Bye bye beef or salmon - it's 'bowl food' for Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's thoroughly modern royal wedding reception
As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle opt for a standing-only reception with canapés, Tanya Sweeney looks at the shift away from 'beef or salmon'
Even before we heard of the lemon and elderflower wedding cake, we had an inkling that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would give tradition the elbow on their wedding day. And there's certainly no surer way to break with royal protocol than with… bowls.
The Queen needn't worry about being seated next to any random American showbiz types, and every other guest has been denied (or spared) the possibility of sitting next to Prince Philip. Instead, Harry and Meghan have done away with the hassle of a seating plan with a standing-only reception. This Saturday, lucky guests will enjoy canapés and small bowls at the afternoon reception as they mingle freely in St George's Hall.
It's a far cry from Prince William and Kate Middleton's more orthodox wedding breakfast of langoustines and crab served right after their ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
Wedding planner Zoe Kelly (mbzinternational.com) has worked in the UK for the last decade and notes that while British wedding guests eat earlier than their Irish counterparts, the action winds up much earlier, too.
"It's not unusual to have a lovely day, yet be gone and on your way home by midnight," she observes. "The 'bowl food' option is very much not the English tradition. But for a growing number of clients, the big thing is, 'how can I make my wedding a bit different?'. They like the idea of a sit-down element, but also love the sharing, social aspect of having platters on a table, where guests can help themselves."
Royal couples often set wedding traditions for years to come, yet according to Andrew Rudd, owner of the Medley restaurant/venue in Dublin, Irish newlyweds have had the jump on the royal couple for some time now. Not quite a traditional buffet, the 'bowl food' set-up involves guests mingling while wait staff circulate with trays of food.
"I've noticed that the formality is being removed from a lot of the weddings that we do, where the wedding party might go to dinner somewhere with 30 of their closest family and friends, then have a bigger party with 200 people afterwards," he says. "We've combined a Bulleit burbon bar with an oyster bar in the past. Alternatively, we offer food stations with Irish, Chinese, Greek or Thai food."
Kate O'Dowd, co-founder of Love & wedding stylists (lovnd.com), has also noticed a shift towards more casual wedding catering.
"That's definitely happening here already," she says. "There's also a little bit of saving in it as you can get rid of tableware, chairs and seat covers. In terms of everything looking the way you want it to look, it's a no-brainer. A lot of people would prefer street food, or something they might not have tried, to the usual beef or fish. Rather than 250 people ordering from a menu and then having to wait for it to be served over five hours, more people are opting for a movable arrangement."
Many Irish people will be familiar with the more relaxed 'second day' of a wedding, where food - more often than not, a barbeque - is served in a much more relaxed style, and off the clock. O'Dowd makes a strong case for deploying the 'second day' plan on the big day itself.
"That's the day that couples use to step outside the box, but the funny thing is, so many people will say they prefer that day so much more," says O'Dowd.
Yet given that it has been such an integral part of the typical Irish wedding for so long, many couples aren't giving up the tradition of a sit-down silver service meal without a fight. The reasons are manifold: many couples are aware that older invitees won't want to stand and mingle for hours on end. There's also the unspoken arrangement that any guest bringing a wedding gift (or even just cash in an envelope) will expect, at the very least, to be sufficiently fed and watered.
"People in Ireland like a traditional dinner," reasons Jenny Flynn, head chef at Faithlegg Hotel & Spa. "Older people would definitely expect it. For younger weddings, we would do food stations and pod tables, but food is such a huge part of the day.
"A lot of Irish wedding guests don't eat for the majority of the day, so a lot of couples don't want to mess with the tradition too much."
As to how Meghan's preferred dish of risotto would go down at an Irish wedding, Kelly suggests giving wedding guests the benefit of the doubt. "Our palate is much more adventurous than it once was and people do like to see something different," she notes. "Risotto would work really well with a couple of different meat or fish options."
Still, there is a way to escape the dreaded 'beef or salmon' clichés that befall many typical Irish weddings.
"With hotels, the beef or salmon option is in the package that you go for," says Kelly. "Sometimes it's worth investigating if a chef will allow you to steer things in a different direction. The big advantage of a marquee or home wedding is that you can get much more creative in this regard."
Rudd observes that a varied selection of food will sate even the biggest, and most exacting, of appetites. "For one event I did last week, I did pinchos (light tapas) - things like home-cured gravadlax, home-smoked chicken, caviar, hummus, dips and breads," he recalls. "Then we removed the starter plates and did things like medallions of beef wrapped in ham, and pan-seared hake, which we served in huge pots. We also did lamb tagine, couscous, chicken in tarragon, fish pie and different salads. Rather than have one dessert, we served small jars or spoons of different desserts, which always looks really impressive."
Adds O'Dowd: "People are opting for things like hog roasts or food trucks. One company we know, Jackrabbit, specialise in Moroccan street food, which often goes down well. Couples think they have to bow to tradition, but people at weddings are often more interested in having the craic."
Yet according to Flynn, some Irish wedding traditions are definitely worth not tampering with.
"I used to think that the cocktail sausages served late at night - the soakage - would be a trend on the way out by now, but not a chance," she smiles. "People absolutely love it."