5 Wedding Catering Trends

Tall, elaborate wedding cakes are out. Dessert bars are in. Here are five trends to cater to this year.
Instead of focusing on decorating a large cake, focus on the cake's display and serve it alongside desserts like pies and cookies. (Photo: Avery House/Blue Plate Catering)

Every wedding season brings with it new Instagram and Pinterest trends, from bridesmaid dress colors to “gift lounges.”

It’s proving to be a big year for wedding catering and food, with couples looking for tapas-style variety, elaborate cocktails, after-hours snacks and more.

Here five offerings you should be prepared to provide this season.

Related: 7 Caterers Reveal What it Took to Grow Their Business

Late-night snacks

(Photo: Creations in Cuisine Catering)

As couples hold longer and longer receptions, caterers are getting requests for snacks at the end of the evening to either keep the party going into the night or send guests off with treats.

Tony Rea, owner and culinary director for Creations in Cuisine Catering, which serves the Phoenix and Scottsdale area, said he’s found that requests for late-night snacks are popular at weddings that serve dinner early (around 5 p.m.) and end late (around 11 p.m).

“Many guests will be hungry again when they leave, especially if they’ve burned calories dancing or need to soak up some alcohol,” Rea said. “Offering a late-night snack adds a nice wow factor, and it shows guests you care that they’ve gone hours celebrating without eating.”

Rea said his company’s late-night menu includes lighter options like bags of popcorn and milk and cookies, along with more substantial items such as tacos or macaroni and cheese.

“Caterers need to have an established late-night snack menu but also remain open to creating custom snacks,” he said.

Dessert bars

(Photo: Blue Plate Catering)

According to Ashley Harriger, pastry chef at Chicago’s Blue Plate Catering, more couples are eschewing large, tied wedding cakes. Some opt to have just a small cake for cutting and photos, while others are skipping the cake altogether in favor of an array of desserts.

“Couples are tired of seeing the same thing over and over,” Harriger said. “Wedding cakes have been traditional for so long that millennials getting married want a new trend.”

Harriger has helped couples serve their favorite desserts — pies, cookies, cupcakes, or a mix of several sweets — as well as nostalgic desserts such as s’mores or whoopie pies.

(Photo: Blue Plate Catering)

“Dessert is becoming an area where couples can customize their food to something personal for the two of them and show their guests a little more about who they are as people and as a couple,” she said.

No matter what you’re serving, Harriger said dessert bars must be as visually appealing as they are delicious because they need to attract guests’ attention — especially if the bar is opening up later in the night after drinks and dancing. Try adding beautiful cake stands and trays, or go along with the wedding’s theme.

Family-style serving

Some of the other big trends in wedding catering have to do with the way dinner is served. According to Rea, family-style dining has been gaining in popularity for couples who don’t want either formal waiters or a buffet.

“It gives a more casual feel to the wedding, but is more formal than other options,” he said.

Caterers that offer family-style meals should take care to serve food that looks attractive on platters and large serving bowls, Rea advised. You don’t want anything too messy and hard to grab and pass along. Because guests are serving themselves, he said caterers must also provide ample portions.

Family-style serving may mean your catering company has to purchase new platters and bowls (unless the couple has specific requests and will source servingware themselves). Make sure to source pieces that are not so large that guests can’t easily pass them.

Food stations

(Photo: Starr Catering Group)

Something of a riff on an buffet, food stations feature small bites or appetizers for wedding guests to graze on. Sometimes couples do stations only during cocktail hour and keep a seated dinner. Others skip dinner altogether.

“Restaurants are leading the trend in tapas-style meals where guests eat small portions of different items,” said Tatiana Cardenas, social catering sales manager of Philadelphia’s Starr Catering Group. “This is also translating into events where brides and grooms would like guests to experience multiple items from unique stations.”

Rea added that couples consider food stations because they want their guests to interact more, and they want to serve a wider variety of cuisines. “That can easily be accomplished with food stations,” he said.

Cardenas recommends that food be mingling-friendly (guests should be able to easily hold and eat the items) and include an array of fresh vegetables and proteins. Think Mediterranean mezze platters, trendy poke cups and meat and seafood skewers.

Just as you should pay attention to presentation when it comes to dessert bars, you should do the same for food stations. Cardenas recommends using risers to elevate foods for easy reach and visual appeal.

Next-level signature cocktails

(Photo: Rose Gold Collective)

Signature wedding cocktails have been around for a few years now, with couples designating a few easy-to-mix drinks in lieu of a full bar. Sarah Sebastian, creative director of Miami-based events agency Rose Gold Collective, said lately wedding clients have been taking their cocktails to the next level.

“Wedding guests are more experienced in craft cocktails and have higher expectations,” she said.

Her agency, for example, prints edible logos and monograms for the tops of foamy drinks to create instant, Instagram-worthy cocktails. The company also freezes edible flowers into ice cubes for serving in cocktails and punches.

Brian Green, an event planner whose company, By BrianGreen, is based in Atlanta, said his clients are starting to skip signature cocktails for more elaborate mimosa bars, bloody mary bars and bourbon bars.

“They are tying in their own beverage likes so that they have a signature item at their wedding that reflects their taste without being limited to a specific pre-mixed beverage that they may not enjoy,” he said.

Green added that some couples are even serving champagne and cocktails before the ceremony because guests tend to arrive early.

“Instead of having them mill around, why not start the celebrations early and show them that you have thought of everything?” Green said.

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