Trend Report: Tips from the Experts, from Preparation to the After Party
When it comes to planning your wedding reception, there’s one thing you want to do: Throw a great party. We talked to Chicago-area wedding experts to pinpoint some of the top trends for the coming year, from flowers to cocktails to the after party. So pick a few trends and start planning. You’ll have a beautiful reception that guests can’t wait to attend.
The dining portion of your reception is a major part of the event, and Amanda Belton, director of catering for PUBLIC Chicago is seeing “a huge trend toward standing receptions versus seated dinners so that people can mingle all night and have a great party atmosphere.”
“We are also seeing a huge demand for food that is unique in some way,” she says. “We make all our food in-house, which we are very proud of, so couples really enjoy the fact that they are getting a ‘from-scratch’ kitchen experience versus typical banquet food. For seated dinners, I see an increased demand for family style items such as shareable starters and desserts. Couples like the social atmosphere that shareable items create.”
Sheri Lechleitner agrees. The director of catering and events for The Allerton Hotel Chicago is seeing “more action stations with chefs preparing foods in the room,” which “lends a more casual atmosphere and more color, and guests can mingle more.”
Nell Oz, senior social catering manager and wedding specialist at theWit Hotel, says the venue also does a lot of stations.
“It used to be plated dinners, but now we’re doing sushi stations, carving, salad stations,” she says. “The salads are in a martini glass—it’s not a bowl of salad like you used to see.”
On the other hand, Antoinette Cahill, senior catering manager at The Drake, sees couples veering toward plated dinners. The hotel’s weddings are often black tie, and the formal aspect of plated meals appeals to couples seeking a more traditional event.
Restaurant trends can make their way to wedding receptions. Professional Bridal Consultant Jane Allen of Jane Allen Events says that seasonality is a huge trend. “In October there are pumpkin dishes or apple cider; in the spring there’s fresh asparagus,” she says. And think small—mini foods are an important part of the cocktail hour before dinner and the post-dinner snack. Cahill says that amuse-bouches, a single bite served immediately before the meal, are becoming popular.
“The cocktail hour of any wedding should have lots of fun and mini foods for your guests to enjoy,” says Trina Sims, owner of Weddings & Events by Trina. “Plan to have an assortment of hors d’oeuvres that may tie in with your ethnic background or, even better, your guests’ ethnic backgrounds. It’s a tasty way to experience some elements of creativity that you would not normally.” For late-night snacks, nearly everyone noted the continued trend of mini hot dogs, mac and cheese, and other comfort dishes as the night winds down. Ashley Smith, general manager and banquet sales director of Ravisloe Country Club, says, “Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and White Castle–style sliders are popular options.”
The small trend isn’t just for cocktail snacks—it’s for the cocktail as well.
“We always have mini martinis, and that way everyone can have an assortment of flavors,” says Mary Ann Kenmotsu, director of social catering at the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare. “They’re about four ounces, and we have all kinds—a mango martini, apple martini, cosmos, chocolate martini, and lemon drops.”
Experts are divided on whether the signature cocktail trend is here to stay, but creating custom drinks from scratch is still popular at some venues.
“We make custom syrups here at the hotel, so we are seeing a lot of requests for custom cocktail creations as well,” Belton says.
Cahill sees couples crafting martinis around the color and theme of their wedding. For another fun option, she says, consider custom ice luges during cocktail hour.
While tall white wedding cakes will never go out of style, many couples are opting to give their dessert a personal spin.
Couples are “doing desserts they love, such as pie or sundae bars, root beer floats—things that are nostalgic,” says Nikee Fellows, culinary event specialist at Catered By Design at Winnetka Community House.
Oz agrees, noting that, after the cake, theWit serves “a platter of mini petit fours like cheesecake lollipops, fruit tartlets, and macarons to each table.” Candy stations are also surging, and Allen has done a s’mores station to replace the traditional chocolate fountain.
NATURAL FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS
Brides are shaving costs off floral arrangements by opting for more affordable varieties or putting their own spin on bouquets. “I’m not seeing big expensive flowers, but ones you could find in the everyday garden,” says Farrah Singh, owner of Simply Azure Events. “Things like peonies, hydrangeas, and gardenias.”
The DIY aesthetic often gravitates toward rustic sensibilities, and wedding pros are seeing quite a bit of “rustic country” theme, as Singh puts it, with mason jars, antique-style photo booths, and other vintage-style decor items providing a laid-back feel.
For colors, silver is trendy and appearing in everything from tablecloths to accents, while black and white remain popular.
Kenmotsu is seeing a lounge vibe, with “furniture such as ottomans and pillows near the dance floor,” she says. “We’re seeing fluffy pillows or monogrammed or embroidered pillows to make it more personal.”
If you’ve been to restaurants like the Publican, you know that communal seating is popular at Chicago restaurants. Now weddings are embracing that idea.
“People are arranging seating so it’s more conducive to conversation,” says Ari Megalis, manager at the Chateau Ritz. “I’ve seen a lot of larger tables with more than 12 people, or a long communal table for 20.”
You can use your chosen colors, monogram, and theme to make your wedding cohesive. “Everything is being presented in a more put-together fashion,” says Heather Lynne Vickery, owner and event director of Greatest Expectations Special Events & Weddings Inc. “The color palette or monogram appears in everything from the water bottle you’re handed when you arrive to the welcome bag to the programs to the thank-you note. It makes everything feel special.” She continues, “The concepts don’t change—you still have a couple and guests, and you’re being fed and entertained—but it’s all about the package you put it in.”
LIGHT UP THE ROOM
Lighting enables you to make a strong impact on a space without a lot of effort. “Lighting is always important, because it’s a quick, easy, economical way to change the atmosphere of a room,” Kenmotsu says. “Chandeliers are one color when guests enter the room, and then they can change to another color for dinner and into something fun for the dancing portion. Purple is the hottest color this year in lighting.” Allen is seeing similar trends. “We use a lot of spot lighting, where the light gets projected in the center of the table so there’s an angel glow around the centerpiece,” she says. “Other things that are becoming popular are changing the colors of the room throughout the night to change the ambience.”
STICK TO A BUDGET
Since we are emerging from a recession, it’s no surprise that couples are looking for ways to reign in wedding costs.
“The cost of an average wedding is around $27,000,” says Sims. “Couples are looking into the off-season for getting married. Between November and April you can find a lot of great savings, from wedding gowns to perfect banquet spaces and honeymoon trips.” Fellows says that she’s seeing an increase in daytime ceremonies and receptions.
“People are leaning toward having the wedding much earlier in the day, and then planning something fun in the evening,” she says. “I would say it’s half saving money and half looking for more entertainment for their guests. They’re doing things in the evening like taking buses downtown for a theater performance.”
Sunday and Friday weddings are becoming more popular, since those are more affordable times to book a reception, noted Singh.
“I’ve also seen more people choosing smaller, more intimate weddings, as well doing the reception separately, which cuts costs,” she says. “Having the ceremony and the reception in the same place also cuts costs.”
Selecting a wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses is one of the most important aspects of planning a wedding, but you don’t have to select just one.
“I’m seeing more color, and girls are getting adventurous,” says Sharon Ringier of Sharon Ringier Events. “Every one of my brides wants to change dresses. Now, girls are changing into a second dress that’s more colorful, a little sexier, and with a lot less fluff.” Color has also been appearing in dress sashes and shoes.
And the days of all bridesmaids wearing the same dress are over.
“For the bridal party, bridesmaids are wearing different colors and different dresses,” Ringier says. “They have the same feel and are made by the same designer, but they’re just different looks.”
It’s not just ladies who are changing their outfits as the night goes on.
“Guys are also changing suits,” Ringier says. “Think of suits that are kind of GQ.” Guys can “wear a fedora and skinny pants for almost a Rat Pack look.”
Singh says that brides are inspired by movies, and the Snow White movies and The Vow (a 2012 romantic drama starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum) are affecting dress choices.
“A-line and straight-line dresses are popular,” she says. And McAdams’s character in The Vow wore a short dress. “Things are less traditional and more personal overall. It’s going to be more focused on the couple’s decisions, since they’re the ones paying for it and will do the things they really like.”
Several planners noted the popularity of lace, which Allen says is an “elegant” choice.
While the dress is important, accessories can help complete your ensemble. Sims says that birdcage veils and comb accessories are still popular, but brides are moving a way from the long cathedral veil. She also notes that pearls are “making a comeback,” so accessorize with a pearl necklace. Also, “larger, bold neck pieces” can add an unexpected touch to your dress.
At The Drake, Cahill is seeing big orchestras, while Belton notes that “DJs are back in,” which lends the event a fun, party atmosphere. “People are selecting songs that have much more meaning for daddy–daughter dances,” Kenmotsu says.
ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITION
“Overall, the atmosphere is not so set on tradition and formality like it used to be,” says Kenmotsu. “People will have something they ate for their first date on the menu. Who walks the bride down the aisle changes; who does the toast changes. It’s not uncommon to see a best man who’s a woman and vice versa.”
KEEP THE PARTY GOING
A great party doesn’t end when the dancing portion is over—lots of couples are finding ways to extend the night. Whether it’s planning a post-wedding activity or just moving to another part of the venue, no one wants the party to stop. Lechleitner says couples are getting extended bar hours and private lounges for the bridal party.
Your wedding is a great time to let your creativity fly and plan an event that suits you, your groom, and your guests. So pick the trends that fit your style, budget, and aesthetic, and get ready for an amazing party you’ll remember forever.