When trying to recall the hazy dinners of weddings past, images of dreary seared salmon or overcooked steak drenched in a port wine glaze usually spring to mind. Yet with caterers adopting trends like tasting menus and interactive activities at meals, brides and grooms are offered more choices than ever on the food front. Here, a look at the top trends in wedding food for 2017.
Keep it small
Tiny, composed passed dishes, known as “roaming buffets,” are popping up all over. “It’s a way for guests to fully integrate into the event and not be segregated by tables. Roaming buffets keep the flow of the event moving and energetic,” says Kathleen Schaffer of the hospitality company Schaffer. “We have done several weddings recently with interactive stations, where chefs create small, composed plates served with cocktail forks, as well as passing them. Rather than tucking into a whole plated entrée, couples are opting for more choices and variety in menus.”
“Couples are way more educated and adventurous with their menus,” says Carla Ruben, president and creative director of Creative Edge Parties. “In past years they would come with tons of pictures of wedding dresses and flowers. Now they come with photos and menus from their favorite restaurants and traveling experiences. This creates a version of tapas or tasting menus that are specifically curated around their personal experiences together.”
Formality is back
If you’re thinking about family style—last year’s most popular wedding service option—think again. “There definitely is demand for a more tailored and elegant approach to food service at the actual wedding. Brides are opting for a preselected served dinner versus a more casual family-style dinner,” says celebrity wedding planner Colin Cowie. (If you really want the family-style feel, Cowie suggests doing it for the rehearsal dinner.)
“The rustic presentation is losing its luster. This summer, we definitely have seen a movement away from mason jars, wood planks, craft paper, naked cakes, and hair wreaths,” says Schaffer. “Chic, elegant tablescapes and more refined menus with clean presentations seem to be the next trend. A return to elegance and sophistication is always inevitable among trendsetters.”
And while tradition seems to be reigning supreme, traditional bread service is waning. A movement toward menu-specific alternatives, such as popovers, Brazilian chewy cheese rolls, specialty cracker breads, and pretzel rolls, is on the rise, says Napa-based caterer Paula LeDuc.
Finally, guests aren’t the only ones dressing for the occasion. Catering staff attire has been elevated as well. “Think beautiful cognac leather bow ties for an event in Jackson Hole or coordinated knitted scarves for a winter wedding in Aspen and vintage chambray aprons for a rustic wood-fired feast in the Hudson Valley,” says Lisa Vorce, owner and creative director of Lisa Vorce Co. “The staff are styled to complement the overall aesthetic of the event and create an even more memorable experience for guests.”
The death of the food truck
“The food truck has certainly seen its day and was fun and novel while it lasted,” states Cowie. “I am a big believer in keeping the party moving. Once the dance floor is in high gear, keep it going. The idea of sending guests to a destination for food will certainly empty the dance floor and negatively affect the energy of the party.”
Instead, Cowie suggests bringing food carts or trays directly to the dance floor to pass late-night bites. “We find our brides and grooms love everything from sliders wrapped in custom papers to fresh-made pizza in personalized mini pizza boxes. A good bacon and egg on a mini croissant or french fries are also always a hit. If you want something down-to-earth, serve gourmet tater tots or mac and cheese. Or, if you want to up the style, serve miniature pairings: a grilled-cheese sandwich with tomato soup or milk and cookies. Just remember that after a night of drinking and dancing, the guests’ diet really is not an issue—they will eat anything decadent at that stage!”
Sustainable, local, raw
The farm-to-table movement taking the restaurant world by storm has also trickled into the wedding industry. “People are much more food savvy, eating healthier and desiring local farm–cultivated ingredients,” LeDuc says. Whereas couples used to insist on organic ingredients, now they want to know the provenance of the ingredient, Cowie says. “Which farm does it come from? Is it local? Is the egg from this morning?”
Vegan and vegetarian options are now elevated to the main event rather than a substitution option. “Without doubt, we are seeing more brides and grooms feature vegan options versus vegetarian. The vegan movement is well on the way, and most top restaurants today now offer a vegan menu. Vegan used to mean the grilled portobello mushroom; today’s chefs are preparing exquisite and delicious vegan options,” Cowie says.
Sometimes couples even go so far as to hand most control over to the caterer and wait until a week or two before the wedding, allowing the chef to riff off what’s best in season. “Our clientele defer to us on a very seasonal menu, leaving a finalized menu till the last moment so that they can have the best of what’s coming from our local farms,” says Jamie Schmones Erickson of Poppy’s Catering in Brooklyn.
Earthy, clean cocktails
Incorporating botanicals like rosemary or sage into cocktails is “certainly on trend,” says Ruben. “We recently designed a bar basing each of the classic cocktails around a twist using fresh herbs. My personal favorite was a chive-infused gin and tonic that we garnished with the chive blossoms. It was refreshing, herbaceous, and stunning.”
Pre-ceremony beverages have also become more specialized and location specific. “For a hot summer wedding in Lake Como, for example, serve Aperol spritzes or iced espresso macchiatos,” suggests Vorce.
And consider incorporating herbs in other creative places outside of the bar as an interactive way to ensure your guests engage with the food. “Just this summer, we created a centerpiece using hundreds of stems of fresh herbs. Each guest was given a small pair of scissors at their place setting and was encouraged to cut off pieces of the centerpiece and add them to their salads,” says Ruben.
Big is back
As couples shy away from rustic and casual, it seems like elegance is once again on the rise. “Brides and grooms are looking for a more polished and refined product. The same thing is happening in the cake world. No more naked cakes or cupcake towers or even pyramids of macaroons. The tall, elegant, and imposing iced cake stands tall again,” Cowie says. Tall cakes also make for the best photo ops, says Schaffer.