FROM BRIDES OPTING to wear colored dresses instead of classic white gowns to the selection of unusual ceremony sites, weddings continue to merge personal style with traditional touches, and wedding menus are no exception. Here, three caterers discuss what clients are looking for to create their fantasy wedding feasts.
Modern couples — no longer satisfied asking guests “chicken or fish?” — Are seeking fresh ways to ensure that their reception menu is as unique as every other element of their big day.
At New York-based Great Performances, “clients are looking for something less cookie-cutter, more personalized,” explains vice president Linda Abbey. “We're seeing a lot of requests for ethnic foods because people of different backgrounds are getting married, and they want their heritages to be expressed in the menu.” While cuisines such as Indian and Asian are popular right now, “it becomes more of an extension of the bride and groom when they incorporate it into their wedding.” she notes. Clients also want items that are more exciting than the routine carving stations or shrimp cocktails. “A nice take on pasta would be a ravioli station with foie gras ravioli in brown butter or butternut squash ravioli — we take a predictable food such as pasta and update it,” Abbey says.
Sheldon Sloan, director of sales at Melons Catering & Event Planning in South San Francisco, Calif., notes that instead of trying to merge different cuisines into a single dish, “Couples of different ethnic backgrounds can incorporate both cuisines into the menu by choosing one style for the cocktail hour and another for dinner — for example, Latin-style hors d'oeuvre during cocktails and a California-style entree.”
At Chicago-based caterer Blue Plate, wedding consultant Krista Blaho says that in addition to their heritages, she's seeing couples take inspiration for menus everywhere “from their favorite home-style food to a ballpark theme [to represent] where they met to their favorite pastimes.”
Caterers also have to contend with the challenge of today's older, savvier couples.
“The explosion of food media over the past 10 years has given clients an insight into the chef's art, and they will accept nothing less than the best quality,” Sloan explains. “No matter what the specific tastes or ethnic background of the client, they are demanding better quality food from start to finish … even if it's a chicken dinner, it has to be the highest quality organic chicken available.”
And it's not just the food that must be first-rate. “Almost every bride I speak with has experienced a ‘bad’ wedding, and that influences how they plan their own,” he notes. “They've seen either marginal food or poor service — everyone seems to have experienced the one-hour delay between courses. Not only does the food have to wow, but the service has to as well.”
The traditional three-course meal is no longer the automatic choice for receptions. Sloan says that he's seeing more requests for family-style meals. “Clients are considering family-style for two primary reasons: First, it allows them to offer a variety of foods, such as meat, fish and vegetarian. Second, couples like the casual, interactive quality of this style of service.” However, he cautions that like buffets, the casual nature of family-style meals doesn't translate to a lower cost. “One chooses family-style not because of the price, but because it achieves the style of the wedding.”
While sit-down dinners are still in demand at Blue Plate, “With so many new and interesting venues, we're seeing an increasing number of requests for cocktail receptions,” Blaho notes. “People still want to make it very elegant, but not as orchestrated.” Setting up action stations that pair menu items with coordinating beverages — “tapas with red or white sangria, sushi with sake, risotto with Italian beer” — is a chic alternative and gives the bride and groom more opportunities to mingle with guests, she says.
The customary finish to the wedding menu is a slice of wedding cake, but even there, progressive brides and grooms are breaking with tradition.
Sloan notes that many of his clients are requesting plated desserts or even elaborate dessert buffets in addition to the wedding cake. “We almost always present bite-size desserts at the end of the meal,” he says, naming house-made ice cream in miniature waffle cones as a festive choice.
Caterers are also seeing brides and grooms who aren't going the wedding cake route at all. “I just spoke to a groom who said he didn't want a cake, but he wanted everybody to have an individual cupcake — of course, it had to be the most beautiful cupcake you ever saw,” Abbey says.
Blue Plate, 312/421-6666; Great Performances, 212/727-2424; Melons Catering & Event Planning, 650/583-1756