In preparation for this issue, I found myself swimming well, more drowning in a sea of white. Venues, menus, dresses, rings the span of information and advice on planning weddings seemed endless. Brides- and grooms-to-be have more than enough on their plate while planning a wedding, and the venue they choose is arguably the biggest decision they’ll make (apart from, you know, deciding to get hitched). Stuck somewhere between banquet hall and catering company on the reception venue/food vendor list is the restaurant. Keeping up with current wedding trends is especially important for restaurateurs, as they need to be aware of and prepared for what’s to come this wedding season. The more you know ahead of time, the better prepared you’ll be when a frazzled bride calls you for quotes, menus, and seating arrangements.
With help from Deanne French, Director of Public Relations at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Beach, we’ve compiled a list of what to expect in the upcoming 2011 wedding season. The overarching trend for 2011 seems to be more creative, personal weddings. Brides and grooms are looking for ways to set their wedding apart from the cookie-cutter standard we’ve become accustomed to; expect to see less cake, more dessert bars, and everything personalized, from signature martinis to monogrammed cookies. This year, weddings are all about creativity, meaning the versatile restaurateur has a chance to shine as the one-stop reception shop.
In keeping with the popularity of gastropubs in the last year, couples are looking to incorporate gourmet comfort food into their cocktail hour. Expect to have requests for sliders, truffle mac & cheese, soup shooters, sweet potato fries, and bacon-wrapped anything. The presentation of passed foods has also taken a down-home swing. At the Hyatt Regency Garden Grove on Harbor Blvd., it has become common to use unusual trays, like cedar planks, marble tiles, or unique glass pieces in lieu of the typical metal or plastic platter.
Drinks are really where couples are letting their personalities shine through. Signature cocktails are popular; if the bride loves martinis, she might choose to offer a customized martini tinted to a shade that matches the color scheme of the wedding. Taking this concept a bit further, the couple may choose to offer “his and hers” drinks, serving the groom’s favorite libation alongside the bride’s. Executive Chef Ryan Adams and Events Coordinator Monica Flick of Sorrento Grille note that couples have been choosing to serve only beer and wine with the addition of the bride’s favorite martini and the groom’s favorite cocktail/beer. “This typically keeps the cost lower than a full open bar and is a fun way to personalize the event,” they say.
Couples have also been letting their guests take creative license with their drinks. At the Hyatt, “Art Bars” have been growing in popularity: offering vodka and Sierra Mist martinis with a variety (they suggest eight) of squeeze bottles filled with colored simple syrups allows guests to design their own martinis. This option may be cheaper for both you and the couple, as it will cut down on the variety of liquors and mixers you need to have on-hand. Fantastic!
Goodbye chaffing dishes! We can finally put away those room-temperature sides and canisters of gel fuel. Couples are stepping it up with their main dinner offerings, making sure each guest receives a hot, delicious meal made specially for them. Entree stations are very popular, with each station featuring a meat, starch, and vegetable, enabling guests to assemble their entree to their liking. This encourages guests to interact more with each other and ensures that they will be satisfied with their meal. Although entree stations allow for a large amount of freedom, they can be costly and difficult to execute. You’ll need to have numerous ingredients and chefs on-hand and be able to quickly prepare each dish on-the-spot to keep lines moving.
If this option isn’t very well suited to your business, you can take a page from Sorrento Grille’s book and offer a tasting menu instead. Tasting menus give you a much narrower idea of which dishes you’ll be preparing, so you’ll know the exact amount of product to order and prepare. The only drawback to this option would be if there are dietary restrictions within the group, so you may want to have a few alternative options available (there are always those guests who don’t inform the bride of their fatal peanut allergy until the day of the wedding oy vey).
Possibly the most iconic feature of a wedding the cake is taking a backseat to other sweets. Couples are opting for dessert bars which highlight a selection of treats such as cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake squares, and candy which represent items they have enjoyed as a couple, family recipes, or personal favorites. Desserts are also being served in miniature form as favors for guests to enjoy on the ride home. For some fun dessert ideas, check out the Trends article on page 10 and The Baking Rack on page 8.
Couples who are on a tight budget may skip dinner all together, instead offering an extended cocktail hour. A wine and cheese reception would offer a delicious, sophisticated afternoon. Have a Sommelier available to educate guests about the wine and cheese pairings, either from your restaurant or Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar (The) – Tustin(ies) being featured. If the bride and groom are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, a beer and appetizer reception is a trendy avenue to take. Beer pairing dinners are growing steadily in popularity along with the explosion of craft breweries. Beer pairs well with a variety of foods, but one we love is fried appetizers. Fry up anything from pickles to green beans to sweet potatoes, alongside some hearty, non-fried options for more health-conscious guests. As with the wine and cheese reception, have an expert Brewmaster available to answer questions about the brews offered and their pairings. Both of these options are great for restaurants, breweries, and wineries, as they are the perfect opportunity for cross-promotion and expanding your clientele. Be certain to keep these receptions limited to a few hours during off-times (2 – 4 p.m. or 3 – 5 p.m.) in order to keep guests from making a full meal out of cheese or fries, therefore increasing food costs. Full communication with the bride and groom and their guests is imperative so they know not to expect a full meal and will not be hungry and cranky at the reception.
The key in all this is to be flexible. Brides and grooms want to personalize their receptions as much as possible, so there may not be room for your tried and true dishes and system. The more you are willing to work with a demanding bride, the more likely it is that she will hire you as her reception venue and caterer. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t be a wall; this relationship is one that needs to be symbiotic. Keep in mind the trends that you can expect to see throughout the year and be prepared for what you may be asked to provide. As you know, hosting a wedding can be a fun, positive experience that brings you new customers and a stronger presence in the restaurant community.