Professionals in the wedding industry agree: There is no longer such a thing as a "typical" wedding.
For some, weddings are small and intimate gatherings. For others, weddings are celebrations to be enjoyed by hundreds. Some happy couples desire vibrant colors, while others want earth tones.
Even the idea of tradition itself is a toss-up. One wedding planner says couples are going back to traditional weddings, but another source reports that many customary practices are being replaced by new options.
Universally, however, weddings are becoming more sophisticated. Here are the top decor, floral and catering trends from throughout the industry.
Style: OUT WITH THE OLD Chicago-based bridal consultant Frank Andonoplas says that most couples are opting to personalize their weddings by taking a common interest and making it the theme throughout the celebration.
"I planned one wedding where both the bride and groom loved poetry," says Andonoplas, owner of Bridal Consulting and Event Planning by Frank. "I told them to pick a poem they liked and put a stanza of it on the invitation. The invitation should set the tone for the wedding."
As guests received their place cards, they were directed to sit at one of several tables named for poets, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. "At the table, the full poem was printed on the front each menu," adds Andonoplas.
Another way couples are personalizing their weddings is by incorporating their heritage into the celebration. When event planner Therese Forton, president of Events to a Tee! in Buffalo, N.Y., planned her own wedding, she wanted strong Lebanese (for her heritage) and Irish (for her husband's) themes.
"It's a Lebanese tradition to have a belly dancer at the wedding," says Forton. But she wasn't happy with just hiring a belly dancer to perform. She also took some lessons and belly danced for her new husband. "I didn't want the typical bouquet toss," she adds.
For her husband's Irish heritage, Forton had the Barnes coat of arms sculpted out of ice in honor of his family name.
"People appreciate it when you do something different like that because we all like to know about others' cultures," she says.
While heritage continues to play a role in today's weddings, some conventional practices are falling away. "Nontraditional weddings continue to be the trend," says David Merrell, president of An Original Occasion in Los Angeles. "Traditional practices, like having a head table, are being replaced."
"I haven't used a head table in four years," agrees Mary Noble, owner of San Diego-based Classic Weddings. "We either seat the couple at a sweethearts' table for two or at a round table."
Size: MORE OR LESS Depending on whom you ask, weddings are getting both bigger and smaller.
Merrell says weddings are becoming more intimate, attended by 80 to 150 close friends and family. "Clients are more content to limit their guest list to be able to spend more money per person."
Andonoplas says his clients' guest lists average 150 to 200 guests. "The emphasis is on intimacy and making it count. Couples want their guests to walk away being wowed."
One of his "wow" tactics is to set up the wedding stage in-the-round instead of having the bride walk down the aisle. "It has to be a small crowd. We level the seating using risers," he adds.
On the other hand, some people think the bigger, the better. In New Orleans, a majority of the weddings have at least 350 guests, according to Ashley LeBlanc, sales assistant with Perrier Party Rentals, adding that some weddings have up to 500 guests. "People in New Orleans like to invite everybody," she says.
Noble has noticed a change in numbers for the wedding party. "I've done a lot of weddings recently that have no bridesmaids, not even a maid of honor," she says.
"In another wedding, the bride had six attendants and the groom had two. It doesn't always have to be even."
Site: DESTINATION ANYWHERE >From a beachside setting in California to a deluxe resort in the Orient, >couples are looking for unique places to celebrate their marriage.
Patti Metzger, president of Weddings on the Move in West Bend, Wis., says thousands of couples use her destination wedding Internet service each year to plan their big day. "We do 500 to 600 weddings per year in Mexico alone."
She lists adventure and romance as top reasons that couples opt to get married away from home. "Today it's more likely couples no longer live in the city where they grew up, so their families have to fly somewhere anyway," she explains. "Families would like to be on vacation as well, so it's enticing for them to come along."
Most of her clients get married at a resort in the country they choose. "In all destinations, we have on-site staff to take care of all the legal documentation, arrange the wedding ceremony, the photographer, flowers, reception and travel arrangements," Metzger says.
Hotels in each destination can be listed on the site at no charge, she adds.
For couples who want to get married in a jungle without going to another continent, the Los Angeles Zoo has the solution. Kyla Hope, operations manager for the zoo, says there are five different venues available for wedding receptions, including the Tiger Plaza which seats 150 for dinner. "We offer both open and enclosed areas," she says.
Hope says the venues can be either formal or casual. "It's a unique place to have a reception because you can hear the animal noises."
Other Los Angeles-based reception venues are available on the Wedding Settings video, according to owner John Cooper. The video guide takes couples on a tour of 42 romantic reception sites, such as private estates, restaurants, hotels and private ranches.
Cooper says, "Each video comes with a Bride Guide booklet that contains details such as capacity, pricing, catering options and parking."
Floral: MAKING ARRANGEMENTS One vital element in any wedding is beautiful flowers, and the trend in the Midwest is "less is more," according to Tom Kehoe, owner of Kehoe Designs in Chicago.
"We're doing more low centerpieces of 15 inches or lower, but they are much richer, packed with more flowers," he explains.
Kehoe says he's using moss green, maize and periwinkle colors. "For a fall wedding, we're draping the room in moss green khaki suede, and we're using brown pillar candles in varying sizes, placed inside large black wood trays on the table," he expands. "The tablecloths are made out of suede fabric."
Monochromatic color schemes are also popular. "We just did an all-red wedding, which was awesome," he adds.
Matthew David Hopkins of New York-based Matthew David also likes the monotone arrangement. "I try to provide progression with floral arrangements throughout the evening. If the color is violet, we would start out with pale tones for the wedding, and then use more vibrant tones for the reception," he says. "It helps to keep the evening interesting for the guests."
Hopkins adds that mothers of the bride and groom are no longer wearing corsages, but instead carry little nosegays that they can set down.
Lighting: ILLUMINATING DESIGN Lighting-whether candles, sconces or artificial-is an element that helps set the mood of the wedding. "If I had to take a bet, I'd guess 99 percent of my clients say they want lots of candles," says event producer Randie Wilder-Pellegrini, president of Cordially Invited in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"Candles are still a must," concedes Kehoe. "We'll do a candlelit aisle with 1,000 votive candles in clear cups interspersed with 1,000 or 2,000 rose petals."
Wilder-Pellegrini says projections and holograms are becoming popular as a cool effect. "The most popular are flowers opening and closing, nature images like butterflies and foliage landscapes like falling leaves."
She uses gobos and intelitron lights to project images onto different surfaces. "It's great to experiment with all sorts of fabrics and silhouettes, such as huge balloons and tabletops. Strips of fabrics blowing look amazing.
"A wedding I did recently had a Copacabana/Cuba feel. We projected the silhouette of palm trees onto a black dance floor to create a timeless sepia tone," she says. "We also used black linens and dark wood chairs.
"Every one thinks weddings mean white and pastel, but we don't have to think that way."Decor: RENTAL TAKES SHAPEGood news for rental companies: "All brides want more," according to Noble. "They want color, they want glamour, and they want to make a statement.
"Brides want chandeliers in tents, they want twinkle lights, they want liners, and they want wonderful lighting," she says.
"Almost every wedding I do has specialty linen, china, chairs and napkins," she adds. "It's not just a plain tablecloth, but a velvet tablecloth with rose embossing."
Andonoplas says tabletop design is becoming unique, such as "putting place cards in a mini frame or tying them to a box of chocolates."
Wilder-Pellegrini points out that decor is no longer just floral, linens and chairs. "Take the decor into how you dress your servers, as well," she says. "Or make plastic trays in a shape relevant to the theme, or use unique baskets for passing instead of the typical silver trays."
She also likes to bring in different fabrics and shapes of furniture to decorate a room in what she calls an inviting, residential look. "There's nothing I hate more than when every table looks the same," she adds. "Don't feel as though you have to go with the standard."
She recalls one wedding where she configured the chairs so the center aisle was in the shape of an S (for both surnames) on each side of the aisle.
Catering: IN GOOD TASTE Wedding guests remember two things about a wedding-the entertainment and the food, says John Kowalenko, general manager of The Art of Eating in East Hampton, N.Y. "Some people are spending $10,000 on their entertainment."
Jack Milan of Boston-based Different Tastes Catering agrees. "Opulence is really happening and not only with food. I just catered a wedding that had five different musical groups. They started out with a flamenco guitarist, then had a 12-piece philharmonic orchestra, followed by a rock band, then a 50-piece gospel choir, and finally a cover band that performed pop and soul," he says.
Kowalenko credits bigger budgets to couples' getting married later. "They are coming to us with specific ideas that they are trying to achieve at their wedding." Even if their dream wedding falls above their original price, he says many couples will expand their budget. "In the past, we've had to work down the cost of the menu or the lavishness of decorations. Not now."
Milan says today's typical catering budget ranges from $130 to $200 per head. "Back seven years ago, we were lucky if clients spent $100 a head."
He adds that with the expense, people want to be taken care of and opt for seated dinners.
For the occasional buffet, he says, "We're taking the salad out of the buffet and using it as a pre-plated or served appetizer" to help stagger the line.
Tenderloin is the entree of choice for many of Milan's clients. "Our most popular entree is roasted beef tenderloin with wild mushroom ragout and a red wine and rosemary shallot reduction," he says.
Catering in the Hamptons, 100 miles east of New York City, Kowalenko says many clients are looking for fresh local produce, fish and wine. "They want tuna, red bass and organic vegetables."
Milan says another trend in the catering business is group tastings for potential clients. "We invite up to 15 couples at a time and feature seven hors d'oeuvre and three entrees. Then they leave with a box containing two little wedding cakes and other baked goods."
He explains the benefits: "Our time is so limited. For every bride and groom, we were spending additional hours. With group tastings, we end up spending two hours, and we've accomplished feeding 15 different couples."
He adds, "The couples also like it because it gives them an opportunity to network with each other. They can share information on vendors like linen suppliers and photographers from other couples further along in the planning."
Dessert: ICING ON THE CAKE For many wedding guests, savoring the sweetness of cake is a highlight of the wedding. And sometimes they are in for a double treat.
Milan says many couples want to offer another dessert before the cake is even served. "Many couples areworried about not having enough cake," he explains. "We serve chocolate mousse in a tuile cup or meringue with sabayon sauce and assorted fruit fruits."
Andonoplas says he tries to do fun things with desserts. "As a capper for the evening, we'll serve a chocolate cup shaped in the skyline of Chicago."
The cakes themselves are taking new shapes. Elin Katz, owner of Rosebud Cakes in Beverly Hills, Calif., says brides want different cakes than their mothers did. "Cakes are more art-inspired," she explains. "Brides like cakes that are shaped quite differently than rounds or squares and with more graphic design and geometric patterns."
Katz, who makes 500 wedding cakes a year with her staff of eight, says the majority of brides still want white or ivory frosting, but adds that the minority who want something different is getting bigger.
She recalls a bride and groom who requested a haunted house cake with the couple standing at the front door for a Halloween wedding.
Katz says she tries to follow her clients' guidelines in creating a cake. "If we know where they are getting married, like on a beach, we will do an ocean theme."
For inspiration, Katz says she draws from art deco, art nouveau and art history. "I like to take elements that I see happening in classical or contemporary art."
Her cakes are just as creative on the inside. Rosebud offers such flavors as hazelnut, poppyseed with pistachio and raspberry, banana, and mocha chip.
Sylvia Weinstock, owner of Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in New York, explains the need for unique flavors. "I think the population has a more sophisticated palate, and because of that, the demand for a cake that is not only visually beautiful but delectable to eat has become more the mode."
Weinstock says she changes her flavors with the seasons. "People like to eat lighter in the summer and heavier, richer foods in winter," she explains. "In the spring, I might serve a white cake with a fresh strawberry filling and fresh whole strawberries or a lemon cake with lemon cream and fresh raspberries. In the winter, I might make chocolate hazelnut with mocha espresso filling."
On the cake's exterior, Weinstock tries to personify the couple with her design. "I find that more bridegrooms seem to be involved with the cake, not just the bride and her mother.
"As the brides get married at a later age, there are more couples involved in the planning of the celebration," she adds. "They are more mature and have shared more."
For one Indian wedding, she designed the cakes in gold leaf and copied the sari pattern from the edge of the bride's dress onto the cake.
Making at least 1,000 cakes each year, Weinstock finds inspiration all over. "Anything can be translated into a cake," she says. "A catalog could come in the mail and I will think, 'I could turn that into a cake.' You have to have an eye that's tuned into it."
Resources: An Original Occasion, 323/467-2111; Art of Eating, 516/267-2411; Bridal Consulting and Event Planning by Frank, 773/275-6804; Classic Weddings, 619/222-0724; Cordially Invited, 310/552-3245; Different Tastes Catering, 617/884-3791; Events to a Tee!, 716/886-3711; Kehoe Designs, 312/666-1053; Los Angeles Zoo, 323/644-4788; Matthew David, 212/627-2086; Perrier Party Rentals, 504/834-8570; Rosebud Cakes, 310/657-6207; Sylvia Weinstock Cakes, 212/925-6698; Wedding Settings, 800/348-3930; Weddings on the Move, 800/444-6967
John Kowalenko, general manager of Art of Eating in East Hampton, N.Y., plans and caters 35 weddings each year in the Hamptons. He says the size and the budget seem to be getting larger. "I think it's a direct result of the stock market. There are so many people who work on Wall Street and have second homes here," he explains.
He says clients put a big focus on food, savoring local produce, fish and wine. Here is one of his sample menus for a Hampton-style wedding.
A FAMILY AFFAIR Passed Hors D'Oeuvre Wild Mushrooms on Grilled Sage Polenta with Mascarpone
Ginger Risotto Cake with Grilled Tuna Carpaccio and Leeks
Baked Local Littleneck Clams with Green Herb Butter
Grilled Chicken and Jalapeno Fontina Rolled in Bacon, Marinated and Grilled
First Course Very Best Crab Salad with Cumin Crisps Cajun Marinated Beer Steamed Shrimp with Lemon Dill Sauce
Lobster Pizza with Tomato and Basil
Plated Second Course Long Island Duck Salad Spicy and Bitter Greens Tossed with Confit of Duck, Glazed Pearl Onions, Garlic Croutons, Leek Crisps, Shiitake Mushrooms and Sherry Vinaigrette
Entree Grilled Marinated Flank Steak with Vidalia Onion Crisps and Natural Juices
Medley of East End Spring Vegetables Sugar Snap Peas and New Potatoes with Thyme from the Garden
Grilled Local Blackfish on Crisp Potato 'Shingles' with Roasted Shallots, Baby Carrots, Chives and Nasturtiums with Herb Butter Sauce