#WeWantPlates- Why contemporary dining is so focused on abstract plating

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Food being served on slate

Have you ever been to a new restaurant and ordered what you thought was going to be a delicious meal, only for it to be served to you on a trowel? Or perhaps a miniature picnic bench? You are not alone. The #WeWantPlates movement aims to not only rebel against, but also make a laughing stock out of restaurants who opt for abstract plating.

The Twitter account turned online phenomenon including book was started by Ross McGinnes three years ago when he finally snapped and decided to rally against “style-over-content nonsense”. Since then, people have been coming forward with their experiences and have found solace knowing they are not alone. In fact, a 2017 poll by YouGov found that 99% of people want their food served to them on a circular plate. The number drops monumentally to only 69% who are happy for their food to be served on a slate, and only 8% of the group said they’d find it acceptable if their food was served in a shoe.

It starts with a piece of slate or chopping board, but spirals out of control to mini tables, dog bowls, flower pots and even meals hung on miniature washing lines. It’s no wonder customers have had enough with abstract plating that can be seen as unfunctional, unhygienic and unnecessary, so why do restaurants persist?

Why do restaurants attempt abstract plating?

In my mind, there can only be one answer for this. Restaurants must be attempting abstract plating in order to create excitement. As the saying goes, no press is bad press, and even if their creations end up online, they must be better off for it.

However, it is fair to say there are examples where your plating choices can determine the future of your restaurants. MasterChef winner Anton Piotrowski found his fate sealed when he kicked off a nine-course tasting menu at his new restaurant Brown and Bean in Plymouth. The twist - the dishes are all plated on the back of a guest’s hands. Piotrowski however was quick to jump ship in search of pastures new and the restaurant very quickly closed down, something that those not interested in the gimmick could have likely predicted would happen.

Restaurants that make it work

It would be naive to not acknowledge that there are situations where restaurants can make abstract plating work. On certain occasions, consumers look for this excitement, and when done right it can become the perfect way to entice patrons.

A recently opened restaurant in London is a prime example of abstract plating done right. Bucket, as it’s so aptly named, offers seafood by the bucket load in order to create a casual sharing experience for its patrons. In situations like this, where the plating is justified and still functional, the effects are positive and can be a draw for customers as opposed to a turn off.

Another example is The Botanist, a chain of restaurants that dabbles in abstract painting and has itself ended up on the #WeWantPlates timeline more than once. However, its balance between practical and exciting works and creates a unique dining experience without having to compromise functionality. The Botanist makes dining an experience, without making it a regrettable one, after all, if you cannot have fun with food then when can you have fun?

I for one, and a firm lover of functionality. Although I’d not hesitate to send back a dish that cannot be eaten, I will allow restaurants to excite me with unconventional serving methods and exciting arrangements, provided I can still achieve what I went there for - eating.