Wait a minute—an "after-party to the party"? That's right. An after-party is a relatively informal post-reception gathering that's all about prolonging the wedding festivities into the wee hours of the morning. The trend is gaining popularity because many guests have traveled so far to attend that they and the newlyweds don't want the evening to come to a close. Also, many couples spend the majority of the reception greeting and chatting with guests they're not close to, so by the end of the night you may feel like you haven't had a single bite to eat or any time for your "real" friends. "The after-party is a time when everyone you love, especially those you don't get to see often, gathers together on a more intimate level," says Karen Robinovitz, coauthor of Fête Accompli! The Ultimate Guide to Creative Entertaining, who threw a party after her own nuptials.
What are they like? Most after-parties involve snacking and drinking at a spot that doesn't require reservations or an additional rental fee. The hotel bar or a nearby watering hole are great choices. Karen staged her after-party outside by the hotel pool. Guests joined her and her husband for a late-night dip, cookies and milk, and fun conversation while an iPod played tunes in the background (a friend took care of this detail). The ambience was laid-back and lighthearted, especially when some of the guests busted out Twister and Operation (Karen had brought the board games along for laughs).
Do I have to have an after-party? Of course not! You're not obligated to throw one. There are lots of reasons you might skip it: You're exhausted, or want to head to the honeymoon suite, or simply aren't up for more face time. Do what's right for you. Just keep in mind that your guests may take matters into their own hands. You don't have to be involved.
What if I want to plan something specific for my friends? Go for it. Most after-parties have a last-minute, throwntogether feel. Still, giving this aspect of the wedding some thought will of course make things easier. Jes Gordon of the New York City and L.A.-based Proper Fun suggests planning out how many guests you think will attend, taking into account how young they are. "Let's say 50 percent of your guests are in their twenties," says Jes, "and it's a large wedding. You can expect 20 to 35 percent of these folks to show up for an after-party." Jes has orchestrated fêtes that feature alcohol and greasy-spoon goodies in settings that are party-animal–friendly. Once you know the size and nature of your crowd, you can make decisions about the after-party's location, what to serve, etc.
We'll have a mellow crowd... does this matter? Only in a good way. Mellow crowds are easy to manage. All they want is a comfy seat and a place where they don't have to scream to carry on a conversation. The bridal suite, if it has a large, separate space, is an option—provided you'll be comfortable walking through the French doors into the bedroom and telling folks to clear out. Better yet, pay for a guaranteed after-partier (a college roomate?) who's staying in the hotel to upgrade to a suite. It can be very low-key—think couch cushions, pillows, and blankets to create the ultimate slumber party. "This format is perfect for smaller weddings," says Jes, "when the couple doesn't expect more than 20 people to attend."
What about décor? What about invites? I won't have the time to plan an after-party, much less the money to expand the budget! Don't panic. We know you've blown your budget or are pretty darn close to it, so keep it simple. Delegate responsibilities to someone else: One of your bridesmaids (not the maid of honor, she's done enough) or groomsmen can handle it. Invite your guests via e-mail or word of mouth, and reuse floral arrangements from the reception. If you're having the party at a bar or club, music won't be necessary. Otherwise, have one of your friends rig something up. As for refreshments, anything goes (including leftover wedding cake). Karen found a way to serve her midnight treats with a caterer's flair: grocery-bought munchies arranged on a silver platter from home. And if there are any unopened bottles of booze after the reception, bring 'em.
It's 3 a.m. and we need to sleep! When will this party end? Eventually. Newlyweds typically attend the after-party, but you should feel free to say your goodbyes after an hour. Sooner or later, wedding-party members will start to disperse. "Once the key players split," says Jes, "everyone tends to go. They fizzle out faster than you'd think." But it sure was fun while it lasted....