One by one, 10 grinning people walk into a room, elbows bent and forearms outstretched as they curtsy slightly to show the camera what they’re carrying. The first is holding a board laden with potato-and-pastry-based beige treats; the second appears with a board full of scattered chips and a few jars of dip. The third person is also holding a board—this time featuring slices of pizza.
The fourth person’s board has wings, the seventh’s is an artfully arranged rainbow of candy, and the ninth’s has the most recognizable board fodder: meat and cheese. This is a TikTok of 21-year-old Rayann Prophet’s “board night,” also known as a “bring a board” night—which is exactly what it sounds like.
Far from a flop era, boards are arguably in their imperial phase after serving for centuries as a steadfast flat surface for food. In September, the internet exploded when food blogger Justine Doiron showed off something called a “butter board.” It was a slathering of dairy across a slab of wood that resulted in 8.6 million TikTok views, coverage in The New York Times, and a bonafide backlash (comedian Chelsea Peretti begged “no more butter boards” on Twitter). But one thing the coverage missed was that this goes far beyond butter. Boards have been having their moment—and social media is to blame.
The “bring a board” trend started on TikTok around Thanksgiving in 2021 and hit huge peaks of popularity this year. The premise is simple: Each pal brings a board laden with a different treat and everyone tucks in. Crucially, the boards are removed from your classic charcuterie—one of Prophet’s friends brought a McDonald’s board piled with nuggets and fries. “It’s like the new potluck,” says the Ontario-based student, whose board night TikTok earned 6 million views and 1.2 million likes.
Why boards, and why now? Instagram birthed the grazing table trend in 2018, and the plateless yards of overlapping snacks became so popular that celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Tom Hardy got their graze on. “Charcuterie influencers” then rose to prominence in 2020 with artful, decadent deli spreads. Over the past couple of years, the trend has seemingly trickled down, likely because boards are accessible and portable and therefore TikTok-able (the app surpassed Instagram for Gen Z usage in 2021). Unlike a static table, a board can be carried and presented, making for a more interesting video.
“A factor that’s driving the popularity of boards is the fact that they are visually impressive—i.e. perfect social media fodder—but they don’t require ‘cheffy’ skills to make,” says food expert Shokofeh Hejazi, head of insight at trends agency The Food People. Post-lockdown, Hejazi says, people are excited to share food again while also looking for “stress-free ways to host,” making boards ideal.
“They are a blank canvas for culinary creativity—there are no rules on how to make them, and they don’t need to look ‘perfect,’ which makes them a fun activity for both host and guests,” she says.
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In May, 25-year-old client coordinator Lavender Haung threw a board night with five friends. There was a bread and dips board, a Chinese BBQ board, a sushi board, and a fried chicken board, among others. “It’s fun, easy to organize, and also extremely visually appealing,” Toronto-based Huang says when asked why board nights are so popular. “We were able to slowly eat the food as we caught up for hours that night.”
It’s not just food boards that are popular on TikTok: “Cocktail boards” are also having a mini-moment. Here, each friend creates a cocktail and presents it to the group on a board (sometimes the nights are themed so that each cocktail is related to the friend in question’s job). In fact, it doesn’t matter how board-able a food or drink is—in 2022, it will be brought on board. Earlier this month, a TikToker known as “The Board Loon” created a soup board featuring four bowls of soup, bread rolls, and some crackers.
Of course, like a lot of things on the internet, board nights are not always as easy as they look. “I wanna know how they got the board from their house to their friend’s door,” reads a comment with 21,000 likes on a September board night post with 1.4 million TikTok likes. Prophet and Huang say all of their friends’ boards were actually assembled at the party’s location, despite the trend making it look like everyone arrived with a premade board. Prophet also says it took her and her friends “months of talking about it for it to actually happen”—she kept notes so that no one brought the same foods, and she and one friend purchased new boards from the dollar store.
“We were not able to eat it all. There were soooo many leftovers!” Prophet says when asked. If she threw another board night, she’d “try to have more real foods and less snacky foods, as we needed more dinner foods.”
So, will we get bored with the board? The butter boom prompted copycats to try out their own offerings, and a “Ben & Jerry’s board” posted by the ice cream brand in early October did not go down well with some viewers. “Can we stop? Stop! Please stop! This is unholy, this isn’t what God intended,” lamented comedian Jared Fried, who roasts charcuterie boards on TikTok and sells $50 wooden boards engraved with the words “BOARD LORD” on his website.
As with all trends, brands jumping on the bandwagon could be the kiss of death. But in the meantime, Halloween-based charBOOterie boards are just around the corner. Could they possibly be scarier than four bowls of soup artfully arranged on some wood?