If you haven’t yet eaten from or heard of “grazing tables”, you will soon!
Grazing tables are a trend sweeping through Australia, seen as an easy way to cater for groups small or large, corporate to private. Massive tables stuffed with food; cheese mountains, rows of salamis, piles of grapes, nuts by the multitude, petite pastries and artisan breads.
While buffets are neatly organised and painstakingly displayed. Grazing tables overflow with food, displayed artistically and with a focus on volume and decadence.
I have been on the fence about whether they are a good way to cater parties. My main reservations are the sheer volume of food needed to fill a table, the cross-contamination of dietary requirements and the time the food is left out for without refrigeration.
Volume of food: How much is too much?
When you are working out how much food is required for your guests you are not merely working out how much they will eat but also how to best present the food so that it looks decadent. This means that you have to employ a lot of “fillers” so that no blank space is on your table. These fillers are often uneaten and are things like grapes, nuts, pretzels and breadsticks.
Cross-contamination: Will this kill?
Any display that has items touching each other is a natural bed of cross-contamination. For any dietary requirements, this is a no-go zone. If you have people with allergies, have a separate plate or table for them.
Finally, set up of grazing tables takes between 30 to 60 minutes. The food is then eaten over a long period, often two hours plus. Australian weather is rarely forgiving (thank you 30C plus summers). When it comes catering and it is always important to keep the temperature in mind when catering to avoid poisoning your guests! Food is considered safe when it is stored under 5C or over 60C. It should never be left out for longer than two hours and then eaten. There are of course things that common sense comes into play on and that don’t abide by this rule (here’s looking at you grapes!).
On the plus side, grazing tables are visually gorgeous, an incredibly easy way to serve a large volume of people and will be an experience that your guests will talk about for a long time.
If you choose to go with a grazing table, here are some handy hints:
- Be conscious of how long your event is and choose your food items carefully (NO CHICKEN EVER!)
- Use grazing tables only if you have 50 people or more. A two-metre-long trestle table stuffed full does a generous morning tea serving for 50 people, if you ignore this hint be prepared for leftovers!!
- Make sure your event does not go for longer than two hours OR refresh your food throughout the event
- Keep any food for people with allergies labelled and separate (on another table)
- Use “fillers” that aren’t going to go to waste (herbs, like rosemary and thyme, or edible flowers, like marigolds, are my favourites)
- Fillers can also include a display linked to your event; e.g. for a grain company you can fill glass vases with grain, for a wedding you can fill them with the bride’s favourite flowers
- Position your table wisely: undercover, in the coolest part of your garden, room or office
- Plan out where things will go BEFORE you start setting up the table and give yourself 60 minutes on the day to set it up
Finally, have fun! This style of catering is meant to make your life easier. If it doesn’t go with something else that will suit you better.