A dress, a venue, invitations, and show-stopping food are just some of the staples of wedding planning that happy couples have come to expect. You can’t discuss “wedding season” without conjuring images of floral arrangements and multi-tiered cakes that look more like art installations than anything edible. But in recent years, as cookie-cutter wedding receptions have given way to more out-of-the-box thinking, the dessert table has been the site of the most exciting changes.
The traditional three-tiered (or four- or five-tiered, depending on the guest list) wedding cake is no longer the rule, or even the norm. It’s not what the bride and groom aspire to anymore—and that makes sense, when you consider what else is on offer.
This is a shocking revelation to have uncovered, but yes, many couples today just flat out don’t want cake at their wedding because they don’t like it. Love is dead. Send everyone home. Kidding!
Though some would argue that every occasion calls for cake, these wedding planning experts have years of experience that prove otherwise.
“A lot of our couples simply don’t like cake or don’t care to have it at their wedding,” says Christina Hubeli, managing director at Burst Event Co., a wedding planning company in Chicago. But some couples do opt to have a “cutting cake,” a much smaller version of the traditional cake that they can cut into for the photo op. The cake, then, is still involved, but more as a symbol integrated into the ceremony than a part of the dinner menu.
“I had a couple do a display cake where she actually put it in a [glass] cloche and it wasn’t even brought out,” explains Diane Brisk, Founder of HBIC Weddings. “It was just on a table being viewed by people.” So, literally an art installation!
The display cake Brisk describes is strictly for photos and nothing else. She notes that one of the downsides to the traditional wedding cake model is that often the timing can be off and guests will already be on the dance floor when slices are served, which leads to wasted cake.
Wedding planning usually comes with a ton of family expectations attached. Whether those pressures are coming from parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, uncles and aunts, or even cousins and siblings, the weight of those expectations can push many couples into spending money on things they wouldn’t have otherwise included on their special day.
Hubeli explains that a common question couples ask is: “Should we do (blank)?” Her response is always that they do not have to do anything. It’s their day, and they can choose to do or not do whatever they want on that day. Once couples embrace this fact, that’s when the creativity really starts to flow.
“Now I’m seeing couples go for interactive experiences more than ever,” says Carlene Hartline, owner and lead event planner for Naturally Yours Events. “What I mean by that is a top-your-own gelato bar, or build-your-own bubble tea bar, a hot chocolate bar, or a s’mores bar… anything where you can design your own perfect dessert.”
Hartline also recalls a Buddhist couple whose small, intimate ceremony was complemented by their choice of interactive reception. The couple invited their guests to join them for a cooking class following the ceremony because they as a couple enjoyed cooking together. The class was accompanied by a custom crepe dessert station where guests could choose fillings and toppings for their crepes.
Hartline and Brisk both note that when it comes to the sweets table, many couples like to get nostalgic by offering childhood favorites such as Rice Krispies treats, push pops, and ice cream cookie sandwiches. And at these receptions, it doesn’t sound like anyone misses the traditional cake.
For the couples who do decide to have a tiered wedding cake, there’s still room for innovation in the form of the cake topper. What adorns the top of the cake and what is done with that top layer continues to break with tradition.
The wedding tradition of freezing the top tier of the cake and saving it for a future anniversary is one that couples, wedding planners, and even cake bakers all seem to agree must end.
“I think in the 1940s and ’50s that totally made sense, but nowadays, no,” says Brisk.
Instead, the wedding planning industry has seen some fresh alternatives to eating thawed-out wedding cake. Hubeli, Hartline, and Brisk all explained that many bakeries offer to recreate a couple’s wedding cake in a smaller size, or as a cupcake, if they come in on their anniversary, which saves them from disappointing year-old baked goods.
Couples are also doing away with the usual bride and groom figurine cake toppers. If you learn one thing here when it comes to wedding cake toppers, it’s that Etsy rules above all.
“These are not your grandmother’s figurines… of the bride dragging the groom away by a ball and chain,” says Hartline. She explains that gender roles are changing, and that queer and trans couples aren’t necessarily seeking out updated versions of those cookie-cutter figures. Instead, all couples want a topper that best represents them, which is why all three wedding planners often guide their couples to Etsy for that customization.
The cutest trend by far, highlighted by both Brisk and Hubeli, is that some couples will get a small figurine made to look like their dog or other furry companion and place it atop the cake with a little chunk of the dessert missing, as if it has been bitten into by their pet.
Across the board, the wedding planners we consulted all agree that the traditional wedding cake will never go fully extinct. Some people will always believe that love and cake go hand in hand. But there are so many different ways to satisfy a sweet tooth that it’s amazing it took the industry this long to break up with cake.