Not wedded to the traditional dinner

Picnics and barbecues, pre-chupah feasts, champagne to go... welcome to the new world of kosher catering


This is where the wedding magic begins. From castles or country estates to five-star city hotels or urban warehouse — take your pick of the venues. Then, whether it’s a rural retreat or city chic, your next task is to find food, drink and service style to complement the surroundings. And the days of a formal three-course, sit-down wedding banquet are long gone.

A summer simchah lends itself to a country vibe. “People love the idea of that outdoors Pimm’s and canapé reception,” says Ed Shaerf of Feast by Ed.

Especially if that perennially English cocktail is sipped from vintage teacups — something Ben Tenenblat serves alongside picnic-themed food stations from which guests can fill their own hampers. “We include traditional pies like steak and Guinness and chicken and mushroom; classic piccalilli; ribbon (finger) sandwiches and champagne.”

Some of his out-of-town weddings are so relaxed — especially when many celebrants are staying overnight — that Teneblat’s guests are invited to help themselves to drinks: “We leave chilled champagne on haystacks for guests to help themselves to while our staff keep an eye and keep things tidy.” He also offers a flower-bedecked champagne wall, where guests can grab and go.

For dinner, the casual mood continues with many caterers, who suggest food stations like Mexican tacos or (traditional Mexican-inspired) lamb barbacoa bars; or even barbecues where there is sufficient space.

Sharing plates, served family-style by guests at their tables, also remain popular. “Cuisines like Middle Eastern, Thai and Mexican lend themselves to that style. We serve lots of smaller dishes, large enough for about three people to share and which we keep on replenishing as they are easier to pass around than than platters big enough for the whole table,” says Shaerf.

Adam Nathan says another benefit to the family-style platters is they make more variety possible: “You can worry less about having to cater for plainer eaters — with six things on the table, three of those dishes can provide for those who don’t like spice, for example.”
For Benjy Levey of Eat Me Events, the sharing goes on with the final course — when platters are laden with tasting-sized desserts. “We arrange them on raisers — at different levels on the table — and serve 30 to 40 miniature desserts (canapé-sized) that include caramelised apple crumble; sticky toffee puddings; chocolate mousse shots — anything we can make miniature.”

Nathan has catered weddings in country venues from castles to teepees at farms and points out that your immediate surroundings can govern the formality of your service style. “A stretch tent will be far less structured than a formal marquee.” So, there’s room for a more traditional affair, even in the middle of nowhere.

And vice versa. If you prefer a venue closer to home that doesn’t hijack a whole weekend, but still fancy a rustic ambience, caterers can expertly blend the two — bringing an al fresco feel to the smartest of London venues. “We did a recent function at The Dorchester hotel and created an Italian garden with olive trees and beautiful Italian plates and sharing food, all designed to give an Italian flavour. We created that relaxed vibe within the four walls,” says one of the kosher catering industry’s most experienced professionals, Tony Page.

Page agrees country-style weddings are more popular than ever before but warns there’s a balance to be made between partying in the country and taking the risk on the weather. “There are very few country locations that provide the facility to be outside without relying on a marquee — especially for larger numbers,” he notes, and this can be an expensive option — involving the cost of a venue plus that of the infrastructure to support the party should the heavens open. Good advice when (despite last year’s totally tropical heat) English summers are famously unpredictable — with even kings unable to avoid a showery simchah. You’ll need a wet weather plan — and plan B generally comes with a hefty price tag.

Creating a country feel in town also relies upon clever room design, says Page: “We work closely with a number of talented decorators.”

Tenenblat’s staff uniforms are selected to suit the event. “At a country-based wedding, the look is elegant shabby chic — Soho House influenced. Chinos, jeans, clean trainers and branded t-shirts. Classy and elegant.”

Staff appearance is also part of the whole picture for Page, with a wardrobe of different outfits and styles, from white jackets and black trousers to dinner suits or chinos, beige aprons and white shirts. “We make sure our staff are well groomed and have hair and make-up [stylists] for them. If staff feel good, they perform better,” he says.

The experts agree that an out-of-town function is invariably more laidback. Guests travelling some distance often opt to stay overnight or longer which gives your celebrations a holiday feel.

“You won’t just go out to the Cotswolds for a Sunday wedding — most of the time you’re also doing the Friday and Saturday. And possibly a brunch on the Monday — which we do quite often, it almost becomes a destination wedding; atmosphere and people’s attitudes are completely different,” says Tenenblat.

That can mean catering for several meals and into the night, as your guests party until the early hours.

That may be the case anyway, for a non-school-night wedding: “The kids like to party into the night,” says Page, smiling. He’s ready for any eventuality with energy-giving snacks. “We’ll be serving French fries and sliders; miniature hot dogs and little croque Reuben sandwiches; mini bagels with lots of alcohol!”

A city wedding, says Tenenblat, may not have the same relaxed feel for your guests, “after trying to find parking in town, stressing, paying the congestion charge, and they have to drive home and they’re watching the clock.”

If you do choose to stay in town, “you’ve got some great new London hotels opening this year,” says Tenenblat.

“Raffles is opening in the Old War Rooms at Whitehall and The Rosewood opening in 2024/2025 in the new Chancery where the old American Embassy used to be.”

“At the big London hotels, we edge towards a fine dining and elegant vibe,” says Shaerf. But although a town wedding may lean towards the tried and trusted format of canapés followed by three-course meal, there is the option to mix it up, with the trend for a pre-chupah reception.

“Some of my clients have followed the American/Israeli style of having a canapé reception first and then the chupah while guests are around the table. Then it just goes straight into the party — smash the glass — mazel tov — dancing! And they don’t go back out to the reception,” says Tenenblat.

Some brides and grooms delight in keeping their twist on the traditional timetable a surprise: “We’ve had two clients who didn’t even tell the guests that was happening. They said chupah at (let’s say) five o’clock, when in fact it was at six o’clock, but they did the reception first. They knew everyone would be there on time for the chupah, had a great reception for an hour; filled themselves up, directly into the ceremony. No one needs to move the tables and then straight on to a party!”

And some city-centre weddings opt for lots of food stations, with the Tony Page team serving diverse dishes from bao buns to ceviches, and for desserts, from crepe suzette or chocolate stations to fruit bars (where chefs prepare fruits to order) and ice cream bars, offering the couple’s favourite flavours.

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