Couples are bypassing tradition when it comes to feeding their guests.

One of the most memorable parts of any wedding reception is the food, and couples are moving beyond traditional chicken-or-fish menus to offerings that help personalize the day and complement the entire theme of the wedding.

From barbecue and down-home comfort foods served family-style to a mix of hot and chilled hors d'oeuvres stations, brides and grooms are proving that there's no longer a rule book when it comes to feeding guests. Family traditions, lifestyle practices and affordability all weigh in to the decision, and many caterers are stepping up to the challenge to give couples what they want.

“All couples want to have something unique and memorable about their event that their guests continue to talk about after the big day,” says Angela Rulli, catering specialist with Two Caterers. Good food will enhance the overall experience.

Twists on comfort foods, farm-to-table dishes and breakfast-for-dinner options have all been popular recently, as well as more unusual themed fare like the oyster shucking station and the shrimp and grits entrée that Two Caterers recently served at an upscale, East Coast-themed wedding.

“Couples don't want any details to be missed,” Rulli says, and special menus are a way to incorporate items that have significance to the newlyweds and their families.

For Lauren and Blair Suter, who were married on Dec. 31, 2016, at the Columbus Athenaeum, serving pork and sauerkraut was a special way for Lauren to honor a family tradition, which is based in German custom.

“My grandmother always said it was good luck to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's,” says Lauren. “It was a nice tradition to be able to keep on our big day, but also a nice tradition that we will be able to continue each anniversary to come.” Lauren's grandmother was unable to attend the celebration, so having a way to honor her was especially important.

While some couples base food selections on family traditions, others are requesting menus that reflect their personal lifestyle habits, such as vegan or gluten-free, hoping to open guests to a new experience. “We recently had a bride and groom do their whole wedding reception—appetizers and dinner—entirely gluten-free,” says Bosc + Brie event coordinator Leah Diehm, adding that the couple wanted to show guests that gluten-free can still mean great food.

“I think many brides and grooms are trying to find new and exciting ways to make their wedding different from their friends' or just other weddings they have seen,” she says. Doing something nontraditional or unexpected with the menu adds a fun element to the festivities.

Sayje and Derek Brown, who were married at the Columbus Athenaeum on March 31, 2017, had a movie-themed reception to commemorate their first date at Studio 35, selecting a pasta bar for the dinner. Affordability was a factor, says Sayje, but giving guests options, including ones without meat, was ideal for a Friday wedding during the Catholic season of Lent.

“I didn't think something as simple as a pasta bar would have people raving about the food so much,” she says of compliments from her guests. “I don't think anyone had ever seen one before, so it was new for a lot of people.”

Today's brides and grooms want variety and customization, says Sara Bentley, executive catering and meals sales manager of L.A. Catering. “And they want to know that the caterer will be able to create what they're looking for,” she adds.

Many couples are opting for stations that are open throughout the event with a mix of offerings. The charcuterie display is a popular choice for L.A. Catering. “People are looking for more of an interactive experience,” and options that please a wide spectrum of tastes, Bentley says.

A surge in Friday and Sunday weddings, as well as the continued popularity of rustic venues, also challenge tradition. The more casual atmosphere typically associated with these types of events allows for a more laid-back menu as well. Barbecue and comfort food menus provide a unique alternative that often comes in at a lower price point, says Randy Arehart, City Barbeque's regional catering sales manager.

“I believe people are looking for a more down-to-earth, casual experience. Affordability plays into the [decision], and also the scenery,” he adds.

In the end, experts say to be true to yourself and find a caterer that understands your vision. “Select items that you love, and let the chef create a special experience with those selections,” advises Rulli.