Words we never get tired of hearing at weddings are often open bar and buffet. But thanks to the coronavirus the open part is temporarily closed, and the buffet has gone solo.
“Social distancing and safety guidelines have made everyone rethink the way we curate what guests consume,” said Amy Shey Jacobs, the owner of Chandelier Events, an event planning company in New York. “It’s made us tap into our creativity and develop new tools and tricks to deliver elegant, whimsical and decadent solutions where everything is individually served and packaged.”
Rather than taking a back seat, food has become more of a focal point at weddings.
“A wedding without food wasn’t an option, it’s part of sharing an event together,” said David Guggenheim, 40, chief behavioral health officer at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York. He married Michael Bosworth, 42, a partner in Latham & Watkins, an international law firm, on Aug. 22 at a friend’s home in Avon, Conn.
Each of the couple’s 20 guests received a catered picnic basket and monogrammed blanket. “We wanted to serve something where guests could sit far enough away from others and still feel like part of the party,” Mr. Guggenheim said. “It was a nice thing to share and give people to take home afterward.” The baskets, prepared by Tyler Anderson, a contestant on the TV show “Top Chef,” contained biscuits, roast chicken, macaroni and cheese, grilled summer vegetables, German potato salad and a mini bottle of Champagne. Rainbow cake push pops were a substitute for sliced wedding cake.
Those clinging to more traditional settings are swapping bar service with signature cocktails presented by masked servers. And they’re saying goodbye to the ubiquitous communal bowl of nuts or crudités and dip. In its place are separately wrapped nibbles, like honey-glazed roasted bacon strips, truffle popcorn and homemade taro chips. “A bar snack is a different food experience than passed canapés,” said Jason Mitchell Kahn, the owner of Jason Mitchell Kahn and Company, an event planning company in New York. “You’re not waiting for a server to get to you, and it’s a way to make people feel as though they’re having a bar experience.”
With dancing largely at a standstill and entertainment taking a pause, cuisine is now considered the evening activity. “Most weddings have a cocktail hour and a three-course meal: appetizer, entree and dessert,” Ms. Jacobs said, noting that this structure had worked for pre-pandemic weddings because it fostered a smart timeline for dancing and toasts. “With Covid, everything is backward,” he said. “We want guests to stay seated longer, in smaller groups, and we want to avoid crowding at the bar.”
Caterers and planners are now suggesting five-course tasting menus with wine pairings. “This makes it more like a luxurious dinner party, which, given the smaller size of weddings right now, feels appropriate and intimate,” Mr. Kahn said.
These extended feasts can linger for two to four hours and give the evening structure and flow. Courses can be broken up with toasts and video montages, Ms. Jacobs said. She added that “the menus offer more detailed explanations about the food and the wine pairings so there’s an educational element as well. It’s an immersive experience.”
Caterers are also embracing these challenges. “The content is the same so the couple feel we’re providing something they originally wanted, but the preparation and visual execution is different,” said Jeffrey Selden, a managing partner at Marcia Selden Catering & Events, in Stamford, Conn. “We’re creating new design aesthetics and presentations, and finding new places to source products. And everything is customized so people feel special and thought about.”
Among the changes: personalized stickers and labels let guests know something has been sealed and not tampered with and boxes of appetizers with names engraved on the outside. The appetizers are “served room temperature so you don’t have to worry about it going from hot to cold and being compromised,” Mr. Selden said, and they “work as both safe presentation and a take-home gift.”
Visual staging to highlight safety precautions is also being added. Don’t be surprised if you spot servers wearing colored gloves to signify a different food being presented, or if an individual glass dome resting on a beautifully designed tray is removed before you reach for something small and edible. “These have been added to protect hors d’oeuvres from touching one another and guests from touching the food,” Mr. Selden said. Embroidered masks with the name of a dish and aprons sporting the list of ingredients reduce verbal communication between wait staff and guests.
Couples are embracing the food focus. “We changed our venue from the Harold Pratt House to the Foundry, which only had inside seating, so the focus could be on the food and an outdoor setting,” said Dr. Anastasia Grivoyannis, 35, of Baltimore. She married Brian Pujanauski, 37, a data scientist with Mastercard, on Sept. 20. “We splurged on the catering and multicourse meal because we went from 250 people to 43,” she said, “and because a Greek wedding is about no one leaving hungry.”
And no one apparently did. The affair, catered by Thomas Preti Events to Savor, featured 17-layer crepes and caviar that were paired with Ketel One vodka shots, hamburger sliders served with shots of pale ale, and fish tacos with shots of tequila. Each was presented during cocktail hour before to the five-course meal.
“This was a big hit,” said Dr. Grivoyannis, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. “It was empowering to make people feel safe and comfortable.”
She said guests felt more in control. “They didn’t have to get in a line or stand next to someone who wasn’t part of their group,” she added. “They were able to avoid congregating at the bar and didn’t have to wait, which was ingenious.”
And yes, the cake is still being cut, but many event planners say they aren’t serving it. Instead, self-contained boxed cakes, small pies, decorative cookies are being handed out. Or the desserts are finding you.
“One of my recent weddings had four dessert carts,” Mr. Kahn said, with mini treats presented on separate shelves, like strawberry panna cotta, tiramisù, spice cake and chocolate tarts. “We wanted the flexibility to reach guests wherever they were while creating the sensation of a buffet,” he said. “The visual of the cart rolling was theatrical and the desserts were beautiful.”
For Dr. Grivoyannis, presentation was everything. “What’s under the tray or what’s in the mobile cart turned our meal and eating into an adventure and exploration,” she said. “It took away the mental processing of, ‘Is it safe to eat this?’ It put Covid in the back of their minds. The wedding became their first thought. They were able to lean in and enjoy themselves.”