Best Tips on How to Decorate a Serving Tray

See if you can identify. You’ve used your 50% off coupon at Hobby Lobby or searched the internet high and low to find the perfect serving tray. You’re filled with anticipation. Your imagination runs wild with how you’re going to decorate the serving tray and how great it’s going to look on your table. The tray arrives and it’s all you’d hoped it would be. You place it perfectly on your table and then YIKES! Realization sets in and you have no idea how to decorate this thing.


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You think to yourself, “I can’t make this tray look like one of those beautiful trays on Pinterest, it’s too hard, I’m not creative. My tray looks sad and lonely laying there all by itself.” Take heart – today’s post is meant for you. It’s time to break through the walls of doubt. I’m going to show you how simple it is to decorate a serving tray in 3 easy steps. You’re serving tray will be Pinterest-worthy in a snap! (Please note- the article may contain affiliate links. Full disclosure at the end of post.)



You can start by using a traditional decorative table tray with handles but honestly, serving trays come in all forms- cutting boards, dough bowls, platters. As long as you choose something that has a flat surface, you’re good to go. Don’t overthink it!

I chose this 13 x 13″ tray that I picked up at Home Goods. I love the beading and rounded edges. It’s actually more of a platter than a tray but it works perfectly.

If you need help choosing a tray, check out my post 19 Decorative Trays With Tips on How to Choose the Best One for You to give you the in’s and out’s of finding the best tray for you.

Quick Tips

  • In general, an odd number of items on a tray is more pleasing to the eye than an even number – use 3, 5 or 7 items according to tray size (isn’t that crazy- who knew?)
  • A teacup on a stack of books is considered one item. A teacup beside a stack of books is considered 2 items.
  • Don’t count greenery unless it’s in a bundle, it serves as a filler.
  • Use items with different heights, widths and textures for interest

Step 1 – Anchor the tray with a tall or bulky item

Picture a triangle in your mind. Place your anchor item at the back of the tray, top point of the triangle. An anchor item is usually the tallest and possibly the bulkiest item you’ll feature. I’ve used a pillar candle and candlestick holder that measure 12″ in all. I didn’t want the candle over 12″ (the width of the tray) because it would end up making the tray look too small.


You can use all kinds of things as your anchor – a vase with flowers, a jar filled with branches, a wine bottle or lantern, the sky’s the limit! You can see in this photo I wanted the pillar candle holder to be a bit taller so I propped it up on a lid for a little lift. Don’t worry, we’ll cover the lid up in Step 1A.

Step 1A – Add greenery


Ok, I admit I’m cheating here by sneaking in an extra step but this one is easy and to me, it’s vital.

Add greenery to your tray. It doesn’t matter if it’s faux or picked right out of your garden. Greenery brings the outdoors in and adds a grounding feeling to your decorative table tray, you’ll never regret adding it.

Lay the greenery flat on the tray or you can drape it so it partially hangs off. You may have to play with it a bit to get it just right. You can see where I added greenery to the tray and Voila! the candle issue is instantly gone 😉 That’s why I like to call greenery the White Out of the decorating world, it blots out all the mistakes in an instant.

Step 2 – Add a contrasting, medium sized item

Since I used a wooden candlestick holder in step 1, I wanted to mix it up in step 2 and use a shorter, more dainty item. I chose this porcelain pedestal, isn’t it the cutest? I topped the pedestal with a potted topiary plant.


Once you’ve got your second item picked out in your trio of decorative trinkets, place it at either the right or left point of the triangle.

When you’re looking for items to decorate the serving tray, think opposites. For example- If your first item was wood, your second should be the opposite like glass or metal. Contrast creates interest. A teapot, a plant, or a stack of books topped with a candle are great choices.

Step 3 – Finish by adding a small item of interest

Place your final item on the third point of the triangle. I’ve used a gold sphere which adds color and a cool shape to the tray. You could use a small plant, a framed photo, a votive candle, or fruit. Just make sure this item is a different height than the others.


Now stand back and take a good look at your tray. You may have to tweak it several times to get the right look. If it feels too bare, add items. If you’ve placed three items on the tray and it’s just not enough, add a fourth and forget the “rules”. What about a gaping hole? Add greenery. Don’t be afraid to switch things out and move things around. Trust your instinct, you can do this!


-How full to fill the tray is your decision. I like to leave at least an inch around the inner edges so that it looks full but not overrun with decor.

-Decorate vertically. Don’t be afraid to use tall decorations. A good rule of thumb is that if your tray is 12″ wide, keep the decorations 12″ tall or less. This will keep your proportions in check.

-Avoid flat surfaces – If you use a horizontal item like a stack of books, add something to the top with an interesting shape – like a porcelain bird or an iron sphere.

-Make things interesting, use pieces of your world to decorate with. If you collect teacups, incorporate those, if gardening is your thing, use vegetables. If you love reading, display your books.

What items do I use to decorate my serving tray?

This is where you can get creative. Think outside of the box for items that create conversation. Here’s a list to get you started:

I hope this inspires you to have fun decorating your serving trays and if you get the chance, send me a photo or drop me a note. I love hearing from you!

Now that you’ve styled the perfect decorative tray, check out these related articles:

19 Decorative Trays With Tips on How to Choose the Best One for You
25 Stylish Centerpiece Ideas for Your Kitchen Table
How to Stencil a Tile Table
25 Best Modern Farmhouse Porch Decor Items for Your Home
Shop the 60 Best Pendant Lighting Fixtures

Until Next Time!

Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. At NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU, I will earn a small commission on any purchases made.

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