More personal, more inventive: Those are the dominant trends in wedding receptions, experts say, in an era when brides have all the resources of the Internet to plan, share and often produce their own affairs.
Many are drawn to something beyond the traditional banquet/speeches/garter throw- and-go reception of the past.
Sites such as Project Wedding, The Knot, Wedding Wire and Pinterest show a wide variety of designs for fabric and paper decorations, centerpieces, color schemes, food table displays and party activities. A bride can take on the creative task herself with friends or share her favorite ideas with professional planners or vendors.
There are tips online for hosting an under-$5,000 wedding (have an afternoon affair serving cookies, cider and champagne instead of a whole meal; decorate tables with polished river rocks and small bowls of single-hued flowers) or making a large reception feel more intimate (group people at smaller tables; provide sofas or lounge areas for casual conversation).
Shira Savada, an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, says that when it comes to details, today's brides aren't "just duplicating something they see in a magazine — it's ordering something custom through Etsy or having Mom make fabric napkins instead of renting."
One couple gave a nod to older relatives by displaying several of their old wedding dresses on dress forms, creating a virtually cost-free way to decorate parts of the reception hall.
Craig Norton, director of operations for the Prince George Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says themes are in. He oversees between 40 and 50 weddings a year, with budgets from $10,000 to $120,000.
"We've done a Parisian theme, with a bistro menu en francais. We did a summer camp theme for a couple who had met at one. There was food served in a canoe, a campfire, picnic tables and s'mores," he says.
Savada, with Martha Stewart Weddings, says color palettes have gotten more unusual: combos such as gray and black paired with coral, or ivory and cream with emerald.
"Black may not be the first color you think of when you think wedding, but it packs a punch and can be quite elegant," she says. "And metallics are all over the place."
While stripes and polka dots were trendy in the past couple of years, she says, those bold geometrics are yielding again to loose, hand-painted patterns such as florals and prints inspired by art and nature.
Savada also notes that some brides love modern typography and juxtaposing sleek elements with a rustic outdoor venue, for example.
Another trend, she says, is having decor pull double duty: escort cards as favors, place cards integrated into the menu, centerpieces for the guests to take home.
"And centerpieces don't have to be flowers," she says. "Couples are using paper blooms, plants, simple candles, fruits or vegetables, and shells."
Although there are lots of new alternatives to flowers, Norton, at the Prince George, observes that brides still love blooms.
"With the green movement, they were out of style for a while, but we're once again getting requests for big centerpieces and buckets of flowers," he says.
Tara Druker, who is getting married in October in New Rochelle, N.Y., saw what she wanted while poring over glossy wedding magazines and surfing The Knot.
"Succulents are one of my favorite blooms, and when I saw them trending in wedding floral arrangements, along with herbs like lavender and rosemary, I definitely wanted to discuss that option with my florist," she says.