Weddings are the ultimate form of self-expression. So it’s no wonder that couples today are showing their personalities not only through their ceremony and reception styles, but also through the food and drinks they serve their guests. Check out these 15 catering trends we can’t wait to sink our teeth into.
First there was sit down, then there was buffet, and now there’s family style, where plates of food are placed in the middle of the table with serving utensils for guests to help themselves. “People are breaking bread together at the table and serving each other food,” says celebrity caterer Andrea Correale, owner of Elegant Affairs in Glen Cove, New York, who has planned parties for celebs like Diddy and Kelly Ripa.
Rolling stations for cocktail hour
Passed trays are always an elegant and efficient way to deliver small bites to your guests, but the culinary trend of dim sum is now making its way into the wedding world, says Correale. Dumplings as well as other appetizers or small plates are rolled on carts throughout the cocktail party and guests can pick and choose what they’d like. It’s a fun conversation starter and something many guests won’t have seen at the last few weddings they attended.
Matching apps with a drink
Pairing wine with entrées is always nice. But the new trend is matching passed appetizers with a cocktail or microbrew. “We recently did an event with tiny lobster tacos paired with a mini-hibiscus margarita. Another time we did a mini-pastrami sandwich paired with a mini-mug of craft beer,” says Alix Brewster, communications coordinator for Wolfgang Puck Catering in Los Angeles, which catered Gwen Stefani’s wedding to Gavin Rossdale as well as Kim Kardashian’s now infamous nuptials to Kris Humphries.
Correale says she’s seen a sharp increase in requests for vegetarian and gluten-free options from health-conscious couples, including veggie sushi. “I just think the health movement is now trickling down into the event space. Vegetable sushi is fabulous—people who are not vegetarians still love it,” says Correale. Another health-food favorite? Kale as a stand-in for romaine lettuce in a Caesar salad. If couples are in their 20s or 30s, some guests will be attending a half dozen or more weddings in a single year—and many will appreciate a healthy option or two.
These comfort food creations were big hits this year at receptions, and will continue to be a favorite, says Correale, who serves different types of mini-meatballs paired with a variety of focaccia and sauces, like peppercorn cognac sauce or sundried tomato pesto. “Meatballs are huge right now. It’s meatball madness in New York City, and that’s carrying into our events,” says Correale.
Desserts on a stick
This state-fair favorite was popular last year and will continue to have a major wedding menu moment this year, Brewster says. “We’re predicting that cheesecake pops wrapped in cotton candy, red velvet push pops and macarons on a stick will be very prominent this year,” she adds. Not only is this confection presentation adorable, but it encourages mingling because you don’t need a fork and plate to eat.
Hot chocolate bars
Winter weddings deserve a special signature cocktail, and Correale says she’s seeing spiked hot chocolate bars as the perfect warming seasonal sips. “We’ll set up a bar where people can have a bartender add Baileys, amaretto, Kahlua or any other cordial to their adults-only hot chocolate,” says Correale. Teetotalers will love a grown-up nonalcoholic variety, like lavender- or caramel-infused chocolate.
Colored cocktail glasses
Signature drinks have been standard wedding fare for years, but now the presentation is taking center stage, Correale says. “The trend is creating a beautiful signature cocktail using not only the alcohol and the garnish, but also the shape and color of the glass itself,” she notes. Just like the napkins, flowers or chairs, the glass becomes a design element of the party. “We just catered an oceanfront event, and people walked in to see clear-glass shelving units with variations of blue glasses filled with cocktails. It was beautiful to see the sunlight reflecting on the glass,” says Correale.
Having cocktail hour before the ceremony
The old-school plan was having a cocktail party immediately after the ceremony. The new school is moving the cocktail hour up to a preceremony start, with or without the bride and groom (this may depend on superstition, as well as whether or not they’ll be tied up doing the also-trendy “first look” photo). “When people first go to the ceremony, they’re meeting and greeting, and it can make sense to do that first—almost like you’re going to a performance. It’s refreshing to do it this way,” says Correale. She adds that a nice side effect is that everyone will be on time for the vows; if they’re running late they’ll only miss a glass of champagne, and not the “I dos.”
There are so many reasons to consider a brunch reception—cost control being one. Another reason? It’s totally on trend. “Instead of just doing a night wedding, particularly for second weddings, people are doing a fabulous brunch, often in a garden or waterfront setting. To make it memorable, think beyond a basic bacon-and-egg buffet. Correale recommends a potato latke bar, or serving eggs five different ways: benedict, deviled, mini-frittatas, mini-egg salad sliders and scrambled with salmon. Another option is a cereal bar with a couple’s favorites (like Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms and Life) displayed in pretty glass jars. For drinks, standard favorites are Bloody Mary’s (which can be offered with a toppings and mix-in bar) or varieties of mimosas. Night reception? No problem! It’s also on trend to serve brunch food—for dinner!
Manhattan crowds lined up to try New York City’s latest pastry crave Cronuts this year. And their cousin, donuts, are still huge at weddings, especially when a chef is freshly preparing them in front of guests or when displayed in an interesting way. “We’ve done a 20-foot donut wall with the pastries hung on nails, and as people walk out of the reception, they slip them into paper bags to go,” notes Correale.
The continuing trend of healthy eating (including farm-to-table menus) makes locally grown veggies a must-serve, but crudité is pretty passé. Newer presentations, using skewers or shot glasses (with dip on the bottom), are becoming popular. “We’re also seeing vegetables being displayed monochromatically, and with a variety of new healthier dips, like bean spreads and carrot purees,” says Correale.
In 2014, cheese platters at weddings will get the sommelier treatment, with a knowledgeable server making recommendations to guests. “You can have him or her give information on the flavor profile—it makes it much more interactive rather than just putting out a platter. Sometimes we’ll do this in a rolling cart style, where we have a server bring around a platter of artisanal cheese postdinner,” says Correale. “Cheese also makes a great late night snack.”
Ice cream sundae bars
Correale says this old-school birthday party standard is making its way into wedding receptions “with a vengeance.” Correale and creative caters like her are jazzing up the concept with inventive toppings like hot crushed apple pie (presented in fondue pots) and fresh baked cookies (housed in giant jars) for customized, gourmet ice cream sandwiches.
Better beverage bars
Taco and pasta bars have been popular for years. Now, nonalcoholic beverage bars are becoming big trends. Correale has created water bars—with a choice of flat or sparkling and condiments from lemon-grassed infused ice to fresh cranberries—for her brides and grooms. Another tasty option is a loose-leaf tea bar, where guests can mix and match leaves for their perfect blend. And for your alcoholic drinks, why not up the ante from the usual mixes? “We’re seeing spirits being paired with fresh organic juices for signature cocktails as well as made-to-order drinks. We make a lot of drinks with fresh squeezed lemon juice and pressed ginger,” says Correale.
By Amy Levin-Epstein and Lisa Ziviello