8 Hot New Wedding Food Trends For 2016

Looking for a fete fit for a foodie? From farm-to-table fare to satellite bars, here are ideas to consider for your standout reception menu.
by Irina Grechko
Guacamole and Salsa Tostadas
photo by SARAH KATE PHOTOGRAPHY
  1. Local Love

    Beet and Goat Cheese Appetizer
    photo by SABINE SCHERER PHOTOGRAPHY

    Local offerings can inspire your menu and create one memorable meal! Source ingredients from your wedding locale and make them the focal point of your food setup. “We recently did a Brooklyn, New York-based wedding where all the liquor and sodas at the bar were sourced locally," says Holly Sheppard of Fig & Pig Catering in Brooklyn, New York. “It was great to give a nod to local makers and expose guests to some new products." Your guests will love getting a taste of the destination through each sip and bite (consider going family style during dinner so all of your guests can get a taste of everything), and you'll get the green thumbs-up for minimizing your dinner's carbon footprint. “In addition to being vital to agriculture, choosing seasonal and locally sourced menus is also the most flavorful way to eat," says Los Angeles–based Heirloom LA's Tara Maxey, who works with small farmers every month to come up with seasonal menus for weddings and events. Going season friendly might require giving up some menu control, since no caterer will be able to guarantee the availability of all the ingredients for your wedding date. Trust your pro and remember that a seasoned caterer will be able to find an equally appetizing substitution for that dish you had your heart set on.

  2. Perfect Pairs

    Tacos and Margaritas in Mini Patron Bottles
    photo by KRISTY HOGAN

    Favorite dishes shrunk down to bite-size canapés accompanied by mini sips will delight your guests during cocktail hour. Some miniature pairing ideas to consider: taco crostinis with margaritas in Patron nips, sliders with mini mugs of craft beers, grilled cheese finger sandwiches with Bloody Mary shooters, and tuna tartare cones with sake cups. Think about shrinking your dessert too with a late-night serving of cookie chippers and shots of flavored milk.

  3. Time Travel

    Seafood Raw Bar Cocktail Hour Food
    photo by ASHLEY SEAWELL PHOTOGRAPHY

    While the Roaring Twenties have had a major influence on recent wedding style, the theme has finally made its way onto dinner plates too. “The Great Gatsby period is inspiring champagne towers, seafood bars and ice carvings at weddings," says Carl Hedin of Abigail Kirsch Catering in New York City. Spruce up your reception with a mobile oyster shucking station, bottle sabering ceremony, strolling champagne diva, wine served in three-liter Jeroboams or small plates passed around by waiters in white gloves. Want more of a '60s Mad Men vibe? Classic cocktails are also having a resurgence. “Bourbon used to be just for men—now it's enjoyed by all," Hedin says. “We're seeing elevated consumption of it at all our events." For an updated signature drink, he suggests reinventing bourbon classics like a Manhattan with a cherry brandy infusion or an old-fashioned with burnt-sugar bourbon, charred lemon and a honey rim.

  4. Designated Drinkers

    Scotch and Cigar Bar
    photo by THEO MILO PHOTOGRAPHY

    In addition to your standard beer, wine and mixed drinks setup, couples are now also having second bars known as satellite bars, designated for a specific spirit or your signature drink of choice. “We recently created a bespoke martini bar where we offered four different styles of gin and vodka, eight different types of vermouth and 10 tinctures to add flavors like lemongrass, coconut, olive oil, and sea salt and black pepper," says Ben Scorah, cofounder of Road Soda, a craft cocktail bar on wheels that travels the country for weddings and events. The bartenders can stir or shake the martinis to each guest's preference, serve the drinks in frozen vintage cocktail glasses and garnish with fresh citrus peels, cured olives and dehydrated fruit slices. For a gin bar, consider setting up a variety of colored tonic waters, juniper berry–infused ice cubes and garnishes such as muddled cucumber and fresh herbs. Or set up frozen shot glasses, wedges of lime and freshly made margarita mixers for a tequila table.

    If wine is more your speed, set up a wine tasting spread that will allow guests to sample wines by region, a specific varietal or by the year of significance to you as a couple. Love beer? Bring in a bar with built-in, self-serve taps featuring local craft brews. Not only are designated bars a great way to personalize your wedding with your favorite libation, they'll also make for a fun display when you add colored glassware, graphic menus, monogrammed napkins and elaborate garnish bowls to the mix.

  5. Savory Significance

    Rice and Plantain Hindu Dish
    photo by THE MADIOUS

    If you're planning on including cultural traditions in your ceremony, have them extend to the menu as well. Even if the two cuisines aren't enjoyed together traditionally, see if your caterer can “marry" the cultures through food and come up with a few fusion dishes. “I once had a groom from New England and bride who was Indian, who wanted to include dishes from both of their backgrounds," Sheppard says. “We had a New England–style cocktail hour with lobster rolls, oysters and Del's lemonade, followed by a more traditional Indian dinner featuring tandoori salmon, vegetable tagine and lemon rice pilaf.

    "You can also include dishes of significance by serving items you've tried at a restaurant on your first date or a dessert that you had after your engagement. Explain the significance in your menus and don't forget about your signature cocktail too. “Sometimes couples have a connection to ingredients," Scorah says. “We recently did a wedding where the bride's father was a part-time beekeeper and honey maker, so we used his honey as an ingredient in the signature cocktail."

  6. Presentation Perfection

    Ring for champagne bell
    photo by Elisheva Golani Photography

    A make-your-own food station is a great icebreaker that allows guests to strike up a conversation while waiting in line. Take the idea up a notch with a cart wheeled by a chef to guests during cocktail hour. Hedin suggests a fondue cart with warm cheddar ale and balsamic gorgonzola pots served with charcuterie, pickled vegetables, fruit and assorted bread options. Or, try a taco and margarita cart with a duo of miniature crispy tacos served in bamboo boats with cabbage salad, avocado sauce, salsa and a selection of hot sauces.

    Want something even more interactive? Have a “press for champagne" framed doorbell sign that guests can ring to request a waiter to hand them a glass of bubbly. You can also give hors d'oeuvres the white-glove treatment with a curtained wall hiding a waitstaff behind it. Guests can press a button to see gloved hands appear with appetizers! Maxey says that even dessert has become more of an experience. “We've done a plated dessert tasting after a five-course plated dinner," she says. “One of the courses was a play on cake but with only a few bites and all the best parts."

  7. Creative Cakes

    Buttercream Bakeshop Peekaboo Cake
    photo by Joey Kennedy Photography

    While classic wedding cakes are delicious, you don't have to stick to tradition. “Couples are becoming more open to modern and daring designs and shying away from the really traditional looks," says Stevi Auble, owner of Hey There, Cupcake! bakery in San Diego. “We've been using a lot of black and mixed metallic designs, which are both quite stunning for wedding cakes." Consider a colorful creation or having several mismatched, small-tiered cakes instead. It makes for a decadent display, giving the cake designer multiple canvases to create on, and also allows for multiple flavors and cake fillings. When it comes to cake design, shapes, patterns and textures have been inspiring the look. “We're definitely finding a lot of inspiration in couples' invitation suites and stationery, but are also pulling it from prints or textures found on linens and wallpaper," Auble says.

    On the opposite end of the cake spectrum, some couples are opting for more minimally designed cakes. “This was the year of the peekaboo cake, which is not fully naked nor fully frosted," says Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop that serves Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland. “It's perfect with fresh flowers or fruit, available at a great price point and photographs like a dream!"

  8. Dessert Play

    Hey There, Cupcake! Deconstructed Macaron
    photo by Cavin Elizabeth Photography

    Some couples are leaning away from cake altogether in favor of dessert tables. Think: pretty displays of pies, cereal treats, ice cream and cookies. “Hand-painted, custom sugar cookies are a lot more popular this year," MacIsaac says. “They can feature anything from watercolor peaches for a couple celebrating their family in the South to cherry blossoms that speak to the time of year."

    Provide guests with a different point of view with unique dessert installations, like a doughnut wall, cake pop croquembouche, floating candy bars or an upside-down cake hanging from the ceiling—or re-create a classic dessert in an entirely new way for your guests. “We recently came up with a deconstructed French macaron that everyone's going crazy for," Auble says. “It reveals the flavor profile of a traditional macaron by exposing the filling and embellishing with a number of garnishes that complement the flavor—all served up on an open-faced macaron shell." Your dessert may be the last bite your guests have at your wedding, so make it memorable and reflective of you as a couple.

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