Coffee is the new ‘open bar’ drink of choice at many Chattanooga weddings

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Joe and Andi Hill in the Red Eyed Rooster Coffee Co. trailer at an event in Ringgold, Ga.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Joe and Andi Hill in the Red Eyed Rooster Coffee Co. trailer at an event in Ringgold, Ga.

Bars have long been a staple — some might say essential element — of wedding receptions. But not everyone wants to serve alcohol on their big day, and many guests love having other options. In the past few years, specialty coffee bars have become an increasingly common presence at weddings, keeping the dance floor hopping into the night with caffeine and capitalizing on the rising popularity of specialty coffee drinks in general.

When Hixson couple Joe and Andi Hill launched Red Eyed Rooster Coffee Co. about two years ago, in March 2022, they researched the mobile coffee-vendor market and found that at the time, the area had only a few active vendors. "We saw an opportunity to step into the market here and see if we could fill this gap a little," she says.

But since then, the industry has blown up. This year alone, four coffee-trailer businesses have launched in Chattanooga, and at least 11 trailers based in the city are now actively operating. Five or six mobile coffee-cart services — which are basically just tables on wheels that can be set up indoors or out, rather than a full trailer — have popped up in Chattanooga as well, Hill says.

As the Hills attended more public events in the trailer and gained a bigger social media following, they started booking more private events, and weddings in particular. Since most couples plan their weddings a year or so in advance, it wasn't until this past summer that Hill started receiving daily calls for wedding price quotes, including calls from people as far away as Murphy, North Carolina, and Georgetown, Tennessee.

"I do believe there's a trend for having coffee at weddings ... especially for people who want dry weddings," Hill says, adding that the trend seemed to pick up steam just before 2020, around the same time the "sober curious" movement took hold as more people sought out alcohol-free social settings and mocktails grew in popularity.

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It's also common for couples to have coffee bars at daytime events, such as bridal brunches and post-weddings, she says.

In 2022, Danielle Phillips purchased Spill the Beans, which was one of Chattanooga's first mobile coffee businesses when it was started in 2013. The business originally focused on the Chattanooga Market and public events, but Phillips says she's shifted to doing more weddings and private events.

"I think it's becoming a new, hip thing to have that open espresso bar at events," Phillips says.

Another wedding trend — serving breakfast foods — pairs well with a coffee bar, she adds, and a lot of couples just really love coffee.

"We really encourage when somebody inquires with us to do his-and-hers specialty drinks, because it really highlights what they like," Phillips says. It feels more personal and customized, and about 90% of guests choose one of the couple's drinks rather than selecting something off the full menu, she adds.

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A bride at a recent wedding chose to do an iced lavender honey latte for her specialty drink, which Phillips topped with rose petals at her request, for a custom, special-occasion-worthy touch.

Both Phillips and Hill say oat milk lattes are popular choices for couples. Mocha flavoring is always a hit with the grooms, Phillips says.

Coffee carts and trailers are also fun to incorporate into a couple's wedding decor, and photographs of nice-looking coffee bars continue to help drive the trend among couples looking for inspiration on Pinterest or as they attend other weddings.

The fact that so many coffee vendors exist now is also making the trend more accessible, Hill says.

"Now that we actually have coffee vendors, not just bartenders, those who choose not to have alcohol at their wedding are like, 'Look at all these coffee vendors; we should try that for our wedding,'" she says.

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