Move over, canapés. Grazing tables have proven to be the less stuffy, more eye-catching way of whetting a guest's appetite. Traditionally, a grazing table features high-quality finger foods like cured meats, cheeses, breads and crackers, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, olives, and scratch-made dips—but the possibilities are really endless. All that matters is that everything is thoughtfully designed and placed, allowing guests to mingle and, more importantly, keep coming back for more.
For those curious to dig (or dip, if you will) a little deeper on the trend, we tapped three experts to give us their must-know tips on how to incorporate grazing tables successfully into an event, and why these unique tablescapes keep growing in popularity.
To successfully facilitate those round-the-table connections, here's what you need to know about grazing tables...
They can take center stage at an event.
For Kabrel Geller, owner of This Messy Table LA, grazing tables aren't just a vehicle for serving food—she also considers them an art installation of sorts (and she makes it easy to see why), as well as an interactive food experience.
"I've found that when This Messy Table is the main-stage food at parties, those parties usually last an hour or two longer than they normally would," she says, "because everyone just mills around the table. Everyone keeps coming back for more. They'll see something they didn't see the first time and their plate was full, but they want to make sure they try a certain combination."
"It's a conversation piece because it makes a big statement," adds Haley Keane, owner of Graze & Co., which is based in Newtown, Conn., and also services the NYC area. "When you walk in the room, it really sets the stage."
In addition, Keane notes that Graze & Co. often works social events, weddings, influencer events, and corporate events. "More people tend to be more comfortable in taking how much they want [with a grazing table]," she says. "Whereas when you're doing passed hors d'oeuvres, they can feel stuffy and old school. People might not like to eat as much, even if they want to."
Their layout and design should be intentional.
If a grazing table is assembled without thought and intention behind it, it risks looking like "you've dumped a salad bar on a table," Geller quips. There's an art to it, as Geller previously mentioned. "We really bring a different level of floral, decor, and theme to it in a much more elevated way than we used to do," she says.
Since launching This Messy Table LA in 2018, Geller recalls catering for premiere parties, executive events, and events for celebrities, as well as social events like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.
Keane takes a similar approach to design. "I always try to make it feel like a Renaissance painting, still life kind of setup, so it doesn't feel like it's just thrown together," she explains. A fun tip from Geller? "I also always say if it's a table during the day, use green grapes; if it's a table at night, use dark red grapes," she says. "That's a quirk I have."
Including signage is a fun touch.
With grazing tables, there's so much to look at, and at times guests may wonder, "What am I looking at?" But that doesn't mean labels should be on everything—"it can look like a sea of signs," Geller warns, adding that not labeling everything helps foster that air of mystery and discovery that grazing tables can bring.
But of course, guests might have allergies or dietary restrictions, so a printed menu near the table outlining the contents can be a courteous option. If you have a higher guest count though, Geller advises considering a table attendant.
"If an event is more than 50 people, it really behooves the host and the guests to have an attendant there," she says. "Because people have questions, and they want to know, 'How did this happen?' And how did you do it? And what's that? And that? So I have found that [an attendant] can be really important to the success of how the event goes."
Or make it even more interactive: "Another fun option is a live-action wine pairing [with] cheese/charcuterie to elevate the experience, [like we did] at an event we hosted at World of Coca-Cola," Biondo Iglesias says. "The chef recommended the perfect pairing of wine and cheese—such a fun interactive display!"
Don't forget something sweet.
Of course, a grazing table is meant to provide eventgoers (beautifully designed) sustenance, including meats, cheeses, and fresh veggies and fruit. But sweet items are sure to be a hit, Geller notes.
"I always think that having sweet things on the table or sweet mini chocolates is important," she says. "Some people think, 'Chocolate?' And I go, 'Trust me—none of that will be left.' People are eating cheese and charcuterie and sometimes they want something sweet afterward. And there's some beautiful, beautiful chocolates that can really elevate [the table]."
Collaboration with a planner is key.
When a planner hires Geller's company to design and produce a grazing table for an event, she says it's paramount to work with the planner so that the table fits in cohesively with the event's theme and other decor.
"Collaboration with the host or the event planner is really important to me," she says, "because we add these floral elements, and [the planner] probably has a florist that they're working with. ... For me, that collaboration is super important to the success and look of the table."