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04/02/2012 03:22 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Buying Guide: Do You Know What To Look For In A Tray?

The serving tray is undoubtedly one of the most versatile accessories in the home. It can be used as a place for food and drinks, or it can also help you organize groupings of items, such as barware and candles. And, sometimes larger trays with raised sides can even help keep small stacks of magazines neat and contained. Moreover, a colorful serving tray is an easy way to bring a decorative accent into a room.

The size, shape and look of a serving tray depends largely on your style, but here are a few very general tips to keep in mind when you're shopping for one.

Decide on materials. Trays made of metal are great for serving food and beverages because they have a naturally elegant look, and they're also durable and easy to clean. The same goes for melamine; but there is a possibility of fading over time from frequent washing. Wood trays actually work best as organizing pieces that can help keep items like remote controls and even small stacks of magazines contained. If you have an ottoman, try using it as a coffee table and placing a wood serving tray on top for a polished look. As for rattan trays, they work well both indoors and out as a surface for setting down a book or a drink. However, keep in mind that most rattan used for trays is raw, which means they absorb liquids and end up getting stained or weirdly sticky).

Consider lacquer finishes. Wood trays with a lacquered finish have added versatility since the glossy coating protects them from liquids and food stains. This also makes cleaning the easier since all it requires is wiping down the surface. However, lacquer finishes do tend to mean a higher price tag, but if you're looking to get a tray that you'll be using over for ages it's worth the slightly higher cost. Our pick: Lacquer wood tray by West Elm

Go for sides and handles. Serving trays with raised sides (at least 2" high) are especially useful since they help keep drinks from toppling over and they can also keep items contained. Likewise, trays with handles are a plus because they are more easily portable than ones without handles, which are often better used as a stationary organizing piece. Most serving trays feature cutout handles, which are holes carved out from the raised sides of the tray. These provide a firm grip, but they can also sometimes cut into your hand. The only exception? Rattan and metal handles that are sometimes extend from the ends of trays -- they are not only strong but they also don't hurt your palms like cutout handles. Our pick: Multicolor Medallion serving tray from Target

Looking for a serving tray? Check out what we've rounded up from the marketplace. And, let us know what you like about serving trays in comments below.

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