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By Lisa Hopkins, CPCE, CMP, President, National Association for Catering and Events
The biggest themes in catering trends these days are global foods, keeping items light and simple, and branding events with personal flair. Let’s examine what that means for weddings.

The cocktail hour DiageoHouston270
Trend: Keep hors d’oeuvres simple and small
Weddings are fun, celebratory times. Choose hors d’oeuvres that people can eat easily or in one bite while walking around and talking. Mini food items paired with tiny shooters are very popular. Surprise the guests with their favorite comfort food choices like bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches on top of a tomato soup shooter. Other fun ideas are mini burgers with milkshake shooters, pigs in a blanket with beer shooters, or shrimp skewers with margarita shooters.

Practically anything that can be picked up with two fingers is a popular catering trend for one good reason—less mess. They’re also a much-needed steppingstone to the main course that follows. Appetizers should include light foods like vegetables, seafood, and possibly poultry. Keep in mind that hors d’oeuvres should be three things: light, fun, and fast. Don’t serve too many heavy types of meat prior to the entree as it confuses the palate. The progression of food should move from light to heavy.

For a more whimsical affair, try finger foods, such as vegetable trays with dip, cheese fondue stations, deviled eggs, and fresh salads. Mini foods can also have an elegant flare. For instance, shrimp cocktails, dainty sandwiches, attractive fruit and vegetable trays, stuffed mushrooms, vegetable rolls and mini quiches add an air of sophistication to any menu.

A unique cocktail is a trendy way to please guests, one can also save money rather than having an open bar. Seasonal cocktails are a trending choice. For summer, popular flavors are fresh juices, peaches, plums and sangria.
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The main attraction
Trend: Global recipes
The main course is the highlight. By this time, guests have sampled, sipped, and tasted a variety of starter foods but are ready for the main attraction. More and more these are served at food stations. One major trend that has been popping up is food with a cultural flair. Mexico is a common place of inspiration. Masa and tacos with a variety of meat such as carnitas, carne asada, and nopales are cannot-fail entrées. Tacos always add an international flair, but today they have become adaptable to non-traditional styles. Caribbean and Lebanese tacos are popular, along with Greek-style, where the traditional shell is replaced with soft pita bread.

Another hot addition to the ethnic menu is Gochujang, a popular Korean hot sauce. Much like another popular hot sauce, Sriracha, Gochujang is a chile paste that can be added to almost any food for extra kick. Cooking meats with various Indian spices is also a rising trend. Using chimichurri for beef adds a wonderful flavor guests won’t expect. One of the trendiest healthy menu options is winter vegetables, served fresh. Vegetables that grow in the winter, such as squash, kale, and turnip, are turning up in light and fresh servings as opposed to roasted and stewed versions.

Trend: Local ingredients
Local foods are growing in popularity and are a way to save money, says Jerry Edwards, president and corporate chef of Chef’s Expressions in Baltimore. “Local foods are less expensive, because there is no middle man involved and the product quality is a lot better.”

NACENewOrleans032The most popular foods to buy locally are pork, beef, bison, seafood, vegetables, and fruit. Guests will certainly be pleased with these fresh options, not only because of the quality, but also because of the hometown pride. Smaller portions often mean more variety for the discerning foodie guests. These vary regionally. Other products, too, can be acquired locally. For example, San Diego is arguably the newest craft-beer capital in the U.S., says Renee Hirsh of the French Gourmet in San Diego. Hirsh says special beers are often added to the local wedding menus. Coupling a local craze with food is easy for professional chefs to orchestrate.

Trend: Labeling the selections
Appropriately, guests are no longer being quiet about their own dietary needs and restrictions—whether it is diabetes, gluten-free, low fat, or religious or cultural. However, planners are now seeing that you can pick a menu for the majority and manage the exceptions successfully. That is one reason why labeling what people are eating has become such a popular trend. Labeling must be done with flair, on the appropriate stationery and presented on stands or in frames that match the décor of the table. Done right, labeling adds a touch of glamour and the information guests need.

After the Entrée:  
Trend: Small desserts plus the 
wedding cake
The big, traditional wedding cake is usually something guests enjoy, but today other desserts take the spotlight. Variety is the name of the game, and dessert tables that offer guests multiple, small desserts are increasingly popular.

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Brownie and cake pops have become a popular treat, especially for weddings. They are small and simple to eat because there are no knives and forks involved. They also add an element of fun because they can be decorated in a multitude of creative ways. Another trendy dessert is the French macaron. As macarons have become more Americanized, we have seen them in every color of the rainbow. This makes them even more fun and adds a pop of color to the dessert table.

Trend: Personalized features, such as cupcakes2012WT415djonesphoto
Cupcakes are a standby, but couples have been experimenting with DIY food bars at which guests can choose a cupcake flavor, icing, and special toppings to create a unique design and taste.

Trend: Late-night snacks
After the guests have danced off the savory main course, they will need to re-energize. A late-night snack is emerging as a major trend. Why? Well, not only have guests been working up an appetite on the dance floor, they have been drinking for hours. Late-night is the time to slow down the drinking and fill their bellies with scrumptious midnight snacks.

Here are some fun, new ways to leave guests feeling satisfied at the end of the night. Burgers, fries, pizza, and quesadillas are certainly things you normally wouldn’t expect at a wedding, but at the end of the night, a little fried, greasy goodness leaves them feeling happy. Another popular, yet quirky snack is gourmet popcorn. Popcorn is fun and can add a lot of unique flavor to the night—think cheddar cheese, garlic, chipotle, salted caramel, and chocolate to name a few.

Serving breakfast at the end of the night is a genius idea. When guests see their favorite foods like pancakes, waffles, bacon, and biscuits, they will surely feel like they’re in bed and breakfast heaven—minus the bed.

Branding wedding events remains a big trend—and that includes the food. From signature drinks and personalized, DIY desserts or snack bars to matching the colors, flavors, and style of what’s served to the decor, theme, or personal tastes of the couple, the idea is to help couples put their creative stamp of approval on each course. Done right, this makes an indelible impression on the guests’ memories and 
their palates.

The Six Top Trends for Today’s 
Wedding Menus

1. Brand the event with a signature cock tail or, perhaps, a personalized cupcake  station. Use elements that reflect the  personalities of the bride and groom.

2. Label your foods in an artistic and  beautiful way, making it both elegant  and informative.

3. DIY bars add an element of fun— think taco bars, gourmet popcorn  bars, dessert bars, s’mores bar, cupcake decorating, and more.

4. Think globally when it comes to food selections and styles, but use local ingredients whenever possible.

5. Get creative with desserts. You can have your cake, and eat other treats, too.

6. Stick to bold flavors and simple, basic recipes. Your chefs will thank you in the morning.