By Beth Erickson, Wedding Planner Magazine
1. Late-Night Wedding Snacks
Guests who stay well past the main meal to socialize and dance the night away work up an appetite, which is why many brides and grooms add late-night wedding snacks to cap off their day. Items often resemble “street fare fun foods,” comfort foods, and easy breakfast pick up food. Think sugared donuts on a stick served over coffee, mini grilled cheese triangles with a tomato soup shooter, silver dollar pancake stacks, beef sliders with truffled French fries, or fried chicken biscuits with honey.
2. Gourmet Food Trucks
Mobile eateries have been around since the days of the chuck wagon in the 1800s, offering the convenience of comfort food where and when you need it. Over time, food trucks were seen as festival fare, but today, they’re popular from New York to California and offer everything from fried foods like funnel cakes and corn dogs to more upscale sushi and crab cakes. What does that mean for weddings? Many couples are embracing this unique trend as a creative way to feed wedding guests—for the rehearsal dinner, cocktail hour, an outdoor tented reception, or after-hour wedding parties. Multiple food trucks can be brought to almost any venue and serve a variety of ethnic foods, seafood, or the American favorite hamburgers and hot dogs. Food trucks can serve as stations even, with one offering rice or baked potatoes, another featuring a variety of vegetables, and yet another with a protein, perhaps even personalized with a favorite chicken recipe passed down through generations. Be sure to plan for the climate and the number of anticipated guests.
3. Artisan Spirits, Signature Drinks, Craft Beers, Wine
Weddings are about celebration and savoring the good things in life: family, friends, food—and don’t forget drinks. More and more couples are getting creative in how they incorporate wine and spirits. Signature drinks remain popular—whether based on the season or the bride and groom’s preference—but now craft beer displays, perhaps coupled with seasoned varieties of popcorn; artisan spirits; and even wine tastings are growing in popularity. Wine varietals, like sauvignon blanc, malbec, pinot noir, zinfandel, rosé, and riesling are being requested more often to enhance the menu.
4. Decadent Desserts
It hasn’t been “just wedding cake” in years. The creative dessert offerings at weddings grow more inspired each year. Pie buffets or dessert stations with assorted parfaits, cookies, truffles, pudding, cannoli shells, brownies, and cheesecake are popular. Non-fat frozen yogurt or ice cream bars with white, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream stations include scrumptious toppings like crushed Oreos and Butterfingers, candy sprinkles, nuts, whipping cream, and cherries for guests to create their own sundaes. Assorted candy buffets and even cotton candy stations create buzz and excitement among guests. For those who decide cake is the way to go, the options are limitless: from multiple frosting and filling flavor combinations to cheesecakes, gluten-free options, and even elaborate cupcakes.
5. Niche Food Bars
As the average wedding size continues to grow, niche food bars have become increasingly popular. They offer a greater variety of food and are cost-effective since fewer servers are needed. The guests enjoy the cultural motifs, ice sculptures, and use of up lighting at each station. The key to a good station is always to have action—a chef cooking or finishing off an item at the table, or a server assembling the different components of the dish. It makes the station feel alive and will also move the quality of the food up a notch. Food at a station doesn’t have to be fancy and high-end to be effective if you add action. Niche food stations also give the guests an opportunity to mingle as they move about the reception hall. Even better are the mouth-watering food choices. Imagine: crawfish étouffée and grits served in martini glasses; mashed potato and sweet potato stations with condiments like brown sugar, butter, pecan, marshmallow, green onion, bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives; seafood and sushi offerings; Mediterranean foods like samosas, bruschetta, lamb, grilled chicken, vegetables, hummus, assorted cheeses; Brazilian items like grilled chicken and flank steak, andouille sausage, bratwurst, grilled yellow and zucchini squash, Portobello mushrooms with sauces like chimichurri and barbecue; bruschettas with grilled shrimp, turkey, filet mignon topped with fruit, assorted cheeses and garnish; and street fare like mini muffalettas, fajitas, sliders, and hot dogs. Just about anything is possible.
6. Coffee Bar
Complete with its own barista, coffee bars at weddings appeal to all partygoers. It looks and feels like an upscale coffee shop at your wedding and ties in nicely with wedding dessert offerings. Whether guests want regular or decaf, mochas, au laits, or lattes, they can order it their way. Add hot cocoa and frappé drinks for the younger guests and cordial shots for the adults.
7. Healthier Kids’ Choices
Say goodbye to chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and French fries. A growing trend in schools, restaurants, and catering is enhanced nutrition for children’s meals—offering healthier food choices with more whole grains, fruits and veggies as sides (think carrot sticks and cut apples or melons), and even mini-meals that are smaller versions of adult menu items. This falls in line, too, with the recent USDA dietary guidelines that suggest increasing fruits and vegetables in the diets of all Americans. Above all, in preparation of children’s meals, it’s important to go nut-free—avoiding foods with tree nuts or peanuts—for those with allergies.
8. Locally-Sourced/Seasonal Fare
A trend for several years, local sourcing of food continues to be popular as consumers look to reduce their carbon footprint, support local growers and farmers, offer quality products, and keep costs down. Everything from locally sourced vegetables to meats, seafoods, ice cream, wines, beers, and spirits is possible. If it’s made locally, it can be offered. Some caterers and restaurants even have their own gardens for veggies and bee colonies for honey. Local sourcing of catered items, also encourages seasonal consideration by being aware of what is available locally during the time of year of the event.
9. Enhanced Intermezzo
You eat with your eye, so presentation is just as important as taste. One of the courses being made over is intermezzo—to get away from just a scoop of sorbet in a martini glass. If the martini glass is your only vessel, rim it with a colored sugar. Add mint, basil, or even frozen sugared grapes to kick it up a notch. To really make an impact, try using a different vessel. Coupes are huge right now. Also, small, low-lipped glass bowls such as a “fantasy glass” make a nice statement. For really special events, consider individual, lighted ice sculptures to hold the sorbet. Other ideas? Wrap the sorbet in a foil, like a piece of French candy. Use an exotic sorbet and stray away from lemon and lime. Consider a wine-infused sorbet with cabernet, merlot, or sangría; late fall raspberry with Chambord float; Hachiya persimmon and lychee garnished with mint-leaf tempura; black pepper blackberry; or Italian lemon ice served in the paper cup with a wooden spoon. Another idea is to move away from sorbet entirely and serve shaved ice granitas or a liquid intermezzo like a non-alcoholic version of punch romaine.
10. Allergy-free Fare
Since Chelsea Clinton’s wedding several years ago, in which she offered vegan and gluten-free menu items, a refreshing change has taken place in the catering industry for brides and grooms with food allergies or Celiac disease—an ever-growing group of vendors and caterers who are able to provide allergy-free alternatives.
With food allergies on the rise, there is an ever-growing need to accommodate those who must eat a certain way because they have no choice. For these individuals, eating, or in some cases, even being exposed to certain foods can create a life-threatening situation. They, their planners, and caterers must take food content, preparation, and serving requirements very seriously in order to keep guests safe during the event. Some in the hospitality industry view the extra precautions as overhead, but fortunately, there are some great chefs and caterers who have taken them to heart and are making a difference for those with allergies. This is a really important trend that cannot be ignored. In some cases, allergies can be very severe. You can ruin a guest’s reception by not taking care of their needs—not to mention, potentially risk his or her life.
In some cases, these vendors have food allergies or Celiac disease themselves, or have a close family member who does. They understand firsthand what is involved. The truly allergen-free and gluten-free vendors have had training for themselves and their staff in how to prepare their work environment and handle the food safely from source-to-service without risking cross-contamination. Their staff knows how to respond to guest questions without making the guest feel conspicuous for asking, “What is in the food?” They understand the medical nature of the request. The product? It’s just as tasty and quality as food for those without allergies. In most cases, no one would know the difference.
Just how do you find an allergen-free or gluten-free caterer? Ask around, google it, but remember, there are no industry standards that dictate the required level of training or certification for a caterer or venue claiming this service. Instead, it is the responsibility of the planner and client to probe deeper and ensure they understand just what the caterer means. All food at stations needs to be properly labeled. All menu requests need to be given to the caterer in advance of the function (at least 72 hours). Planners need to make special notes and help the caterer make these special guests feel their needs are being accommodated. A few simple questions during the initial meeting with the venue/caterer, bride and groom are usually enough to solve the mystery.
- How many allergen-free or gluten-free events have you done?
- Did you provide just a few special meals or were the entire events allergen/gluten free?
- Are you associated with or certified by the Food Allergy Anaphylaxis Network, Gluten Intolerance Group, Celiac Sprue Association, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, or any other kitchen management training program for preparing and handling food for people with allergies?
- How much of your staff has received training?
- Do you have a separate kitchen or a kosher kitchen?
- If you prepare everything in the same kitchen, what are your best practices and protocols for preventing cross-contamination? (Do they use separate surfaces, condiments, utensils, toasters, fryers, grills, pans, boiling, storage, and presentation?)
- Do you have a separate room for your bakery?
- Do you allow gluten-free baked goods from another bakery?
- How do you handle foods with allergens and or gluten on a buffet?
A seasoned, reputable caterer will answer these questions with ease. If you are not satisfied with the responses, move to the next caterer on your list. ••
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