Back to top

Jaw Dropping Masterpieces

Paula Gerize


People are attending more weddings today than they have in the past, so couples are looking for ways to make their wedding stand out from the crowd. Brides feel guests will remember a nontraditional wedding, one that gave them a slightly different experience from the standard three courses and cake. And the wedding meal is a great place to start in going nontraditional. Breaking from tradition can also mean breaking away from the ordinary. For couples needing to catch an early flight the next day, an afternoon dessert reception can be a good idea. And some couples want an event that’s more in line with their typical style of entertaining, like an elegant brunch rather than dancing until dawn. By hosting a daytime event, such as an elegant tea, popular venues are more likely to be available because in-demand spaces fill up quickly for the evenings, especially for Saturday night.

But the best reason to consider something alternative is that it might just be more fun. For example, a causal wedding, where guests aren’t assigned to specific chairs, may generate the spirit and energy you’re looking for by giving guests a chance to mingle more. It also gives your best friend a much better chance at catching the eye of that cute groomsman not to be planted several feet apart. Nontraditional receptions can help put guests at ease too. By including something unexpected in your reception, you help to bring together members of your families and your friends who don’t know each other, and this allows them to get to know each other in a less structured, more friendly environment. Anything out of the ordinary is a great conversation starter and gives everyone some common ground. An unconventional event can be a social focal point for those without much in common, or you can get guests chatting with an unusual presentation and wonderful food. Eliminating the formal, sit-down mode is a clever way to deal with ex-spouses, family feuds or unwanted tension that would put a damper on everyone else’s fun. As an added benefit, you and your wedding planner can get more creative and you can do so much more when you aren’t locked into a structured format. So build your special day with the flavors of your own signature style. Serve special ethnic dishes from your respective cultures. Or showcase the regional delicacies of your home to out-of-town guests. Be aware, however, that just having an “alternative” wedding doesn’t necessarily mean that the wedding will cost less. Elaborate displays of imported delicacies and labor-intensive special foods might even cost more than a simple seated dinner.

Moving away from what’s traditional can be unnerving, but that’s no reason to stick with the status quo. Everyone can learn to embrace something a little different. And with the right menu, a stunning presentation and the proper ambiance, your reception will outshine the same old sit-down routine.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

A step up

If you want to serve a complete meal without the traditional sit-down dinner, a modified service format can be a good choice. A semi-sit-down meal is a step up from the standard buffet. In this model, you serve fresh breads and salad at the table, a buffet-style meal and a plated dessert. Or you may reverse this with a buffet-style salad, a plated meal and a dessert buffet. You may choose to serve the entrée family-style. In this model, you have waiters bring platters and bowls of food to the table for guests to share and pass amongst themselves at their table. Your friends and family will love the interactive atmosphere of this service style. There are other ways to step up the meal and make it more memorable for guests. Consider table-side service, where the meal is plated in front of guests rather than in the kitchen. This adds a real flare to the meal and guests seem to enjoy the show. You might consider a reception with multiple serving stations.

This is considered a small-plate reception: Beautifully styled chef-prepared plates of miniature entrées are served from multiple serving stations. This format mimics a dinner in that guests are served the same amount of food they would get from full-sized dishes, but by being served two- or three-bite portions, they get greater variety. Complement each entrée with a beverage. Designed to be free-flowing, this meal service is the perfect solution for brides who want their guests to socialize. Another smart and exciting service style is chef-manned stations, wherein the food is prepared fresh in front of the guests and then served. This way, the food is customizable and is a delight for the crowd. You might find a juggling act of flames and frying pans at dueling chef stations. To really shake things up, offer a shaker salad station. This model is very presentation-oriented. Have guests pick their lettuce, toppings and dressing, then shake it up in a martini shaker and serve it in a martini glass. It will be a big hit with your guests.

Afternoon tea, anyone?

For many brides, a tea party reception is very sentimental. It can be a great way to connect with one’s past, stirring up fond memories of having tea with Grandmother. Traditionally tea receptions are served at 4 p.m., but can be held earlier if you wish. They usually offer a tasty arrangement of sweets. Some venues that have tea receptions often will have ready-made menus. Traditional menus will have crumpets or scones served with assorted preserves, flavored butters, lemon curd and Devonshire cream. They’ll also offer a selection of lightly filled tea sandwiches. Also think about tailoring the spread to your own taste. The tea itself is an important part of the menu. Besides traditional black, introduce your guests to more exotic brews with full-bodied flavors, or the rare, elegant white tea called silver needle. Offer a fruit or spiced herbal blend for those who wish to avoid caffeine. If a traditional tea reception sounds a bit too stuffy, plan a contemporary one instead. This will allow you to infuse the event with your own personal style. Serve your tea buffet-style or in courses around small tables. Or simply let guests order their tea à la carte. This way everyone can enjoy their own choice of beverage. For non-tea drinkers, coffee, juice or punch will be appreciated, as will a tray of mimosas or Bellini cocktails.

Sumptuous brunch

If you want something less formal than a tea reception, throw a brunch reception. It will be the perfect ending to a late morning or early afternoon wedding. A standard brunch usually includes breakfast and a luncheon-style salad and entrée dishes. These events often include a made-to-order station for personalized dishes like Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict, and fresh filled crepes or popovers. You can choose home-style favorites or select more gourmet dishes for an added touch of class. Hiring a butler to serve hors d’oeuvres will keep your guests busy because there will always be something new coming out of the kitchen to stimulate the senses. Or you might even do a full menu in miniatures, with traditional hors d’oeuvres, a fork-served salad and soup shooters, then circulate tiny bites of main course entrées and side dishes. However, buffet-style appetizer stations work well for heavier food items and eliminate the “where is the server?” frustration.

Have fun with this style: Offer a large variety of foods and don’t forget about the vegetarians. Don’t serve the same old cheese cubes or mixed nuts, as the right menu is what makes your reception feel elegant. Take it up a notch and consider having a chef-tended hot serving station offering seafood with fried calamari, oysters Rockefeller, baked clams and bacon-wrapped scallops. Also have a cold station with jumbo shrimp, oysters, king crab and more. Having chefs or servers right there preparing the plates brings the event up to a new level. There is usually limited seating with this format, so offer your guests high-standing tables so that no one has to balance his or her plate, fork, napkin and drink. Plan your food offerings with this in mind. Select food that’s user-friendly. Keep things petite and elegant. Offer personal-sized cheese balls rolled in crushed nuts and served on an edible spinach-leaf napkin. Make sure that anything passed is easy to eat and drip-free. Beverages are an important part of this reception style. The cocktail craze is in full swing, so a selection of innovative drinks will be a welcome addition to a standard open bar. Have a ready-made lineup of refreshing nonalcoholic drinks. Your guests will be delighted to sample clever new drinks.

Fantasy desserts

This is for all your wedding guests who feel one piece of dessert just isn’t enough. Create a dessert smorgasbord candy store, where all your fantasies come true and where you can have anything you want. Present a few jaw-dropping masterpieces supplemented by smaller single-serving goodies. Circulate trays of exquisite chocolates and candy-shop sweets or after-dinner liqueurs served in edible chocolate shot glasses. How about build-your-own shortcake stacks or a parfait buffet with fruit, flavored syrups and creamy mousse? Add a custom-made ice cream sandwich bar. Customized desserts make any event feel extra-special. You can embellish your fantasy dessert spread with a theme. Consider themes such as fruits of the season, a color or a favorite flavor. Be considerate of guests’ dietary needs as well. Offer a few airy meringue kisses for calorie counters and some fresh seasonal fruit to round out the celebration.

Cake and beverage

Even with a simple menu, your reception can be so much more than just a slice of cake. Enhance it with a selection of simple treats like gourmet chocolates and artisan cookies. Then focus on some stellar drinks to really wow your guests. Set out beautiful pitchers of fizzy flavored punches or fruity iced teas. A creative blend of soft drinks will give your party a wedding feel. A selection of gourmet bottled sodas also adds an upscale touch. Offer cappuccinos and assorted gourmet coffees with lots of fixings: flavored syrups, creamy liqueurs, whipped cream, steamed milk, chocolate sprinkles. Break the mold. An ordinary cake and ordinary beverages are what you want to get away from. Luxurious touches are what your guest will remember.

Newsletter Subscribe