Planning a Welcome Party: Where to Start and What You Need to Know
Between bach parties, showers, and rehearsal dinners, you might be wondering where a welcome party fits into the game plan. Another wedding-related event? As if you didn’t have enough to plan already!
Fortunately, welcome parties can be as low-key as you’d like and they serve as a fun, casual way to kick off the celebration with guests.
Wondering about the details surrounding a welcome party? You’re in luck. We spoke with top wedding professionals for insight so you can plan the perfect guest experience for your loved ones.
First off, what is a wedding welcome party?
As the name entails, it’s an opportunity to welcome your guests to your wedding experience! Kristin Wilson, CEO of Our DJ Rocks, says it’s the perfect way to kick off the celebration, explaining: “It’s an extra special event that usually takes place before your big day, when the bulk of your out-of-town guests arrive. It allows you to spend more time with those loved ones that you don’t get to see often, and who you might not get one-on-one time with during the wedding itself.”
But is it really necessary?
Yes and no — it depends on where you’re hosting your wedding! For couples planning a destination wedding, it is wise to plan a welcome party to kick off the celebration.
“For destination weddings, a welcome party, even a simple one, is absolutely necessary,” affirms Loren Petrowski, owner of Marry You in Hawaii. “Because guests went the extra mile — literally — to travel to your wedding, take off work and really be there for you, you want to show your guests how much it means that they are there for you. It’s also a good way for other guests to meet as they will be seeing a lot of each other in the next few days.”
If you’re planning a wedding closer to home, welcome parties aren’t explicitly necessary — although, couples can still choose to host one to enhance the guest experience.
Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates, elaborates: “We've seen a rise in people hosting these parties as they want to have a more intimate rehearsal dinner but also want to include all their guests in some way on Friday nights. Or, we often see this strategy when either the budget for the rehearsal dinner is tighter than that of the overall wedding or the venue for the rehearsal dinner cannot hold the full guest list for your wedding.”
Who is invited?
Invitation etiquette can be tricky for weddings, especially when there are a number of events to consider throughout the weekend. Samantha Leenheer, Creative Director and Planner for Samantha Joy Events, recommends keeping it simple and inviting all guests and family, adding: “It is a time to welcome the weekend as you commence the celebration and create relationships amongst all of your guests. They are all united by knowing the couple, so having them spend time together before the wedding makes the wedding day so much more fun.”
Concerned about balancing the planning for a welcome party and rehearsal dinner? Nora Sheils, founder of Bridal Bliss and co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, recommends hosting them back-to-back: “Many times, we will open up a rehearsal dinner to morph into the welcome party. Host your wedding party and VIPs for a more formal dinner, then invite more guests to join afterward to enjoy drinks and light bites. No need for extra florals or other expenses! Keep it easy, but just be sure to leave enough time so it's not obvious to guests that they didn't make the first cut.”
Who is paying for this?
Now, let’s talk money. You likely have a good idea of how you’ll fund your wedding and even your rehearsal dinner, but how about the welcome party? Who is in charge of footing the bill?
Wendy Kidd, Certified Master Wedding Planner at Each & Every Detail, shares that it’s usually hosted by local family members but can really be anyone, explaining: “If the wedding is in one of the soonlywed's hometown, typically their family is hosting the event. However, this can be hosted by the couple themselves, the family that is traveling in — as an event for their travelers — or both families together. Payment is usually handled by whoever is providing the venue, such as a parent's home or if they prefer to host it at the traveler's hotel.”
Planning a destination wedding? Lucky you — a welcome party might be included in your package. Jen Avey, VP of Marketing for Destination Weddings Travel Group, reveals: “Many all-inclusive resort venues throughout Mexico and the Caribbean offer complimentary private events, such as a welcome party, when you stay a certain number of nights at the resort, or book a certain number of rooms within your group.”
Avey continues: “A private event, like a welcome party, would otherwise be an additional cost to your wedding package, so it's worth exploring how to get it for free at your venue! Typically, the couple will plan the welcome party as a way to show thanks to their guests who have traveled so far to celebrate with them.”
What is included at a welcome party?
You might be wondering what you need to include for a welcome party. After all, it’s an added expense and needs to fit in your budget while still measuring up to the expectations for your wedding weekend!
Sheils asserts that guests should not be asked to pull out their wallets, saying: “If at a bar or restaurant, I suggest hosting simple drinks such as beer and wine and giving them the option of purchasing something else if they prefer. More often than not, guests will drink what is hosted, rather than purchasing something else. I also love it when a few toasts are given, or a formal welcoming of sorts. After all, isn't that the point to the whole party?!”
In terms of food and décor, it’s up to you how much time and money you want to invest in planning it. Leenheer assures that you can keep it as simple as you want: “Don't let the idea of another party scare you. Welcome parties can be as simple and casual as serving hors d'oeuvres and having an open bar. But you can also have fun and theme it out and make it an extension of your wedding day and whole weekend experience by adding a welcome bag station, a caricature artist and a live band to keep it fun and unexpected.”
A welcome party is a wonderful way to greet your guests with a fun and lively celebration that will set the tone for your wedding experience. While they are an extra step to plan, there are many ways to make it a simple and cost-effective add-on to your weekend. It’s your wedding — whether you host one and how you do is entirely up to you!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.