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8 Wedding Food Trends That Go Beyond "Beef or Fish?"

June 17, 2016

Meals served at weddings have evolved far beyond checking “beef or fish” on a reply card or lining up at a buffet the day of the event.

These days, couples are treating their guests to inventive culinary experiences, incorporating everything from customizable self-serve stations, to creative displays that tie into a thematic decor, to the dining trends seen in top restaurants across the country.

Now more than ever, couples see weddings as an opportunity to showcase their culinary style (Champagne tower or craft beer flights?), regional roots (Southern soul food or New England lobster rolls?), and/or lifestyle choices (organic vegetarian cuisine or bacon-flavored doughnuts?), and to make a distinctive statement that entertains and surprises guests.

Photo by 217 Photography
Photo by Amy Kiel

The following is a list of the wedding food patterns that I’ve noticed emerging during my time at Borrowed & Blue, a website that helps couples imagine and execute local weddings across the country. Whether you want to make food your wedding’s first focus (er, second—after love and commitment, right?) or you’re just looking beyond the seated dinner, here are 8 ideas to consider incorporating:

1. Make-Your-Own Stations:

Beyond providing two or three options for a main entrée, many couples are now allowing guests to customize their meals even further by laying out ingredients for them to pick and choose: Whether it’s being able to select fruit juices and garnishes at a mimosa bar or the toppings at a grilled cheese press, these stations add a degree of entertainment to the reception (and might make it easier for guests to take their dietary restrictions into their own hands). Just be careful that DIY stands don’t end up feeling like the omelette station in the college dining hall.

2. Locally & Organically Sourced:

The farm-to-table food movement is thankfully here to stay, and wedding catering is now taking a local-first approach when it comes to sourcing quality ingredients from nearby farms and representing a wedding’s regional flavors. Not only does this trend enhance the “authentic” experience (crab cakes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, tri-tip in California’s Central Coast), but it also makes guest feel good to know the food is fresh and in support of the local economy and environment.

Photo by Zorz Studios

3. Food Trucks:

While food trucks themselves are not a new trend, their appearance at weddings is more common than ever—which is not surprising considering that they combine several of the most popular themes: local cuisine; an unexpected, experiential activity for guests; and a way for couples to feature different snacking options instead of adhering to one straightforward menu.

4. Late-Night Snacks:

There can be several hours between when dinner ends and when the dance floor clears off. For fear of sending their guests home hungry, couples are organizing miniature versions of comfort foods (like fries and sliders) or sweets (like churros and hot chocolate) to pass out before the guests go home. It’s a farewell favor, and snacks that can be taken home, like a bag of granola or a jar of spiced nuts, will remind their friends and family of the wedding festivities during the weeks to come.

Photo by Carole Cohen

5. Inventive Displays:

A hanging charcuterie board suspended from rope; a stacked tower of Champagne coupes; an ombré expanse of French macarons in the wedding’s signature palette... creativity and wow-factor are increasingly at work when it comes to how food is being presented. More than just how it tastes, this trend focuses upon how food looks, envisioning the bites and booze as part of the decorative ambience of the event.

6. Food as Spectator Sport:

Another way to break the traditional catering mold is to draw back the curtain and allow guests to witness the preparation of a specialty item: fresh oysters shucked on site, bananas flambéed on a stove, a pig being spit-roasted. Guests’ experience of the “performance” aspect often leaves a major impression (just think about the first time you saw guacamole being made “tableside”).

Photo by David M.

7. Hyperfocused Ingredients:

To include either a regional speciality or a particular food passion of both partners, couples are opting for food stations, or even entire menus, that focus on specific ingredient (such as black truffles, bacon, or locally-picked fruit). It’s carried over into drink offerings as well: a maple syrup tasting at a Vermont wedding could include waffles as well as maple-flavored Manhattans, for example. Some skip the food entirely and opt for a fine tequila-sipping bar or an after-dinner port tasting.

8. Tapas-Style Samplings:

By foregoing the traditional, seated, three-course meal in favor of tapas-style portions of all their favorites, couples are able to highlight dishes that each one feels strong about. Smaller portions mean more dishes, and more dishes mean that if one person loves steak and the other loves sushi, they don’t have to compromise. Going with the small plates option, however, might make it difficult to build a cohesive menu that doesn’t feel slapped together—so keep that in mind!

Photo by Eric Kelley
Photo by Lindsay Docherty

What wedding food trends do you love—or hate? What old-fashioned touches do you want to see make a comeback? Tell us in the comments below.

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Kate Lynn is the Editorial Director at Borrowed & Blue, the online destination helping couples imagine and plan their locally inspired weddings. She loves a big bowl of kale, a fancy latte, and a well-made French 75.