More personal, more inventive.
Those are the dominant trends in wedding receptions, experts say, in an era when brides have all the resources of the Internet to plan, share and often produce their own affairs.
Many are drawn to something beyond the traditional banquet/speeches/garter throw-and-go reception of the past.
PINS AND PLANS
Sites like Project Wedding, The Knot, Wedding Wire and Pinterest show a wide variety of designs for fabric and paper decorations, centerpieces, color schemes, food table displays and party activities. A bride can take on the creative task herself with friends, or share her favorite ideas with professional planners or vendors.
There are tips online for hosting an under-$5,000 wedding (have an afternoon affair serving cookies, cider and champagne instead of a whole meal, decorate tables with trails of polished river rocks and small bowls of single-hued flowers), or making a large reception feel more intimate (group people at smaller tables, provide sofas or lounge areas for casual conversation).
Many sites include region-specific vendor lists.
A bride "has access to tons of creative, easy ideas that she can even replicate herself to save a little money and add unique personality to her event," says Diana Vermeulen, who runs the Detroit-based Moxie Photography. She shoots photojournalist-style weddings with a contemporary vibe; she likes to train her camera on candid moments — a group of guests sharing a laugh; the bride in a pensive moment; kids and dogs enjoying the party.
Shira Savada, an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, says that when it comes to details, today's brides aren't "just duplicating something they see in a magazine — it's ordering something custom through Etsy, or having mom make fabric napkins instead of renting."
Vermeulen recalls one couple who gave a nod to older relatives by displaying several of their old wedding dresses on dress forms.
"It was a real point of interest for guests and a virtually cost-free way to decorate some areas of the reception hall," she says.
Craig Norton, director of operations for the Prince George Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says themes are in. He oversees between 40 and 50 weddings a year, with budgets from $10,000 to $120,000.
"We've done a Parisian theme, with a bistro menu en francais. We did a summer camp theme for a couple who had met at one. There was food served in a canoe, a campfire, picnic tables and s'mores," he says.
Savada, at Martha Stewart, says color palettes have gotten more unusual: combos such as gray and black paired with coral, or ivory and cream with emerald.
"Black may not be the first color you think of when you think wedding, but it packs a punch and can be quite elegant," she says. "And metallics are all over the place."
While stripes and polka dots were on trend in the past couple of years, she says, those bold geometrics are yielding again to loose, hand-painted patterns like florals and prints inspired by art and nature.
Savada also notes that some brides love modern typography and juxtaposing sleek elements with a rustic outdoor venue, for example. Others love all things vintage — but now are finding inspiration in mid-century, '60s and '70s style.
Another trend, she says, is having decor pull double duty: escort cards as favors, place cards integrated into the menu, centerpieces for the guests to take home.
"And centerpieces don't have to be flowers," she says. "Couples are using paper blooms, plants, simple candles, fruits or vegetables, and shells."
FLOWERS IN FASHION
Although there are lots of new alternatives to flowers, Norton, at the Prince George, observes that brides still love blooms.
"With the green movement, they were out of style for a while, but we're once again getting requests for big centerpieces and buckets of flowers," he says.
For elaborate affairs, towering glass cylinders filled with crystals, ornaments, glittery sand or submerged blooms are popular.
Tara Druker, who is getting married in October in New Rochelle, N.Y., saw what she wanted while poring over glossy wedding magazines and surfing The Knot: "Succulents are one of my favorite blooms, and when I saw them trending in wedding floral arrangements, along with herbs like lavender and rosemary, I definitely wanted to discuss that option with my florist," she says.
Norton's seeing the return of a wedding-reception icon: the cake.
"Cupcakes are out, and cakes are back," Norton says. "At one wedding, we did a parade of cakes. Each table got its own two-tiered cake, cut and served family style. It's impressive when a train of servers carrying 22 identical cakes walk into a room!"
A couple that worked for Research in Motion Ltd. had a Blackberry-shaped cake; a pair of avid golfers had a nine-hole, course-shaped cake.
Cupcake towers can still be a great alternative to a big pricey confection. Or try a doughnut tower, with gourmet flavors for adults and simpler ones for the children's table.
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds offered a dessert buffet at their Charleston, S.C., wedding last year with mini tartlets, fruit jellies and cups of chocolate espresso beans.
Other brides have gone potluck, inviting guests to bring plates of their favorite cookies.
In a nod to their region, some Southern brides like pie bars.
Meal planning has gotten similarly inventive and personal.
Ethnic menus are in. And Norton has created food stands with hotdogs, French fry cones and scoop ice cream.