Additions to the Venue: Personalized Wedding Receptions


From the food to the setting, today's couples are breaking formalities to create receptions that match their personal interests.


It seems like the only rule about planning your wedding these days is that there are no rules. 

Couples from traditional to avant garde are shaking things up and down the aisle. In fact, sometimes they get rid of the aisle altogether, with its “bride’s family on the left, groom’s on the right” mentality. And these days, it’s not only the traditional mom-and-dad tandems delivering their daughters to their betrothed. The walk up the aisle can be done with moms, two moms, a dad and a mom, a step-dad — even the beloved family dog can do the honors. In some cases, the bride marches to the beat of her own drummer with a solo waltz to the chupah. 

“The No. 1 trend we’re seeing is personalization,” said Tonia Adleta Lowe, owner of Aribella Events. “We’re also seeing more couples wanting their wedding ceremony to be at the same place as the reception. It makes things simpler, especially with many guests coming in from out of town.” 

If you’re not a traditionalist, Mickey Rowley has one piece of advice: “Find a venue that can understand your dream and design around it,” said Rowley, who, with partner Louisa Kochman, oversees the dramatic Top of the Tower venue on the 51st floor of the Bell Atlantic Tower. “Flexibility on the part of the event and venue staff is critical to making your wedding work for you.” 

Creating experiences that dovetail with a couple’s own “mission statement” is what elevates a wedding from every day to spectacular, noted Phyllis Jablonowski, CEO of Eventricity LLC, parent company to The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants. “Every detail should be purposeful and well thought out,” she said. “And the wedding should engage all the senses.” For example, if a couple loves food so spicy that it would cause their guests to reach for the Tums, that flavor can be represented — and perhaps carried through on a theme, she added. “A play on the words ‘Hot and Spicy’ or the phrase ‘some like it hot’ might inspire a more customized event experience,” said Jablonowski.

What memories do you want your wedding to create? Here are a few worth dreaming about. 

Kosher Foodie

For today’s foodie couples, the days of serving uninspired kosher food at a wedding are over, said Annah Winfield, VP of sales and catering for Six Points Events, the catering arm of Citron and Rose, a kosher restaurant in Merion. Adhering to the highest level of standards required by observant Orthodox guests, Six Points Events recently added a full-service commissary in King of Prussia. “We are food-driven,” said Winfield, who formerly directed catering at Starr Events. “Our traditional Orthodox bride is a foodie. So instead of the typical smorgasbord, deli salads and carving stations, she may want international flavors, small plates and tapas.” 

Lynn Buono and Skip Schwarzman’s Feast Your Eyes Catering — long a respected name in upscale events — recently opened Essen Modern Kosher Catering in their new headquarters at Front and Palmer streets in Philadelphia, under Conservative supervision. Schwarzman was raised in a kosher home. “Our guests have been asking us to do kosher for years,” he said. “We are committed to bypassing faux cheeses and meat to bring authentic, modern cooking to kosher catering.”

Fresh ingredients are nothing new to My Caterer, which has been serving glatt kosher cuisine at Philadelphia area weddings and events for some 30 years. The sister company of the high-end Shackamaxon Catering is who you will be dining with if you want to serve kosher global specialties to guests at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, thanks to its exclusivity arrangement with the hotel. 

Israeli Style

Couples opting for a smaller wedding, rehearsal dinner or brunch can share their love of all things Israeli at Zahav, the award-winning restaurant from chef Michael Solomonov, who was born in Tel Aviv and attended school there. The Israeli restaurant is a celebration of his passion for Jewish and Middle Eastern cooking, a passion that earned Solomonov the James Beard “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic” Award in 2011. Geared for parties of 25 to 75 people, Zahav’s catering division offers a celebratory mesibah menu that always includes tadig, the classic Persian rice made with nuts and dried fruits, along with specialties like marinated artichokes, squash konafi and roasted lamb shoulder with chick peas and pomegranates. The West Philadelphia Orchestra is a solid choice to add a klezmer soundtrack to the festivities. 

Lounge Vibe 

Receptions that mirror a hip club scene are red-hot, noted Meryl Snow, who, along with her husband, Andy, owns the prestigious Feastivities Events in Manayunk. “We see a moving away from the standard formal dinner,” she said. Seating is arranged in pods, with couches and chairs, low-top tables, ambient lighting. “It’s intimate and very contemporary,” she said.

The lounge vibe often goes hand-in-hand with “branding,” noted Kris Sumey, owner and creative director of Event FX. “This might be couples that have a logo or personal theme that is carried through from engagement announcements to the brunch the next day,” said the events maven, who loves the flexibility that a tent offers when creating extraordinary personal weddings. 

A “naked” wedding cake is a trend that fits well into a contemporary reception, according to Classic Cake’s executive pastry chef, Robert Bennett. More nice than naughty, this wedding cake dispenses with the usual fondant finish, replacing it with generous layers of exposed butter cream icing or fruit filling. 

Down on the Farm

Farm-to-wedding-table is all the rage, with eco-aware brides and grooms choosing to tie the knot at the source. These weddings can range from down-home to downright elegant. And what goes better with a farm setting than amazing barbecue? Fishtown’s barbecue palace, Fette Sau, has a new catering division. Director Jessica Fox works with chef Jason Goodman to deliver savory goodness in a relaxed reception setting that includes the restaurant’s trademark house-smoked meats, hand-carved and served in beautiful hammered copper chafing dishes. With a per-person food cost of around $25 to $50, this option can be as affordable as it is different. “Everybody loves the brisket,” she said. One couple planning a June farm wedding in Chadds Ford continued the homespun feel with mismatched china, and different-sized farm tables and chairs. 

Farm settings can be elegance personified, added Feastivities’ Snow, “especially when there’s a personal connection to the couple, it works out beautifully,” she said. Family-style service, often aided with a tabletop lazy Susan, adds a cozy touch. 

In keeping with the farm-to-table requests from many taste-making couples, La Prima Catering grows many ingredients in its own urban garden or uses seasonal produce delivered from local partner farms. Creatively prepared vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free selections are also a specialty of this full service eco-aware caterer located in Willow Grove.

The Restaurant Experience

When couples fill out the Feastivities’ questionnaire, they are asked to name a restaurant they enjoy going to for a nice dinner. “We don’t see too many TGI Fridays or Olive Gardens come back to us,” said Snow. Well-dined couples may want a reception that mimics a much-loved restaurant experience, from the menu to the service and ambiance.

Stephen Starr Events brings the sensation of such popular dining experiences as Buddakan, Parc and Continental to the table at a variety of dynamic venues. And Garces Catering, the catering linchpin of Iron Chef Jose Garces’ multifaceted restaurant group, can recreate everything from Distrito’s Mexican street food to the tapas experience delivered at Amada and Tinto. 

“Our guests know exactly what they want,” said Fette Sau’s Fox. “They want to recreate the experience they have at our restaurant at their wedding. And we can do that.” 

Beth D’Addono is a frequent contributor to Special Sections. This article originally appeared in Simchas, a Jewish Exponent publication.


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