Everyone's having too much fun to call it a day after the reception ends, which is why more wedding couples are planning after-parties to keep the celebration going. Smart wedding couples wait several hours after their receptions end and then embark upon their after-party plans. The delay is smart because the vast majority of wedding guests have left, and that helps to thin the herd.
"We made sure to tell our friends to meet in the hotel lobby three hours after the reception ended," says recent bride Megan Stinson. "That not only prevented other guests from joining us, but it gave us time to go to our hotel room, change into more comfortable outfits, eat something -- since we didn't get to eat much at the wedding -- have some time alone and then head out for the night."
Brides and grooms who plan this delayed after-party are then joined by only their closest friends, which keeps expenses down, and they have something in their stomachs to help keep them from getting too tipsy as the celebration continues.
*Types of After Parties
--Out on the town. The bride and groom pre-scout a fabulous bar or club to which they'll lead their VIP guests. Often, the hotel will allow use of the free shuttle bus to bring the group to the club and back at an appointed hour, which provides a safe ride for all.
--In a separate party space. The hotel might also have a small party room that the bride and groom can decorate with table linens, candles and dimmed lighting. This style of party is popular with bigger-budget brides and grooms, who arrange for late-night cocktail-party fare; food stations, for instance, could offer sliders, waffle fries and other bar-type food.
It's an open bar, of course, and some after-parties even have a DJ playing music from the couple's pre-selected playlist. When you book a hotel's party room, they do require you to order food and drinks, but the entertainment is up to you. Many couples simply hook up their iPods for their after-party music.
--In a hotel suite. Not the bride and groom's suite, mind you, which they'll want to keep private. Rather, consider a tidy friend's suite. Party guests need to keep it down to prevent bothering other hotel guests, but it's a comfy locale for a small after-party group to unwind, propose a toast and snack on room service foods or a few delivered pizzas.
--At home. An at-home party allows everyone plenty of space to relax, kick off their shoes and maybe even go for a swim or a hot-tub dip. Self-catered menus often include easy-serve finger sandwiches and dips.
It might be the bride and groom's house, the parents' house or a friend's house that plays host to this gathering; in fact, friends may host the get-together as their present to the bride and groom. Or, if the bride and groom have taken their friends out on the town, it's often the parents who host their friends and close family in their home for a relaxed after party.
--Cocktail cruise. Again, on a bigger budget, the bride and groom might take their VIP guests on a midnight cruise around a harbor. These party cruises offer packages that include an open bar for two hours, an hors d'oeuvres buffet and a dessert, and on-board entertainment gets the crowd dancing.
*After-Party Planning Tips
Some after parties form spontaneously, with guests winding up in the hotel lounge or getting invited during the reception.
That can be a smart strategy for limiting tagalongs as well. If a couple were to send out invitations to the after party, others who didn't make their VIP guest list might hear about the event and ask to join in. That sets up a difficult situation wherein the couple must diplomatically say, "No, it's a private party" and either hurt feelings or agree to extra guests -- and pay for them.
As mentioned, be sure that any catering plans are easy to manage. You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is relaxing and mingling. Easy-serve trays are the ideal option. Have some cut-up fruits in storage bags that can be quickly emptied into serving bowls, as well as quick-serve hummus that can be opened and set on the table with some crackers or veggies.
During this gathering, it's often a fantastic, celebratory group event when the bride and groom simultaneously upgrade their Facebook statuses to "married."
Sharon Naylor has written more than three dozen wedding books.