Written by Stephanie Seija | Photography by Jana Blue Photography
While food is a central part of every wedding celebration, there are no rules that say you must offer the traditional plated meal or buffet. Many couples are beginning to reimagine the ways they can serve the meal, heightening the drama and creativity as well as being mindful of safety protocols as they offer a delicious culinary experience for their guests.
New ideas for serving your spread may be necessary now, but those that are delightful and surprising are likely to endure. After all, isn’t the way to anyone’s heart through their stomach? Featuring unique food displays is just one approach to make your event an unforgettable affair.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DINNER
There are many different ways to present the cuisine on your big day. When thinking of fresh ways to serve your meal, keep in mind how it will play into the overall vibe you’re hoping to create. Does your idea fit within your wedding aesthetic and work well at your venue? What makes sense for the number of guests you plan to invite? Would an entirely different type of event, like a luncheon or a brunch, be the best option for the group of guests you’re gathering?
Many people don’t consider hosting anything other than a dinner reception. But as guest counts become more narrow and as intimate gatherings and micro weddings gain steam, branching beyond the evening hours is becoming more common. Just because a celebration does not include a traditional dinner doesn’t mean it’s not a formal occasion.
Have you thought about hosting a luncheon? Mid-day meals are the most flexible — you can dress them up or down to suit your preferences. You have the opportunity to serve a main course similar to what you might have offered at an evening party, or you can choose to go a more casual route. Or how about a brunch reception? You may never have attended a wedding celebration that included breakfast dishes before, but this option offers some delightful cuisine opportunities that are sure to make your guests say “wow.” You could feature crepes filled with fruit or chocolate with a dusting of powdered sugar to top it off, and no one would know if it was dessert or the main course. With brunch parties, everything can be sweet — the sky’s the limit!
No matter what time of day you’re hosting your party, you’ll want to offer small bites that guests can snack on as they mingle. To keep things easy and portable, try “walking” or hand-held varieties of your favorite delicacies! This is for more than just passed hors d’oeuvres — these treats can be served at a grab-and-go station as appetizers, late night snacks or desserts. Maybe your vibe calls for mini sliders or hot dogs for a Chicago shout-out. Or perhaps you’d like to channel the festival feel with popcorn of different varieties. Even cocktails can utilize the skewer idea like a Bloody Mary with a kabob of goodies inside.
There are so many creative ways you can contain hand-held snacks so that they’re ready to snatch off the serving table and be enjoyed. Think tiny Mason jars, personalized paper cones, or even cocktail or martini glasses. Presentation is key! Don’t forget cute napkins, fancy skewers or tiny utensils for that extra special touch.
MAIN COURSE ARRANGEMENTS
How will you structure your main course? Gone are the days when plated and buffet are your only two options. There are many serving methods that allow you to create an elegant atmosphere while also minimizing touch points for your guests. You can be thoughtful in creating safe solutions while also letting your guests be a part of a special culinary experience. Which serving strategy is right for your reception?
Plated meals: Plated meals served by trained waitstaff are classic and elegant. This option leaves the food- handling to the experts and eliminates any need for sharing serving spoons.
Made-to-order chef stations: Another way to serve the main course hands-free while allowing guests to choose their own dishes is to feature made-to-order stations. With this method, chefs will create a custom plate for each person based on their preferences. You can offer several stations that each highlight a different type of cuisine, like an Italian pasta spot, a meat-carving table with various sauces or a personalized omelette bar.
Bento boxes: Safety protocols are important to consider. If you need to consider a meal plan that does not require waitstaff, bento boxes are a perfect solution to this problem. Your caterer will simply pre-package the main course into individual containers placed on guests’ place settings. Not only are these single servings safe and sanitary, but they have the opportunity to be really unique and fun.
Family-style seating: If “serve yourself” is out of the question for a larger group, perhaps breaking down the buffet to fit on each individual table will do the trick! This allows guests the customization of serving themselves without having to share utensils and food items with strangers. Plus what’s more picture-perfect than a gorgeous spread and a beautifully decorated mini wedding cake on each table? You’ll have to be sure about your guest list far enough in advance to plan this out, but family tables are a great way to keep social distancing in mind and include loved ones who may need to be extra careful.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Whether your entire reception is being held outdoors or you just want to allow an opportunity for your guests to catch some fresh air and spread out, serving food outside can be a great option. But there are a few things you should think about in order to make al fresco dining a success.
Check the temperature: How will your planned dishes withstand the weather? The climate in your region and the time of year will have a big impact on the types of food you should consider serving outside. Try to think of items that could last over an hour at the average outdoor temperature and still be considered fresh and enjoyable. You should also think through ways to keep the mosquitoes or bees away, like screen tenting or insect-repelling torches or candles.
Food trucks: Want to add an epic Instagrammable moment to your night? Food trucks are not just for street food and they can be used to serve almost anything under the sun. Maybe your truck could be a pop-up bar for cocktails and local brews or a sweets station for donuts and mini Bundt cakes. Or it could be the perfect setting for your ice cream sundae station! Perhaps you don’t have the space for a full-sized food truck. What about a small cart pushed by a waiter who can bring the treats to you? Think about a rolling freezer cart offering creamsicles or a portable chef station serving appetizers whipped up fresh for each guest. If you really want to create a culinary conversation starter, keep the outside set-up a surprise and do a big reveal when the time is right!
DESSERTS AND SWEETS
Don’t forget about dessert! Maybe a large wedding cake isn’t your style. You can still cut a ceremonial cake while offering your guests individually-sized treats that they can grab whenever they feel like giving into their sweet tooth. Set up a s’mores station or take it a step further with single- serving cups of melted chocolate filled with marshmallows and fruit on a decorative stick. Create a photo- worthy dessert wall displaying donuts, cake pops or cupcakes. See-through containers like cocktail glasses or Mason jars are perfect for showing off decorative treats like parfaits, layer cakes, puddings or other desserts that look as good as they taste. How about kid-friendly sweets like made-to-order ice cream sundaes or milk and cookie cups? Once you start thinking outside the box, you’ll realize that there are plenty of ways to jazz up your dessert course beyond the traditional slice of cake for every guest.
TELL YOUR STORY
However you choose to serve your meals for your wedding celebration, be sure that the dishes are meaningful to you and your partner. Your food choices are a great way to share your story with your guests. Maybe that means including some traditional dishes from your ethnic heritage or selecting foods that hold special memories in your relationship. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to the presentation for your wedding cuisine. Surprising your guests with something delightful and unexpected is a perfect way to make your celebration unique and create a memorable culinary experience.