Whether you use your tray for serving drinks, ferrying food and dinnerware back and forth at barbecues or eating off your lap while binge-watching your favourite TV show, it’s one of those endlessly versatile things that’s incredibly handy to have.
Luckily, there’s some super-stylish ones about too. Gone are the days when a simple melamine design with an uninspiring pattern was your only choice. Now there’s wood, metal, mirrored glass, stone and even semi-precious materials in a vast array of colours, shapes and designs to suit all tastes.
When choosing a design, the key is to determine what you will be using it for first. Some, such as rectangular trays in wood and metal, are sturdier and often have a bigger surface area, making them ideal for carrying heavier loads.
They are more practical than, say, mirrored or agate designs, which are created as a statement piece in their own right and better suited to serving cocktails, canapés or arranging a cheeseboard. But if your needs are wide-ranging, why limit yourself to just one?
We’ve used these trays to serve TV dinners, dish out drinks and clear away plates and bowls, all while keeping a beady eye on practicality, style and value for money.
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Zara Home bamboo and wood tray with legs
Simple, stylish, practical, versatile, roomy…this rectangular tray ticks almost every box, and at a very reasonable price, too. We love that the legs fold away, meaning it can be used for carrying food and drinks, eating dinner on your lap on the sofa or, with the legs folded down, in bed on a lazy Sunday morning.
It’s made of acacia and bamboo, so it’s lightweight yet strong and has plenty of room for a dinner plate and a glass or cup. The border is a helpful addition, too, and stopped one of our plates sliding off the edge and on to the floor. The surface of the tray is made up of bamboo slats which makes for a slightly uneven finish, so it’s probably not the best choice for carrying delicate Champagne flutes or martini glasses.
Buy now £49.99, Zarahome.com
Le Jeana grey floral tray
Best for: Uniqueness
Almost too pretty to use (but not quite), each of these intricate trays is hand-crafted in India using camel bone inlaid into wood, so no two are the same. It’s a little heavier than some of the other trays we’ve tested, but the surface is perfectly flat so was ideal for serving glasses of fizz, and the handles and border make it easy to carry and transport food and drinks safely.
While it’s undoubtedly roomy at 51cm x 38cm, with plenty of space for a dinner plate or several mugs of coffee, the bone inlay is on the delicate side; a heavy-lifting tray for piling high with crockery this is not. Stick to serving tea and cake and give it pride of place on a kitchen worktop or coffee table when you’re not using it. It also comes in black if grey’s not for you.
Buy now £150.00, Wolfandbadger.com
Curious Egg bahia display tray
Best for: Simple elegance
The unfussy design of this round tray is what really speaks to us – that and the fact it’s lightweight so doesn’t make whatever you’re carrying any heavier than it needs to be. The rich bronze patina has something of an exotic feel to it; if you didn’t want to use it as a tray it could easily become an interesting decoration, especially propped on a shelf.
Should you want to use it for its intended purpose, however, its 30cm-diameter size makes it perfect for serving drinks and nibbles. As it doesn’t have handles, it wasn’t as easy to carry when stacked with several plates and bowls, so we’d stick to using it for lightweight items or having it as a beautiful display piece.
Buy now £24.00, Curiousegg.com
Emma J Shipley lynx tray large
Best for: Quirky design
Who says trays have to be boring? While a winged lynx with a peacock’s tail might sound bonkers, it just works, and certainly made us smile when we picked up this tray. Emma J Shipley specialises in bold, colourful and fantastical designs, and this hand-drawn scene, inspired by rock paintings and the mythology of Southern Africa, is no different.
It’s made from Swedish birch for a lightweight yet strong finish that coped equally well carrying glasses of wine as when we loaded it with a pile of dirty dishes. It’s a little smaller than some of the other trays we tested, at 43cm x 33cm, but perhaps an unexpected bonus is that it’s dishwasher safe. And with a design like this, it’s definitely one to leave out on display.
Buy now £34.50, Emmajshipley.com
Dunelm 5A Fifth Avenue decorative gold mirrored tray
Best for: A home bar
This tray isn’t a workhorse, and not one you’d sit down with to eat your dinner from while on the sofa (the border is just too high), but it is undeniably glamorous and a good choice for filling with drinks and working the room at a party. It also looked right at home when we placed it on a drinks trolley and added gin bottles, glasses and a cocktail shaker.
It measures 41cm in diameter, plenty big enough for six large wine glasses (though we did manage to fit eight smaller ones on there at a push) and has a mirrored surface with a gold-effect surround. Moving away from food and drink, it would also make a lovely home for jewellery, perfume bottles and make-up on a dressing table and looks more expensive than its price tag suggests.
Buy now £29.00, Dunelm.com
Sara Miller parrots large handled deep round tray
Best for: Sturdiness with style
As soon as we saw this round metal design, we thought of a tray of tall iced drinks clunking away at a barbecue, such is its cheery, tropical look. It’s 39cm in diameter and crafted from steel with generous-sized handles, which make the tray easy to pick up when laden with drinks.
It’s nice and deep, too, and definitely the tray we felt most confident with when carrying heavy loads. Due to its deep sides, however, it wasn’t the best one for eating from. The riveted handles point to the tray’s strength and durability, but it’s also very charming to look at, so we’d be loath to hide it away in a cupboard.
Buy now £36.00, Johnlewis.com
Amara luxe agate slab tray
Best for: Making a statement
If you’ve gone to the trouble of making perfectly crafted canapés, you’ll rightly want to present them with a flourish, and this opulent yet elegant agate tray was made for the job. While we admittedly did not have the patience (or skill) to make said canapés, we did arrange cheese and crackers on this beautiful tray, and they looked all the better for it.
Made from a combination of marble and agate with a detachable gold-coloured stand that incorporates the roomy handles, we particularly liked the gold detailing around the edges of the agate. As it’s made from natural stone, no one tray is the same, and the irregular shape, swirling patina and subtle colour variations only add to its beauty. While we admit its uses are limited – it’s purely for serving and presentation, and not the largest of trays – it’s likely the most gorgeous serving platter you’ll ever buy, despite its £150 price tag.
Buy now £150.00, Amara.com
World Menagerie bellamy vanity tray
Best for: High-end looks on a budget
Love the look of marble but can’t quite justify the price? Then fake it. This round gold and dusky-purple design is much more practical than real marble as it’s lighter and not prone to staining, yet retains the character of the genuine article. It’s made from glass with a wood surround, with sleek cut-outs for the handles.
The gold finish on the wood and subtle shimmer in the marble-effect design belie the low price tag, and while it’s a little on the heavy side, it feels more robust than its fancy looks would have you believe. It’s stylish enough to serve drinks and nibbles at a dinner party, and practical enough for carrying the bowls of hot soup we loaded it with.
Buy now £46.99, Wayfair.co.uk
The Art Rooms Jacky Al-Samarraie landscape birch wood tray in teal
Best for: Cool Scandi style
Scandinavian design principles centre around simplicity, practicality and understated elegance, and this pleasingly pretty tray has all those bases covered. Made by hand on the Swedish island of Oland using layers of sustainably-sourced birch, this tray is lightweight, strong and versatile – we used it to eat dinner from while parked in front of the TV, carry a stack of plates to the dishwasher and serve a round of drinks – and it was adept at all three.
The melamine coating on the front and back means it’s super easy to wipe clean, though it can also be placed in the dishwasher. Its square shape makes a nice change from the more common rectangular trays we’ve tested, and the bold splash of teal is a lovely contrast to the delicate silhouetted tree design. A great all-rounder.
Buy now £34.00, Theartrooms.co.uk
The verdict: Trays
We love Zara Home’s bamboo and wood tray with legs for its simplicity, versatility and eco-friendly credentials at a great price. It’s also an on-trend choice, with bamboo certainly enjoying its time in the home-decor spotlight right now.
Honourable mention must go to the Sara Miller Parrots large handled deep round tray available at John Lewis for its incredible sturdiness – it feels indestructible and looks very jolly covered with all those colourful parrots.
And we’d be remiss if we left the Amara Luxe agate slab tray out of the mix. It’s stylish and glitzy without looking tacky and will surely turn heads at any dinner party or festive gathering.
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