27 Ideas for Including Your Wedding Guests in the Party of a Lifetime
They're a big part of you, and they'll be an even bigger part of your big day. Honor their support of your relationship and show how much you truly appreciate their company by borrowing one of these great ideas from other couples for your own celebration.
Drum Up Excitement
Build their enthusiasm—and let them know what they are looking forward to—by sharing details about the festivities ahead. Make sure all the information about your nuptials is readily available, whether on your wedding website or via your stationery. In their wedding invitations, Christen and Billy tipped their guests off to the adventure that was to come (a pool party reception in Palm Springs), and also gave some suggestions on what to wear. The suite, which was mailed in a small box, was rounded out with a dream catcher.
Welcome Them Warmly
Gifting a welcome bag—stowing items such as a bottle of water, a beloved treat, or a local knickknack or favor—is especially thoughtful for out-of-town guests or for destination weddings. Further tend to attendees by including a list of activities and restaurants in the area. Along with sweet and salty snacks and refreshments, Courtney and Michael's welcome totes included a trifold map of local sights.
Let Everyone Attend the Rehearsal Dinner
Make prewedding parties more inclusive by opening them up to the larger group. Following tradition, immediate family and the bridal party attended Hanna and Bret's rehearsal dinner. After the meal and speeches concluded, the couple had another 120 guests join in for cocktails and desserts in the courtyard. Marshmallows were roasted, and there were a variety of sweet add-ons to pair with the summer staple, including gluten-free graham crackers for the bride, a self-proclaimed dessert addict.
Give a Shout-Out in the Ceremony Program
Spell out your sentiments on day-of stationery. For their destination wedding, Lindsay and Andy hung witty and detailed programs from each seat that entertained and informed. The bride and groom printed a humorous plan of events, plus a heartfelt thank-you, on a wash of blue-green watercolor paper.
Or, Collaborate on the Content
Better yet, do some crowdsourcing before creating the programs. On Thea and Rachit's RSVP card, they asked guests to add "Words of Wisdom" for the couple. The bride then scattered these pieces of advice across the outside of the ceremony programs, along with a sketch of her and her groom.
Provide Some Context
If there are religious or cultural customs in your wedding, consider explaining these practices for those who might not be familiar with them. The rituals of Judy and Prem's traditional Hindu wedding ceremony were outlined in their program, which, in a nod to Judy's Taiwanese heritage, was adorned on the front with the double happiness symbol.
Pass the Rings Around
Include guests in the ceremony by having each person bless your bands. Prior to Whitney and Matt's wedding, two friends took custody of the couple's rings, tying them to two handkerchiefs (one of which was passed down for generations on Matt's side). One ring went down one side of the aisle and the other went down the opposite, with every guest having a chance to hold the rings and bestow their blessings and positive thoughts toward the marriage. "It was a way for us to symbolize the importance our friends and family and our community play in our relationship and that we want them to hold us accountable for our vows and help us develop our relationship," Whitney says.
Ask Them to Stand With You
Break with tradition: When it comes to your bridal party, everyone can play a part. For the ceremony to be comfortable and inclusive, this bride and groom had their guests stand together with them. "The feeling of love and support and togetherness was so powerful," Caitlin says. "When we were declared married and turned around, they were all standing in a group around us and it felt like this beautiful group hug. We will forever be grateful and in awe of how much we are loved and how much people care for us."
Protect Them From the Elements
For outdoor celebrations, try to troubleshoot and anticipate the needs of your attendees. Set up a hydration station with refreshments, stash away umbrellas in case of rain or extreme sunshine, and, for cold-weather ceremonies, have hand warmers, space heaters, or pashminas available. To keep guests cool and provide added shade while in the field for their ceremony, Jocelyn and Graham offered paper parasols.
Let Them in on Inside Jokes
Incorporate silly sayings into your event to give your friends and loved ones a sense of you as a couple. At Chelsa and Dennis's reception, revelers sipped "Squeezey McWhiskeys," the bride and groom's playful name for old-fashioneds, before sitting down to a "Splitty-Split" dinner, the pair's term for family-style meals. (These and other Chelsa-and-Dennis-isms were handily documented in a cheat sheet at each place setting.) The entire wedding was documented in true 21st-century style: with the hashtag #SQZ, which stands for "Squeeze," the couple's "admittedly super-annoying" nickname for each another.
Treat Them Like Royalty
Sometimes, it's the itty-bitty things that make the grandest impression, like outfitting your attendees with an accessory befitting of the bash. At Leah and Michael's wedding, a floral head crown station allowed guests to add a bit of flair to their hair and feel a part of it all. A sign read, "She wore flowers in her hair."
Invite Guests to Share on Social
What better way to encourage a social atmosphere? If you're fine with friends and family posting photos of your wedding, make it easy for everyone to see their (and others') shots by creating and communicating a wedding hashtag. Confetti from The Confetti Bar included mini cutouts of Casey and Ross's wedding hashtag as a reminder for invitees to share the weekend's candid moments on social media. A few friends threw handfuls of the glittery bits onto the couple during their processional.
Snap a Group Photo
Sure, you'll get plenty of pictures of you and your bridal party, but gathering everyone for a portrait is a wonderful way to make all feel appreciated. Plus, you'll have a visual documentation of those who helped you celebrate. Wanting a photo of everyone together, Craig and Andrew corralled their 64 loved ones post-ceremony for a quick snapshot—taken by photographer Michéle M. Waite from an upper balcony at the Hotel de Haro (the state's oldest operating hotel).
Display Photos of Each Guest
Decorate with snapshots of your attendees to set the vibe of the reception—and let your guests know how important it is to have every one of them present. For their escort cards, Sam and Ian spent weeks digging up old photos of each partygoer—ideally with either the bride or the groom in the picture, to stress their relationships. After scanning, the pictures were digitally altered to look like old Polaroids using Poladroid, which runs any picture through a virtual Polaroid camera and "develops" the image within seconds to look like an actual Polaroid photo.
Printed onto midweight card stock and labeled with table assignments, they were the same size as actual Polaroid prints. Mini hangers with clips from Etsy were used to display the escort cards along a clothesline that ran across the restaurant. The assortment of photos provided fabulous conversation during cocktail hour, especially for those who were meeting for the first time during dinner.
Share Your Family History
Displaying images of your lineage is bound to get people discussing their place in the family tree. Prior to the big day, Cristina and Jason asked their parents for old photos of the couples in each family. At the wedding, the pictures were framed and placed onto a bookshelf. "It was important for us to share where we came from and the love that's existed in our families for generations," says Cristina. "It was also really touching to watch our guests, including our family members, look through them and enjoy the history and memories they brought."
Showcase a Sketch of Each Guest
If you have the time and talent, or the budget to hire an artist, personalizing escort cards for each individual person is a lovely idea. Undertaking one big project for her wedding, Ashley created escort cards for each of the guests using three female and two male body templates. She added in the details for each person's head onto the body templates in Photoshop and watercolored all the illustrations. "So many people loved their drawing and still talk about it after the wedding," she says. "For the people in Ryan's family that I hadn't met yet, it was a great way to remember names."
Make the Guest Book Interactive
Rather than a simple signature, ask for revelers' words of wisdom, or turn the signing itself into a game or creative exercise. In lieu of a traditional book, CJ and Adrien's wedding guests signed an "adventure globe" to suggest future travel destinations for the newlyweds.
Seat Them Strategically
Encourage mingling with a seating plan. A clear tent in The Foundry's courtyard housed this bride and groom's reception. Long, rectangular wooden tables and matching chairs were set up for dinner. "It was important to us that everyone at the wedding—our close friends and family—felt like part of one big family during the reception, so we had barn tables arranged in long rows so everyone could meet and get to know each other and enjoy dinner together," says Cristina.
Pen Personal Notes
Honor each attendee with a card letting them know you care. Focusing on gratitude and positivity in their lives and home, Ali and Jess took that outlook and applied it to their reception. They wrote each guest a unique note of thanks and tucked it into each place setting. "It was our opportunity to tell each person why we are grateful for having them in our lives," Ali says. "The project took us a while because we didn't want to write anything generic, but nothing could replace the moment Jess and I sat down to dinner and watched as everyone realized what the card was. There were lots of tears, laughs, and stunned faces. No one knew we were going to do that—not even our parents."
Incorporate Ice-Breakers and Conversation-Starters
Whether you leave a game at every reception table or just ask for friends and family's words of advice for the future, as Lana and Danny did at their wedding, planning activities for guests will keep them engaged and involved in the day's events.
Entertainment never goes unappreciated. Better yet, join in on the fun and games to get some quality time with fellow partygoers. During cocktail hour at Kristel and Austin's wedding, adults and children alike appreciated rounds of corn hole and croquet, while a nearby lemonade stand supplied refreshments. The considerate couple even provided a pair of tents, which housed the lawn game equipment, plus a pair of stately chairs for those who preferred to watch the games.
Regale the Children
If you're inviting little ones, set up an area where they can keep busy. Better yet, hire babysitters so their parents can let loose. Here, Vanessa and Lauren's sons hang out by the vintage Airstream, which was filled with snacks and games for the kids—and just the kids, as the sign denoted.
Offer a Special Something
Supply a smoke—or another surprise indulgence—for anyone who wants it, rather than just for the groomsmen and close male relatives. This couple's signature drink, a "Dark and Stormy," was on offer with a selection of cigars stored in antique boxes that belonged to the bride's grandfather.
Set Up a Photo Booth
Not only do photo booths provide an incentive for hamming it up on the special day, but they also can result in priceless keepsakes. At their Manhattan reception, Tiler and Robbie's guests took turns in a photo booth complete with a custom backdrop inspired by a theater curtain. Later, friends and family glued snaps from the photo booth into the couple's guest book, along with well-wishes (and a few drawings).
Sing Some Tunes
If there's a group activity special to you and your spouse-to-be, find a way to work it into the ceremony or reception and encourage others to join. Jayme and Jeff's evening concluded with hot toddies and s'mores served before a bonfire. The couple led everyone in a sing-along accompanied by the bluegrass band. Later, the bagpipes joined the band as family and friends sang traditional Irish folk tunes.
Corral Them for Karaoke
During part of your reception or after-party, tap attendees to take the place of a band or DJ. Prior to Casey and Ross's wedding, a professional-grade karaoke machine and six microphones were set up to provide the after-party entertainment. The bride and groom included song request slips with their wedding invitations to help them build the playlist and to give guests fair warning that the party would require audience participation. Ross was first to take the stage, singing "The Humpty Dance," which has become his signature song at weddings after spontaneously freestyling it at his brother's wedding 12 years prior. Casey, ever the good sport (and not knowing the words herself), decided to dance along.
Send Them Off With Something Sweet
Finally, offer a wedding favor to sum up your appreciation one last time. It needn't be fancy. This bride's grandmother, known as Happy, is famous for her chocolate chip cookies and makes them for everyone. For the wedding favor, Irby and Adam could think of no better token of thanks than some of the noteworthy nibbles. Grandma was delighted to bake the sweets, which were packaged in custom baggies.
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