FOR STARTERS … Just as the bride makes a grand entrance at the reception, so should the hors d’oeuvre and appetizers. Caterer Debra Lykkemark, CEO of Culinary Capers Catering, Vancouver, British Columbia, always encourages her brides to splurge on passed hors d’oeuvre during the cocktail hour—in terms of both quality and quantity. “They make a great first impression,” she says. “Also, there’s nothing worse than guests drinking for two hours with not enough food while the bridal party has their pictures done.”

Favorite bites that highlight two top food trends—haute vegan-vegetarian and sous vide—include butternut squash, apple and celery root terrine with pecan maple salsa verde, edamame-cucumber cups with ginger and sweet chile sauce, and coconut-kaffir lime rice cakes with chile peanuts.

And for better or worse, first impressions of food have everything to do with looks. “Visually stunning, enhanced hors d’oeuvre trays, such as texture-filled shadow boxes and even larger hawker-style carry trays, make for an exciting presentation of finger foods and smaller bites,” says Warren Dietel, president/owner of Puff 'n Stuff Events and Catering, Orlando, Fla., noting that the large compartmentalized carry trays lend themselves especially well to charcuterie. “We are also using small serving vessels that cleverly relate to the foods to which they are paired,” he adds. Indeed, the caterer’s seared ahi tuna bites tucked into sardine tins bear testament to this trend.

As for appetizer buffets and food stations, the artful pairing of booze and finger foods adds another level of creativity to the cocktail hour. Arlington, Va.-based Design Cuisine’s popular "eat and sip" appetizer stations offer the traditional wines with artisanal cheeses, as well as beers and bar snacks (Pilsner Urquell and soft pretzel bites; Sapporo and wasabi popcorn), and small-batch specialty whiskeys and smoked meats (Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon with apple pancakes and smoked duck, Virginia Highland Malt Whiskey with wild mushroom and bacon puffs).