup and mustard on the side for condiments. If you don't want the bottles out on the table simply place the condiments in a bowl with a small spoon. If you really want to impress your youngsters add some Mickey Mouse or Sponge Bob paper plates next to the food.

  • Shrimp and cocktail sauce are always nice to see at any party. By peeling and deveining the shrimp you are making it easy to eat. Place the shrimp in a glass bowl and then place the glass bowl into a metal bowl filled with ice. By doing so you are making sure the shrimp stay nice and chilled just don't forget to keep the ice refilled. When buying your cocktail sauce buy a standard sauce and also buy a jar of course ground horseradish. By doing so you are eliminating the need for several kinds of sauces as guests can make it spicier to their taste.

  Planning for a business gathering or meeting

  When planning for these types of events you are definitely looking to impress people. That where your presentation and selections are going to matter the most, maybe not to you personally but to your boss and the clients coming to the event it will make a big impression. Often times when planning a business gathering it can be a formal affair and there can be a variety of cultures involved. Prior knowledge of these things will help you to better plan your party. Elegant and classy dinner place settings and trays are usually involved as well as fine wine glasses and cloth napkins.  Some nice snack foods for these types of parties can be sushi, crab legs, shrimp, cheese trays with crackers or fancy gourmet cheese balls, chocolate fondue and fruits are among a few items that could be served at this type of party. This is the type of event where a party planner may come in handy or hiring an upper class caterer. However if you must organize this yourself here a few tricks that might help you on your way.

  • Anytime there is sushi involved have wide selection of both and uncooked sushi for your guests to choose from. Hiring a sushi chef to make fresh sushi is a nice idea for a formal party. If you are setting this presentation on your own make sure to have freshly made sushi. Having nice small plates of china are nice for serving on. Don't forget the Wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce for the condiments. Place your cooked sushi on one tray and the uncooked on the other. Using a decorative table label may help your guests to distinguish cooked from uncooked and so on.

  • If having crab legs decide on how you want to serve them. If you want to serve them whole for the guests to crack themselves simply place the crab legs into a bowl and place that bowl into a chiller to keep them cold. If serving them steamed make sure whoever is steaming them does not cook to many at one time and offer selections to the way you want them cooked. Two of the most popular are garlic and Cajun. However you decide to serve them do not forget to have nutcrackers served to each person. Having a small condiment area is a nice thought. Place clarified butter, garlic butter, and a side of a few select spices the guests may want to add on their own in that area with extra napkins and small crab picking forks. Also serving these on a nice plate with an empty bowl shell discards is a great idea.

  • When serving shrimp at an occasion such as this shelling a devaining the shrimp is very proper before being served. Place the shrimp in a nice large glass bowl then place on ice. Having a nice variety of cocktail sauces available is always a nice touch to personalize to each guest. Place your cocktail sauces in separate bowls and label them accordingly with nice decorative labels. Another thought is adding a few select condiments such as Cajun, garlic or Asian spice and both clarified butter and garlic butter is just another idea towards impressing your guests. Don't forget to place small plates, small forks, and napkins next to your shrimp.

  • Cheese and crackers are served very commonly at these types of parties as they tend to serve a lot of wine selections. It is a great idea to have a nice cheese tray and a seperate cracker tray with a variety of selections to choose from. If using gourmet cheese balls place on a nice serving plate with a serving knife. Import cheeses may also be a good idea.

  • And last but not least we have come to the fruits. Most people enjoy fruit and a lot more of them enjoy it with chocolate fondue. Having separate fruits in bowls are a nice idea so that they can choose which fruits they would like and placing a chocolate fondue fountain behind these fruits gives the option of dipping them into chocolate. Cherries, Strawberries, Kiwi, Mandarin Oranges, Starfruit, Banana, Pineapples, and apples are all excellent choices for a fruit table. Nice dessert plates, silverware, and new napkins are always a good idea to be at the table as well.

  No matter what the party style you are having there is always a way to impress everyone with food. You can use any of the ideas listed above for any type of party and have many happy guests. The ideas of your party trays can be endless and so can your creativity so it is all up to you on how you utilize your skills. For some catering is a better idea and for others they find joy and happiness in impressing their party guests. I hope these tips were helpful in your journey to an impressive food presentation.



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    • dorothy0328 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dorothy Cooper 

      5 years ago from Deltona Fl

      Thank you for the advice I wrote that hub a long time ago and I actually had learned later on about the photo's. I may edit it sometime when I have time again thank you

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Lots of wonderful suggestions. :) Sharing.

      P.S. I know you are very busy, but some pictures of party foods or platters would make this hub catch people's eyes. Blessings. Theresa

    • profile image

      Sandi 3m 

      9 years ago

      Great suggestions!


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