A spectacular wedding menu, from cocktail-party fare to dinners to new additions like late-night bites, makes the wedding. You could have the most beautifully decorated wedding that anyone has ever seen, but if your menu is uninspired, your wedding won't be the unforgettable, breathtaking event that you've been dreaming of.
Guests look forward to the food offerings at a wedding, and couples are putting as much focus, effort and creativity into their wedding menus as they do the decor, music and any other element of their big day. In fact, many couples are devoting the largest portion of their wedding budgets (over 60 percent, according to wedding industry survey site The Wedding Report) to their catering.
Here are the newest trends in wedding menus for next year's weddings:
*Cocktail Party Only
"Instead of having a sit-down dinner, an extended cocktail party allows guests to choose their favorites from your food stations or a wide variety of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres presented on trays by servers," says Jennifer Cooper, catering manager at The Westminster Hotel. "The cocktail party menu can include pick-one appetizers or small plates with creatively presented hot hors d'oeuvres in a generous variety, and then eventually switch to hand-passed desserts. Without a sit-down dinner, you don't have to worry about seating charts, as well."
Inspired by the opulence of "Great Gatsby" weddings this past year, sit-down dinners will feature stylishly presented dinner entrees on fine china plates. Classic dishes such as chateaubriand, seabass and especially lamb are given gourmet twists by the chef, such as adding organic side dishes. But the attraction here is the chef-perfected execution of the entrees themselves.
*Fresh, Green, Garden Fare
Farmers market fare is a top trend in wedding menus now, with guests enjoying the fresh crunch of vegetables and greens for a healthier selection. Wedding couples have dialed down the greasy, fried appetizers in favor of refreshing foods.
*Cultural Fusion Cuisine
Wedding couples are combining cultural dishes from their own backgrounds, as well as their favorite international foods in general. From Mediterranean stations to Persian foods and every cultural dish imaginable, today's wedding menus have a distinctly global feel.
*Trendy Vegetables and Greens
Kale, asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts and arugula are the hot choices for cocktail party fare and dinner offerings.
The backyard barbecue deviled egg is getting a gourmet makeover, inspired by award-winning menus at restaurants such as the Ebbitt Room in Cape May, New Jersey, where their own farm provides free-range eggs for trendy flights of deviled eggs topped with lobster, mahi-mahi or a thin slice of filet mignon.
A crowd-pleasing ingredient, bacon can be used as a cocktail party station theme, offering bacon-wrapped shrimp or asparagus, bacon-infused risotto and other dishes topped with bacon.
Danielle Rothweiler, celebrity wedding planner, says, "Couples are all about the comfort food, from mac and cheese with different types of cheeses and even soups with a hearty tomato base." At the cocktail party, mini grilled cheese sandwiches can be served with shots of tomato soup. Guacamole with personalized fixings also counts as comfort food, even with its international and garden flairs.
Since so many guests travel a great distance to the wedding's location, give them a taste of the region's fare. For instance, a New England wedding may provide clam chowder and clambake dishes. A southern wedding may provide the region's famous barbecue ribs or a whole suckling roasted pig. Including these regionally inspired menu items gives guests a local flavor experience.
After desserts, guests will continue the party, and as drinks flow, it's a welcome site when servers circulate trays of late-night bites such as sliders, empanadas, mini-tacos, fries with gourmet dipping sauces, mini waffles and even fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies with a shot of milk. Creative late-night menus are one of the top trends for weddings.
The world of food trucks has expanded into truly impressive gourmet offerings. "Food trucks aren't just limited to fried goodness; they include cupcake trucks for your guests to stop by as they leave -- no more favors -- and mini-everythings, from cheesesteaks to sliders, tacos, falafel and more," says Rothweiler. "Just make sure you have enough so that a line doesn't build! For the couple that wants the afterparty without a separate room, separate DJ, etc., a food truck is a great way to send guests home."
Sharon Naylor is the author of "The Bride's Guide to Freebies" and three dozen additional wedding books.