Grazing tables are a unique way to gather people and provide them with food at an event. Think of it as a “make your own” or tasting platter, but more refined and with haute cuisine flair.
The concept of the grazing table is to give guests access to a variety of flavours without having to commit to one dish – you can try many different plates and mix and match ingredients, all while getting up from the table freely instead of sitting down for a traditional meal. Guests can sample small amounts of each dish, keeping conversations going throughout the night.
Grazing tables require some planning, but the process is relatively simple once you get started:
Decide on your theme
First things first – what type of character does your event want to portray? If you are hosting a high-level business gathering, consider food options that will show your guests sophistication. For an Asian or Middle Eastern-inspired party, try creating a grazing table with various styles of Asian salads and sushi.
A Mexican fiesta might call for tacos, nachos and burritos. The design of the table can also match your theme; consider using maps to create country borders on the platter or building miniature cityscapes out of vegetables like radishes and zucchini.
Once you have decided on your theme (and incorporated that into the item’s design), start thinking about what foods would be included in each dish. Look through cookbooks, websites or magazines for ideas. You can create themed platters by choosing recipes with the same colours, cooking styles or background stories. If you’re feeling ambitious, try recreating your favourite restaurant’s menu items at home!
Decide on price
You need to make sure that your grazing table fits into your party budget; it may mean cutting out some other elements of décor. Decide how much each guest will pay (if anything) and put together a list of options for them to choose from (you might even want to ask your guests about their dietary restrictions beforehand).
When setting up the table itself, be frugal with space; putting all kinds of food in front of people will turn them away if they see too much at once. However, if you have a smaller table, you can put out a wider variety of options. Also, think about how much food people will eat at a party. If you have ten guests for an hour-long event, each person should only have one plate per hour to avoid overwhelming your catering staff and going overboard on food costs.
Depending on the size of your event and grazing table, you may want to find some extra hands! You could include older children in the process or hire student waiters from local schools if this is for a formal occasion. Spread the workaround by having different people create certain recipes for the platter, rather than doing it all yourself. This also allows you to delegate any specific dietary restrictions that might be in effect.
Don’t forget the utensils!
Make sure that people have everything they need to enjoy the grazing table, including plates, napkins and utensils. Keep it simple by using disposable items if you are having a large gathering or want to speed up the clean-up process afterwards. Replicate restaurant décor by placing silverware rolled in napkins on each plate or setting out baskets of cutlery so guests can choose what to use themselves.
Another option is “finger foods” – for example, mini sliders might be easier for your guests to eat with their fingers. Make sure there are plenty of water glasses available (and, if necessary, menu fliers) since many people will want to take drinks off the table.
Narrow down your menu to the best dishes
After your guests have sampled each recipe, keep track of their favourites for next time! If you’re planning on making this a recurring event (or if one dish is especially popular), make sure that it stays on the menu. Of course, don’t be afraid to try out different things; there’s always room for improvement and new ideas.
Make sure people are satisfied but do not overfill them! People should leave with an empty stomach (and possibly some leftovers) so they can focus all of their attention on the company around them. Keep in mind that most grazing tables won’t feed more than 12 people at once; any more than that will result in wasted food.
This resource might be helpful for more information: grazings food.