Today’s couples want wedding venues that can create a one-of-a-kind experience. At clubs and resorts across the country, catering professionals are working with brides and grooms to customize every aspect of their special day, from cocktails to dessert.
It’s been more than two years since Lisa Carruth, CPCE, Director of Catering/Member Relations Director at BraeBurn Country Club in Houston, Texas, has sold a wedding package—at least the standard kind.
“Our members expect us to go beyond serving martinis with cutesy names and chicken on a plate with potatoes and green beans,” Carruth explains. “They want us to work with them to create totally personalized experiences—ones that their guests have never had before—including interesting food and pairings with wine or craft cocktails.”
|SUMMING IT UP
• Couples now want high levels of customization for all aspects of their wedding fare, from cocktails to dessert.
At BraeBurn, that could mean Gulf Coast shrimp ceviche with fried plantains and herbed popcorn, instead of the usual cheese display. Or a bone-in rib eye carving station paired with mint juleps, for a Kentucky Derby wedding theme.
House-infused vodkas are the basis of many craft cocktails at the club. A recent pairing showcased fresh rosemary-infused vodka combined with Texas blueberry purée, matched with cheddar-topped, braised short-rib sliders.
“Our ability to create unique experiences for them makes our members feel the value of belonging to BraeBurn,” Carruth says.
Curated food and drink stations are also changing the face of the cocktail hour and dinner service for weddings held at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo. Instead of lining up at the bar, explains Mary Beth Darr, the club’s Food and Beverage Director, guests can pick up a glass of wine at the cheese display, a bourbon-based cocktail at the station that serves bacon lollipops (thick, house-cut strips that are glazed and served on skewers), or a mini-margarita at the fajita bar or nacho station. Carving-station entrees such as herb-crusted beef tenderloin and roasted pork loin are paired with complementary wines.
“The pairings give people the chance to taste some new and different food-and-drink-combinations,” Darr notes. “And they reduce the wait at the bar.”
Couples typically offer one or two stations for cocktail hour, she notes. In lieu of a formal dinner, weddings at Old Hawthorne may feature another four to six stations.
At the Bellevue (Wash.) Club, some brides and grooms take cocktail customization to a whole new level. To create their own signature drinks, guests are given a choice of three white liquors—rum, vodka and tequila—along with a selection of fruit juices and other add-ins such as mint and lime syrups, fresh lime and lemon, cilantro and cucumber. To save time, martini glasses are lollipop-rimmed (with sugar) in advance.
“We have two bartenders on duty and offer a limited number of ingredients to keep the line moving,” says Jill Parravano, the club’s Catering Sales Director. “We also pass trays of red and white wines, to provide an alternative to the bar.”
But even couples who want to go beyond the usual food-and-drink offerings often like to include some classic items on their cocktail and dinner menus. At the bar at Old Hawthorne, that means the Limoncello Martini and the ever-popular Old Fashioned. For hors d’oeuvres, it means the in-house battered coconut shrimp with rum sauce and with dinner, a side of bacon-wrapped, locally sourced Brussels sprouts.
At BraeBurn CC, the crab mixture that’s usually served as a dip in the club’s restaurant is turned into individual crostinis, for an easy-to-eat hors d’oeuvre.
Getting the Party Started
With so much focus on the food at wedding receptions, tastings can get quite elaborate. During a typical tasting (which is complimentary with a signed contract) at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo., couples sample four to five appetizers, three salads, and three entrees. Occasionally, says Mary Beth Darr, the club’s Food and Beverage Director, the bride and groom will also want to include their parents in the tasting.
“We make it a really fun event,” Darr says. “In many cases, this is the only chance the bride and groom will have to really partake of the food, because there are so many distractions at the actual wedding.”
Tastings at the Bellevue (Wash.) Club (also offered at no charge for couples who have booked their receptions) usually involve a selection of six hors d’oeuvres, two salads, and two entrees. At BraeBurn Country Club in Houston, Texas, members can taste between 10 and 12 hors d’oeuvres, three to four salads, and four to five entrees. There is a tasting fee for non-members, which is credited to their bill for the reception. Up to six people can participate in the tasting.
For dinner service, a growing number of couples at the Bellevue Club are electing to go family-style, Parravano notes.
“Family-style encourages social interaction among guests, something we’ve lost along the way, with people always having their phones in their faces,” she says. “Sharing food creates a nice sense of community.”
To couples who want to go more formal than family-style, Parravano suggests a plated meat-and-fish duet. “The things that guests remember best about a wedding are the atmosphere, music and food,” she said. “You want to make sure that they are well-fed.”
At BraeBurn CC, Carruth has seen a shift in dinner service from stations back to traditional plated entrees. “A couple of years ago, station service was 75% of our wedding business; now it’s 50/50,” she reports.
The Best for Last
The wedding cake may still be the star attraction for dessert, but at The Club at Old Hawthorne, it is not served as a course on its own. Rather, it’s part of a dessert station that is also likely to include a doughnut-frying station with toppings such as cinnamon sugar and sauces such as chocolate or caramel, to allow guests to customize their treats. The station also include cups of spirit-laced coffee.
“People are obsessed with doughnuts,” Darr says. “We’re looking at doing a wall of doughnuts, with the pastries hanging on pegs for guests to grab.”
At another enthusiastically received interactive station at Old Hawthorne, a chef hand-dips apples on sticks into caramel. Guests can then coat their apple with sprinkles, chocolate chips, nuts and other toppings.
A few years ago, Bellevue Club’s Parravano notes, she saw a lot of “fake wedding cakes” that would be displayed while guests were served from sheet cakes kept in the kitchen. But now, the real thing is making a strong comeback.
“Couples are viewing the multi-tiered cake like they view the dress—both are big parts of the wedding experience,” she says.
Like Darr, Parravano is also seeing a lot of doughnuts on the dessert table. Other stations include a s’mores bar, chocolate-covered strawberries and cookies with shots of milk.
At BraeBurn CC, a station pairing the wedding cake with ice cream is meant to evoke happy feelings of nostalgia. Cake plates are rimmed with sprinkles or coconut flakes.
A signature dessert at BraeBurn that “people have just gone crazy for,” according to Carruth, is a warm, soft ricotta cake with almond crème anglaise, house-made sour cherry sorbetto and cherry pop rocks. For an extra, interactive component, she reports, the sorbetto can be made right in front of guests, by freezing it in liquid nitrogen.
“It’s as much an experience as it is a dessert,” Carruth says. “You can actually hear the candy pop while it is being served.”
Liquid nitrogen is also used at BraeBurn as part of a playful station dedicated to ice cream-dipped marshmallows.
“The marshmallows are dipped in the liquid nitrogen to freeze them, then dipped in ice cream to create layers of flavor,” Carruth says. “When you eat it, it’s like a cloud exploding in your mouth.”
To accompany the dessert offerings at BraeBurn, couples can opt to do a “bubbly bar,” featuring two or three sparkling wines such as champagne and prosecco. Guests are invited to add different kinds of fresh berries, other fruit and/or fruit juices.
“Champagne and other sparkling wines are still the international symbol of celebration,” Carruth points out. “Bubbly bars are a huge thing right now.”
To cap off the reception and, as Carruth puts it, “soak up some of the alcohol,” many couples are serving late-night bites such as sliders with French fries (the most popular at BraeBurn), mac and cheese bites, or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato-soup shooters. Old Hawthorne, Darr says, does “a whole lot” of nacho bars, as well as sliders or more “breakfasty” items, such as waffles or pancakes.