If you’ve been to a wedding lately, you may have noticed a curious trend: It’s not just about the wedding. Sure, the ceremony and reception are still the main event, but it’s not uncommon for a modern wedding to include four or five different events, from welcome cocktails to a farewell brunch. “It’s not just a wedding on a weekend anymore; it’s the whole merriment of events,” says wedding planner Joan Nilsen of Ambiente. Wondering how best to show your guests a good time? Here are some tips to help you get started.
The Welcome Party
If you have a lot of out-of-town guests coming (and they won’t all be invited to the rehearsal dinner), this can be a nice, relaxed way to welcome them. There’s no need to make it elaborate: It can be a casual meet-up at a favorite bar or at the bar of the hotel where guests are staying. For their upcoming June wedding, Tessie Reinsch and Scott Bradbury are hosting welcome cocktails at Vic’s after their rehearsal dinner. “It will give all of the guests a chance to meet and mingle before the big day,” says Reinsch. “And it will give my fiancé and I another opportunity to speak with our guests and thank them for coming.”
A night or two before the wedding, often right after the rehearsal dinner.
Who to invite
Out-of-town guests, family, and the wedding party, but you don’t have to stop there—some couples invite their entire guest list.
While it’s gracious for the couple or their parents to host an open bar for a couple hours, it’s also OK to act solely as organizer, setting the where and when and letting people pay for their own drinks.
Set a personal departure time for before the party ends and ask your attendants to discreetly plan your getaway. Everyone will be vying for five minutes of your time, so it’s prudent to stick to your plan. Also, be sure the hosts wrap up the party at a reasonable hour so your guests are fresh for your big day.
The Post-Wedding Brunch
Get one more chance to see your guests, say goodbye, share a meal, and hear stories from the previous night before everyone heads home. (But we suggest bypassing the traditional gift opening—no one wants to watch you ooh and ahh over gifts that you likely chose yourself.) The farewell brunch is often held at a favorite restaurant, the hotel where guests are staying, or at a family member’s house. Wherever you choose to have it, a buffet is generally best so that guests with different travel schedules can duck in and out as needed.
The morning after the wedding. People will be tired but also traveling, so don’t make it too early or too late. Joan Nilsen suggests having a two-hour timeframe to accommodate people’s varying schedules.
Who to invite
Out-of-town guests, family, and the wedding party, but feel free to tailor the guest list as you please.
“A lot of times if the parents of the bride are taking care of the wedding, then they will also take care of the brunch,” says wedding planner Amy Zaroff. However, other family members might choose to host, or the couple may pitch in.
To-go cups are a thoughtful touch for guests who need to rush off to the airport.
The Rehearsal Dinner
The rehearsal dinner is still a key part of the wedding weekend, even as other events fill in around it. “While this is a little more casual than the wedding, it’s a great opportunity to get the speeches out of the way,” says Amy Zaroff. A sit-down dinner at a local restaurant is still the norm, but you can tailor the event to your tastes, from a backyard barbecue to a baseball-themed dinner at Target Field.
Usually the night before the wedding, after the ceremony rehearsal. Another option is to have a small rehearsal dinner two nights before the wedding and a larger welcome party the next night.
Who to invite
At minimum, invite the people who’ll be at the rehearsal—your wedding party and close family. Many couples also invite out-of-town guests.
The groom’s parents, traditionally. However, both sets of parents or the couple may contribute.
It’s good etiquette to invite your officiant to the rehearsal dinner.
The Reception After-Party
After the “I dos,” the dining, and the dancing, sometimes you just want to keep the party going. Some couples opt for an after-party in a separate space at the reception venue, complete with snacks and entertainment. However, most couples invite guests to a nearby bar. For best results, make a plan in advance. “When an after-party is thrown together at the end of the night, it often doesn’t take off,” says Instant Request DJ Justin Roff. “If you think your friends are going to have a few more hours of dancing in them after the reception, plan ahead.”
As soon as the reception ends.
Who to invite
Everyone at the wedding. However, expect mostly 20- and 30-something friends to show up.
If it’s an elaborate after-party that feels like an extension of your wedding, you or your parents might want to foot the bill. If you’re heading to a nearby bar, guests usually pay their own way.
If you’re going to a local watering hole, contact the bar ahead of time to make sure there’ll be space for you.
ASK THE EXPERTS
Are couples expected to include all these events?
There’s no pressure to do everything—just pick and choose what’s right for you. “At the end of the day, people are there to celebrate your marriage, and everything else is icing on the cake,” says wedding planner Amy Zaroff. In other words, no one will think less of you if you don’t host a farewell brunch.
Should the bride and groom stay UNTIL the end of every event?
It’s good to make an appearance, of course, but you don’t have to be at every event from start to finish (well, except for your ceremony). “[At welcome parties], sometimes my brides will show up for a half-hour or hour and then leave, and that is absolutely acceptable,” says wedding planner Joan Nilsen. The same goes for the after-party: It’s good to show up for an hour or so, but then it’s fine to retreat to the honeymoon suite with your new spouse.
What’s the best way to invite people to each event?
The rehearsal dinner invitations should be mailed out a week or two after the wedding invite. You can send invitations for the welcome party and day-after brunch around that same time, or include insert cards with the wedding invite. “Ideally, it’s great to let the wedding invitation stand alone, but if that can’t be the case, there is nothing wrong with including all of those inserts within the main wedding invitation,” says Zaroff. Your wedding website and hotel welcome bags are a good place to include an itinerary of events, and more casual events such as an after-party can just be listed in the itinerary or communicated by e-mail or word of mouth.