By: Caroline Wolfe Papocchia, event planner and student advisor for the Sheffield School’s Wedding and Event Planning course. The Sheffield School is based in New York City and offers a comprehensive home study program that has successfully trained event planners across the United States and around the world.
Wedding Catering Basics
The food at a wedding is a personal reflection of the couple, and is perhaps the most memorable element. Guests won’t always remember the ribbon-tied bag of Jordan almonds at their place setting, but they’ll certainly remember if they enjoyed the meal. At the Sheffield School, we emphasize the importance of a solid catering plan as a cornerstone of a successful event.
When selecting a catering plan, presentation is a major consideration since the serving style can instantly define the atmosphere. The two most common types of service are buffet and plated.
If you serve food during the cocktail hour, there is room for customization. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres can be passed by servers (butlered) or pre-set on manned or unmanned stations. Though inexpensive, stationary hors d’oeuvres can be elegant. I recently attended an event where an hors d’oeuvres station served only caviar set in a narrow groove carved into an enormous block of ice.
Of course, the catering industry is always changing! Two of the most significant, recent trends have altered both the way food is served and where it comes from.
Wedding Catering Trend: Family Style Service
Family style service has become very popular in recent years. With deep roots in Italian cuisine, family style service straddles the lines of formal and informal, and buffeted and plated. Large plated dishes are set on the dining tables and guests serve themselves individually from each. For couples opting for smaller or more intimate weddings, family style catering fits the bill perfectly.
Photo by Travis Kaufman for Frankies 457 Spuntino
Frankie’s 457 Spuntino in Brooklyn, NY is famous for its delicious food, rustic outdoor event space, and family style catering. Director of special events Marci DeLozier Haas explained to me that Frankie’s service is elegant but informal, and the pass-and-share experience conjures nostalgia of family meals. In complement to the serving style, the food itself is rustic, homemade, and created from simple, fresh ingredients.
Beyond the emotional appeal, family style service is flexible for appetites and food preferences. At Frankie’s, each dish is presented on a separate platter. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian options don’t mix, and guests can take more or less of each item as they please. Family style catering is also economical: a small variety of dishes with multiple platters of each gives the meal a sense of abundance on the table. All in all, the meal is intimate, convivial, and truly festive.
Wedding Catering Trend: Local, Organic, Sustainable
The other recent catering trend relates directly to where the food comes from. On a national scale, there has been a migration away from industrialized agriculture toward fresh, seasonal foods. Couples eager to go green can now seek and find caterers who use local, organic ingredients.
Photo by Laurie Rhodes for The Cleaver Co.
Mary Cleaver, a caterer in New York City for over thirty years, has fought to provide local and seasonal food since she began her career. A passionate innovator in the industry, Cleaver believes that people face an urgent imperative to re-assess what and how we eat, and she has structured her entire approach to catering on this premise.
The Cleaver Co. creates its menus from locally-farmed ingredients with a mantra: fresh and flavor first. This food philosophy also informs Cleaver’s style philosophy. Mary recommends that couples simplify the menu to let ingredients shine. She also prefers family-style service at long tables to emphasize the communal joy of the wedding celebration. But going green means no waste, too, and catering can be very wasteful because of food that is prepared, uneaten and discarded. Mary encourages couples to graciously limit the number of menu options to cut down on waste, and Cleaver is one of the few catering companies that donates its extraneous ingredients and composts its scraps.
Remember, what you serve on your special day may be as important as how you serve it and where it comes from. Brides and grooms often underestimate how much they can truly customize their wedding catering to match their personal styles or philosophies. Remember: caterers are eager to create a perfect menu and atmosphere tailored just for you!