Something New

What’s popular and up-and-coming at wedding receptions? The experts fill us in.

By Sara Perez Webber

If you’ve ever seen wedding photos from the ’70s, you know how important having a timeless wedding-day look can be. But that doesn’t mean that nuptial traditions and customs should be frozen in time. To find out what’s popular and up-and-coming in food, décor and entertainment at wedding receptions, we asked a range of industry experts what they’re seeing. Here’s what they told us.

Vivid Colors and Jewel Tones

Credit Instagram for inspiring brides to choose eye-catching, rich colors for their wedding palettes, as they result in the kind of photos that “pop” on the social media site. “Color is back in a big way,” says Natalie Mayhew, founder and creative director of Fern & Maple, an event and brand styling company based in Portland, Ore. Brighter pinks, jewel tones, cherry reds, aquas and especially shades of purple are making their way into wedding design. Mayhew points to a recent client who wanted a fiesta-inspired wedding but feared a garish-looking event with too much color. “We kept it fresh and modern with light, bright accents,” she says. “We brought colors into table linens, flowers and glassware, pairing it with metallics and naturals, and she was in love with the result.”

The color trend extends to flowers. “Jewel tone-inspired florals will be huge!” says Joan Wyndrum, vice president at Watchung, N.J.-based Blooms by the Box. “Think burgundy dahlias, fuchsia garden roses, purple ranunculus, yellow dendrobium, blue thistle and bright greenery.” As a result of the popularity of “Gen Z Yellow”—a color favored by those in their teens and early 20s—golden-yellow blooms are also expected to gain favor among brides and grooms. “Yellow ranunculus, pincushion protea and craspedia are all great options and pair beautifully with orange, burgundy and peach florals,” says Wyndrum.

A purple-hued tablescape designed by Fern & Maple. Photo by Lydia Johnston of Photography Hill

Late-Night Fare

Feeding guests snacks as the night wears on has become almost expected, according to Rachel Bruzek, design and culinary manager for D’AMICO CATERING in Minneapolis. “We used to do this about 50 percent of the time, but now we see it with 95 percent of our events,” she says. “This is about personalization. I will ask the bridal couple what their favorite late-night snacks are, and that is how we build their menu. This is a nice add-on for your guests who are still enjoying the celebration, and you can generally plan for about half the guest count.” D’Amico often serves late-night dishes Bruzek describes as “gourmet comfort food,” such as tater tots with truffle salt and Parmesan cheese, and the company’s famous red-wine butter burgers.

Indeed, couples often choose late-night food that has personal meaning, according to Paulette Alkire, wedding planner at Chalet View Lodge in Graeagle, Calif. “We have seen couples take their first-date food of flatbread pizza to serve as a late-night snack,” she says. “These small details make the evening meaningful and memorable for both the couple, and their friends and family.”

A D’Amico Catering late-night snack. Photo by AM Photography

Personalized Menus with Stylistic Presentation

The couple getting married will always be the stars at a wedding, but food has been capturing its share of the spotlight as well. “Food has become part of the décor,” says D’AMICO CATERING’s Bruzek. “You might say it has become the centerpiece of the reception.”

Couples are making sure the food served at the reception reflects their personalities and backgrounds, and that it’s served in a memorable way. “This trend of personalization, customization and artistically styled food has made a huge impact on our entire team in how we plate and present all of our food,” says Bruzek. “We are revamping our entire catering menu in an effort to provide all of our clients a more styled look.”

For one couple that wanted their Indian and Jewish cultural heritages represented, for example, D’Amico created a menu that included such bite-sized hors d’oeuvres as pav bhaji sliders on challah buns, lox with paneer spread on a bagel chip, potato samosa knishes, and Indian-flavored falafel bites with tahini.

Nostalgic favorites are also being incorporated into wedding menus. “We have been pulling in cherished elements of the bride and groom’s childhood into menus,” says Brittany Walker, wedding event planner at Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has served mini versions of such sentimental favorites as macaroni and cheese, pretzels and meatball subs.

Not only are wedding couples customizing their menus, they’re allowing guests to customize their meals. “Food served in bowls is not only convenient for clean-up and presentation, but it’s an easy marriage of ingredients that allows guests to mix and match to create their own entrées,” says Meryl Snow, vice president of Feastivities Events in Philadelphia and owner of SnowStorm Solutions. “This is great for noodle dishes, poke bowls, and even hummus displays or smaller appetizers. The options are endless.”

Mini mac and cheese from Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events.

Live Painting

Love and romance have inspired many works of art, and now some couples are making sure their own wedded bliss is captured on canvas by a live painter during the event, according to Alison Awerbuch, chef and partner at New York-based Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships. The photographer takes photos at the start of the event (such as during the first dance or entrance) and then paints the moment during the reception. “Couples get to enjoy an amazing keepsake, while it’s very interactive for guests, since they really enjoy seeing the progress of the painting throughout the reception,” says Awerbuch.

A live painter at an Abigail Kirsch wedding. Photo by Aaron and Whitney Photography

Extravagant Photo Set-Ups

Wedding guests love to say “cheese,” so more couples are offering photo setups that go above and beyond props and a booth. “Plain photo booth backdrops are a thing of the past,” says Kylie Carlson, owner of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning, based in France. “Now we’re seeing a huge increase in popularity with full experiential photo setups, like video booths or GIF booths. A designated area—like a mini trailer with extensive prop options and décor pieces—is elevating the trend and creating a more interactive experience for guests.”

Mini trailers with extensive prop options create a more interactive photo set-up for guests. Photo by Jenny DeMarco Photography

Unique Venues

In another nod to the influence social media is having on weddings, more couples are looking for photogenic venues. In Miami, for example, Wynwood Walls—billed as the world’s largest open-air street art museum, with 14 murals and installations in vibrant colors created by internationally renowned street artists—has caught on as a memorable spot for couples tying the knot. “While old-school traditions are still being incorporated, many brides planning their wedding are opting for more photo-worthy venues that give guests something to talk about for years to come,” says Leah Vaughan, special events director at Goldman Properties, owner of Wynwood Walls.

Another Miami venue attracting couples looking for an unusual venue is the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, where brides and grooms can walk down the aisle underneath the hammerhead sharks and devil rays that swim in the three-level aquarium (pictured below), or with the Milky Way as their backdrop inside the Frost Planetarium.

Wynwood Walls in Miami.

Customized Beer and Cocktails

Along with customized and personalized menus, couples are also making sure the drinks they serve reflect their taste and personality. Saltbox Catering in West Concord, Mass., for example, now offers custom kegs for weddings. Bridal clients can choose from one of nine seasonal recipes offered by Saltbox Kitchen Brewery, or have a completely customized recipe brewed for their event. “People like that they can put their own spin on the drinks they serve, and it gives beer aficionados a chance to offer beers that they love and that pair well with the menu,” says Dan Gregoire, Saltbox Brewery manager and brewer.

If a client chooses a true custom beer, Gregoire asks the couple what beers they like. “If they have no idea what they actually want to start off with, I give them some of the best homework someone could do—go drink a bunch of different beers,” he says. “I ask them to find ones they love and make notes about why they love it, so I can narrow down what they are looking for and start working on a recipe.” Clients taste-test a batch to make sure it’s what they want, and Gregoire ensures the beer works well with the couple’s menu. Some couples have given guests keepsake mugs to remember the custom beer, and Saltbox is looking into selling those as well.

Trip Wheeler, president of SB Value, has noticed couples raising the bar with their drink offerings. “Champagne toasts are no longer relegated to a simple pour and pass around,” he says. “Instead, couples are getting creative with presentation to add a little pizzazz to the moment. Warm-weather weddings are going to be the opportune time to pair sparkling wine with popsicles in grown-up flavors.”

And while signature drinks are still going strong—with caterers like Culinary Capers offering his-and-hers versions—Wheeler notes that brides and grooms are also incorporating such fun and nostalgic elements into their cocktails as rock candy. “It makes for a great, and memorable, icebreaker,” he notes.

Saltbox Catering offers customized kegs for weddings.

Memorable Menu Cards

Another way to personalize a wedding, interesting menu cards are adding to the tablescape décor. Momental Designs creates sculptural menus for weddings—menus enhanced with custom-cut paper bouquets. “Couples love stationery that’s truly unique to them,” says Katie Campbell, graphic designer at Momental Designs. “Plus, it’s an innovative way to incorporate the bride’s chosen flowers into the tablescape!”

Another trend is personalizing the menu card with the guest’s name, according to Katherine Healy Brown, owner and lead planner for Chicago-based Clover Events. “Couples are looking to give their guests an extra-special experience, and one of the ways they can do that is to personalize each guest’s menu card with their name and meal choice,” says Brown. “Such a fun surprise when guests arrive at their tables!”

A menu enhanced with custom-cut paper bouquets by Momental Designs. Photo by Danielle Coons

Translucent Decor

Lucite and acrylics continue to reflect a desire for modern sophistication at weddings. “It’s being used in all areas of the wedding—lighting, seating charts, seats, and it’s great for signage,” says Fern & Maple’s Mayhew. Translucent materials’ light-reflecting properties help show off décor elements, she adds: “For example, greenery behind an acrylic seating chart totally comes alive as the greenery isn’t hidden.” Mayhew recently used translucent serving dishes at an event and “they were hugely popular,” she says. “Guests loved the way it looked like the hors d’oeuvres were floating on air.”

A translucent sign at a Fern & Maple wedding. Photo by Lydia Johnston of Photography Hill

Creative Centerpieces

Whether hanging from above or tempting guests to take a bite, centerpieces are also taking a creative turn. “Hanging centerpieces are a fabulous way to decorate a space without taking up space,” says Blooms by the Box’s Wyndrum. “Installations can be single-strung stems or full floating centerpieces.”

Wyndrum adds that many couples are choosing table runners in lieu of centerpieces, while some are sticking to the classic garland made with greenery.
Still others are opting for intricate centerpieces running down the length of the table, made with blooms and fillers, says Wyndrum.

Culinary Capers has substituted food for flowers. “Instead of floral centerpieces, we’ve created an edible antipasto table arrangement that was both beautiful and delicious,” says Walker.

An edible antipasto centerpiece by Culinary Capers. Photo by Blush Sky Photography


Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships

Blooms by the Box

Chalet View Lodge

Clover Events

Culinary Capers Catering
and Special Events

D’Amico Catering

Fern & Maple

Feastivities Events

International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning

Momental Designs

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

Saltbox Catering

SB Value

SnowStorm Solutions

Wynwood Walls