State of the Unions

Three caterers share the top trends—
from water bars to restaurant-style menus—
they’re featuring at their weddings

By Sara Perez Webber

What’s the “something new” at weddings these days? To find out, we asked three caterers from different areas of the country to tell us the trends they’re featuring—and clients are requesting—at their wedding receptions. Here’s what they had to say.

Elegant Affairs

Glen Cove, N.Y.
elegantaffairscaterers.com

Wedding business is growing at Elegant Affairs, a caterer based in Long Island, N.Y., that serves a high-end clientele in the Hamptons and New York City. “We’ve created very strong alliances with high-end wedding planners,” says Andrea Correale, founder and president. “Very often when brides are planning upscale weddings, nine times out of 10 they will contract a wedding planner. We make it our business to formalize and create strategic partnerships with these planners, and that has created a lot of extra business.”

Correale has also increased her wedding business by utilizing Facebook and Instagram, making sure to include such social media hashtags as #Weddings, #TentedWedding and #HamptonsWedding. “As simple as that may sound, it really makes a difference,” she says.

The wedding market itself is expanding, notes Correale, which creates more potential business to tap into. Not only are there same-sex weddings, there is more emphasis being placed on second weddings. “Usually by their second weddings, couples are more established and have bigger budgets because of that,” she says. “It may not be the ‘traditional’ wedding that you will do the first time around, but you are seeing elaborate celebrations.”

The following four trends are being incorporated into Elegant Affairs weddings:

“Natural rustic-chic” décor

Clients are gravitating toward receptions featuring organic, local ingredients, says Correale, using furniture like wooden farm tables and materials such as reclaimed wood and natural metal. “We’re seeing a lot of floral centerpieces and tablescapes with lots of greenery, and flowers that look freshly picked from a backyard garden,” she says. “It’s not so posed.” The trend extends to the menus, which feature organic, fresh wholesome foods.

Culinary focus

“To me, the food has become part of the entertainment of the wedding; it’s something different and memorable,” says Correale. Clients are requesting more and more gluten-free as well as vegan menus, she says, and the company’s vegan sushi bar is “show-stopping.” Varieties of the vegan sushi include black rice, alfalfa, English cucumber, baked tofu, kiwi and white miso sauce; six-grain rice, enoki, shiitake, tofu, micro arugula and shiitake teriyaki sauce; and black rice, grilled haricot vert, carrot, mango and sweet soy mirin sauce. “Just having those kinds of things on our menu also makes us more attractive to the new, more culinary-savvy bride, who is up on all the food trends,” she says.

Water bars

waterbar_dyoung-dhy_9123Elegant Affairs has also started offering a water bar in lieu of pre-ceremony cocktails. “In the past you would see lemonade and iced tea, but with health being the front-runner we have found that—especially in the Hamptons market—people are really into their water,” she says. Particularly at outdoor weddings, Elegant Affairs will present water bars featuring various flavors and types of water, some infused with fruits, herbs and florals. “You can really get creative with the ingredients you use,” she says.

One-bite desserts

While Elegant Affairs’ clients generally order a small wedding cake, they’re not ordering a cake to feed all of their guests, and they’re mostly foregoing the cake-cutting ceremony. “They are opting for an array of small one-bite desserts that are passed or butlered the same way passed hors d’oeuvres would be served,” says Correale.

Blue Plate Catering

Chicago
blueplatechicago.com

Although Blue Plate Catering in Chicago has catered more than 145 weddings in the past year, business has been relatively consistent for a few years, says Missy Wright Scroggins, sales director. “However, wedding styles are becoming more varied,” notes Scroggins. “Couples are throwing more brunches and post-destination wedding ‘parties,’ as well as more upscale dinners for smaller, more intimate groups.”

Blue Plate serves a diverse clientele with a wide age range. “We have done weddings for couples from 21 to 61 this year—second weddings, vow renewals, etc.,” says Scroggins. “We feel honored to have been a part of so many wonderful couples’ big days over the past 32 years.”

The trends at Blue Plate weddings include:

Menus that adhere to special diets

Photo by Studio Finch

Photo by Studio Finch

“Lifestyle food choices keep us busy,” says Scroggins. “We have created completely Paleo wedding menus that guests have gone crazy for! Our goal is always to serve fantastic food; we want to hear about the entree being great, not just ‘great for Paleo.’” Food allergies are a consideration at every wedding, she adds. Blue Plate recently catered a 100% dairy-free wedding for a bride who was unable to eat dairy under any circumstances. “It was a treat for her to have a night out where there was zero concern,” says Scroggins. “She was free to eat everything that came her way without fear, leaving her to focus on her husband, family and friends.”

Family-style hybrids

Couples are increasingly choosing family-style service alongside plated entrees at the reception dinner, and making sure their menus reflect their favorite foods—even if they’re wildly different. “A guest’s choice of entree plated with gorgeous vegetables is served alongside shared sides of the couple’s favorite dishes,” explains Scroggins. For example, a recent wedding couple both loved Thai food and steakhouses, so Blue Plate incorporated flavors you might find on menus at both styles of restaurant—sides of lobster macaroni and cheese, and sriracha honey Brussels sprouts.

Interactive and innovative desserts

“Pie is hot for weddings, and we often add an ice cream scooper to make it interactive,” says Scroggins. “Innovative presentations on mini sweet tables include ombre desserts and sparkles, bark bars and petite mini sweet trios in lieu of a traditional cake.”

Herban Feast

Seattle
herbanfeast.com

With a variety of indoor and outdoor venues, Herban Feast’s wedding business is fairly stable, with the Seattle-based company catering approximately 150 weddings each year. There have been some changes in the demographics of its wedding clients, however.

“Seattle has always been a progressive market, so we’ve always seen more same-sex couples than other locations, but lately we’re seeing more than usual,” says Reese Rowe, Herban Feast’s director of sales. “We’re also seeing more second marriages, and more couples putting their careers first and therefore marrying after 30. Our couples tend to be well-traveled and experienced diners; they want to custom-craft a menu and are happy to allocate more of their budget to menu than maybe a 20-year-old bride would.”

Rowe has noticed that suspended lighting and greenery are both very popular as décor trends. “Clients love the feeling that décor is floating overhead,” she says.

Other trends being featured at Herban Feast weddings include:

Menus that reflect blended cultures

“Many couples want to fuse their family culture with a local flavor profile,” says Rowe. For example, at a wedding this past summer, “the groom wanted to fuse his Korean heritage with the bride’s Pacific Northwest roots,” she says. “They had met in Washington, D.C., so they also wanted to share the food they loved in D.C. with their guests. We came up with a family-style menu that paired a kalbi-glazed beef with a Northwest King salmon. For a late-night snack, we made tiny versions of the giant slices of pizza they used to enjoy in D.C.” Comfort foods and spicy foods are very much on-trend, notes Rowe, and adds that “clients love locally sourced ingredients, and so do we!”

Smaller, foodie receptions

Photo by Eliott Peacock Photography.

Photo by Eliott Peacock Photography.

“Clients are favoring smaller events with more lavish menus or what we call ‘restaurant-style’ menus, where food comes out of the kitchen in waves as it’s ready, rather than in synchronized courses,” says Rowe. “It’s really fun for us!” For example, a recent wedding at Herban Feast’s Sodo Park venue featured a completely customized menu, combining recipes for dishes the couple loved and cooked at home, like mashed potatoes, with elegant restaurant-style dishes, like scallop carpaccio. “The couple wanted their wedding to be like a dinner party—casual, elegant and memorable, but completely them,” says Rowe. She also notes that at least half of Herban Feast’s wedding clients choose a family-style menu.

Cakes making a comeback

“We used to see a lot of mini desserts instead of cakes, and now more people are combining the two—adding some mini desserts to complement the cake,” says Rowe. She notes that doughnuts are very popular this season. “We love to help clients innovate and pair a small dessert bite with a beverage—something interactive is really fun,” adds Rowe. At a recent wedding, Herban Feast partnered with an espresso vendor and passed around mini beignets. Says Rowe: “It was a fun play on coffee and doughnuts, but in an unexpected way!”