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JUST as with the other elements of today's totally customized weddings, reception menus reflect the bride and groom's personal style. From formal seated dinners to relaxed receptions, caterers discuss the menu trends that excite and entice modern brides and grooms.


“We are seeing a trend toward multi-course seated dinners with a succession of small plates and tastes rather than the standard three-course meal,” says Wendy Pashman, president of Entertaining Co. in Chicago. “More than ever before, we are offering ‘small preludes’ as guests sit down to the table prior to the first course.” These could include serving a mixture of chips such as plantain, red beet, yellow beet and sweet potato with pineapple chutney, or a “baba meze” tray featuring Middle Eastern dips and breads — “just something to share and munch on during toasts,” she notes.

Lisa Hill, sales manager at Atlanta-based Bold American Catering, notes that miniature foods, such as mini cheeseburgers, mini chili dogs, mini cones of seasoned French fries, and soup shooters served in shot glasses “are all the rage right now” for weddings in her region. “All of this food is completely recognizable,” she says, “but the miniature size makes it fun and exciting for wedding guests.”

Smaller plates are fun to create, but they also mean more service and prep work, Hill says. Menu items such as one-bite Caesar salad on a fork and trios of soup shooters “require more plates per person,” she explains. “But with talented chefs in the kitchen, they are able to offer constant replenishment so the food remains fresh and hot right up to the minute guests take their first bite.”


It's not just cuisine that reflects the couple's tastes, but service styles as well.

“The service style requested for any particular wedding is definitely dictated by the bride's age, marital situation and budget,” Pashman says. “For a first-time bride, a seated dinner is most popular.” Meanwhile, “Second-time and older brides tend to prefer more eclectic party-like atmospheres that lend themselves to stations or cocktail reception-style weddings. These brides are generally more interested in an event with a great deal of flow and mingling and with a greater diversity of food selections to tempt their guests.” She notes that approximately 35 percent of the weddings her company produces are seated, plated-style dinners; contrary to common opinion, because portion sizes can be controlled, “seated dinners are more economical for us to produce,” she says.

“Swanky cocktail receptions are what most of our brides are going for these days,” Hill says. “This type of reception includes action stations with chef attendants, which not only provides an exciting assortment of food, but entertainment for guests.” She attributes the popularity of the trend to the fact that “chefs have become such superstars now that it is important to get them in front of the guests.” Brides also like the flexibility of this type of service because “it allows their party to be more fluid and fun.”

Specialty cocktails are especially popular for weddings, Hill says. “Many brides are selecting cocktails and renaming them to include their and/or their groom's last name as a signature cocktail for the event,” she explains. “If Sally Smith marries John Stanley, they may choose to serve a ‘Smith-tini’ and a ‘Stanley spritzer.’” The signature drinks “personalize an event and make it fun and memorable for everyone involved.”


Of course, no wedding feast would be complete without something sweet at the end of the meal.

“You still see the traditional white cake, but the movement is now toward different fondants and decorations,” notes Jonathan St. Hilaire, corporate executive pastry chef for Atlanta-based Concentrics Restaurants. “People want more of a theme to their cakes — {they want to see} a lot more of the color of the wedding theme in the cake.”

St. Hilaire recommends that cakes be ordered at least six months ahead of the wedding date. “A cake is not something that can be made and held for a long period of time,” he notes. “You want to make sure the chef is available and will have time to do the cake.”

Alternatives to traditional tiered cakes such as cupcake towers are popular, especially for younger brides and less formal weddings, Pashman says. And while most wedding menus don't include a dessert course in addition to the cake, after dinner “our brides love small, sweet items such as mini root beer floats and malteds to be passed, or to offer a coffee and cookie station near the coat check as guests leave.”


Bold American Catering, 678/302-3232; Concentrics Restaurants, 404/888-0659; Entertaining Co., 312/829-2800

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