Guests are traveling a long way to celebrate, and while you're obligated to entertain them all weekend long, who wouldn't want to spend more time with their friends and family?

By Blythe Copeland
August 13, 2020
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Credit: KT Merry

Welcome parties at destination weddings—or any weddings, for that matter—may not be obligatory, but that doesn't mean they're not worth seriously considering. When guests have traveled far and wide to be with you for the big day, it's nice to help them start their stay with something fun. "Welcome parties aren't required, but they are always appreciated," says Betsy Krug, event director and co-owner of Rebecca Rose Events. Hosting one gives you the opportunity to greet your guests before the big day and thank them for coming, and also helps minimize on-site spending for guests who put precious time and money toward joining you to celebrate. "It kicks the weekend off on the right note," says Augusta Cole, executive director of Easton Events. "If everybody is going to put in energy and time to travel to your destination to celebrate this exciting time in your lives, having something to offer them for the night they arrive, in a lot of ways, is the right thing to do."

And it's important to note that this is a good alternative to inviting everyone to the rehearsal dinner, which could ultimately cost far more money and make that special time—which is meant to be shared with the couple, their families, and the bridal party—less intimate. Instead, host your rehearsal dinner and then invite the larger group to join in for dessert or cocktails. Still not convinced that a welcome party is worth the time and expense that goes into planning one? Here, planners share three more reasons why this pre-nuptial celebration deserves a spot on your wedding weekend agenda.

You can show off your destination.

Many couples have a sentimental attachment to their destination wedding locales—maybe it's the college town where you met, your favorite lakefront vacation spot, a wooded hideaway that speaks to your shared love of the outdoors, or your current city across the country from your hometown. A welcome party offers the chance to share that history and show off the charms of your location—whether informally or with a little more structure. "It could be, 'Meet us at our favorite local bar,' giving guests a taste of your location that they otherwise wouldn't have time to do or know about," says Cole, "or it could be something elaborate and thematic. We've done many an awesome 'Welcome to the West' party in Colorado, or something like a beach barbecue in the islands." And if the destination is also new to you, says event designer Stefanie Miles, then consider your welcome party a happy opportunity to find a new favorite spot. "Embrace the destination!" she says. "Choose a fun venue unique to the area you're in—and be sure to plan for this into the initial site visit trip."

Your guests can get to know each other.

If your wedding brings together a big group of family and friends who don't know each other well already, then offering a place for everyone to meet and mingle before the day-of will make your reception even more energetic. "These kick-off affairs allow more time for meaningful conversation and introductions between less-connected guests," says Krug. "Guests that don't know many people going into the weekend often enjoy meeting people at the welcome party, and then have more fun at the wedding reception." And if your friends are still partying when you're ready to call it a night, consider that a success—and then say goodnight. "Guests certainly don't expect the stars of tomorrow's show to party into the wee hours," says Krug. "Couples can always say, 'I'm off to bed—I've got a big day tomorrow!"

You can keep it casual.

Planners recommend inviting everyone who's traveled to your destination to the welcome party, but that doesn't mean you have to think of it as an event on the same scale as your wedding. "That's the nature of destination weddings," says Cole. "We've invited everybody to come to Bermuda—how can you not include them in your Friday night dinner?" Keep it simple by hosting a come-when-you-can party with small plates, drinks, and a high-energy local band; reserving a room at your favorite karaoke bar; or, as one couple Krug worked with did, setting up a private wine and cheese tasting at a local wine store. "The key to a good welcome party is pretty simple: A comfortable place for guests to gather with options for food and beverages," says Krug. Save the formal seated meal for the wedding, and use the welcome party to highlight different aspects of your personalities—whether it's with customized cocktail napkins, a taco bar your mother-in-law would never approve for the reception, or a collection of informal lawn games. "Whatever it is, we recommend keeping it casual," says Cole. "It's supposed to be inviting, relaxing , and a great way to see people and kick off the weekend."

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