As a serial wedding attendee, I've taken home some really crappy guest favors. (C'mon—did y'all actually expect me to keep that acrylic paperweight engraved with your monogram on my desk at the office? How is one supposed to transport a painted seashell home without shattering it? And sorry, but carrying around a photo keychain featuring your smiling selves on my personal key ring feels a little too One Hour Photo—read: psycho-stalkerish—for my tastes.)
"Guest favors really have become a thing of the past, unless they're edible," says Kate Ryan of Gold Leaf Event Design in Aspen, Colorado and NYC. "Food—people take, but little gifts or trinket-type things are money not well spent. They’re left, and then just adding to our landfills."
Retweet, Ryan. At the risk of sounding like some spoiled ingrate, unless your favor is immediately serviceable to me—i.e. it is delicious—I don't want it. Your wedding planners and wait staff certainly don't want it—just ask Ryan how many abandoned koozies her team has trashed at the end of a night. And, you don't want it! My recently married sister is still trying to get rid of mints and matches eight months later.
Remember, "favors are miniature expressions of gratitude, so consider what you’d be grateful to receive." Need inspiration? Below, Ryan did us the favor of coming up with five alternatives better than guest favors:
1. Specialty Entertainment
If you have an inner Madonna (and we all have an inner Madonna), make a reception entrance accompanied by a full-service gospel choir! If the "Like A Prayer" video creeped you out, opt for a mariachi band or Latin dancers or a waitstaff who are also performers or an actual celebrity performer or fireworks(!) instead.
Or, roll back the theatrics and hire a professional cigar-roller for an equally impressive, but more laid-back vibe.
The point is, specialty entertainment options that speak to your tastes and personalities as a couple are limitless, and way more memorable than a coaster with your faces on it.
Is there one popular entertainment trend that's really excited Ryan recently? "I’m seeing a lot of brides and grooms have a DJ and live musicians in an ensemble together," she says. "So, a saxophonist or an electric violinist comes out and plays along with the DJ’s track. For couples who can’t afford a full 13-piece band or whatever, it’s a cool way to kinda accomplish the same thing."
2. Open Bar
We get it; alcohol is "soooo ess-pensive." But, if it's down to gifting me a shot glass or an actual shot, please know I'm interested in the free liquor—and so are the majority of folks, in Ryan's experience.
"I keep going back to the open bar because when people have budget problems, they always want to slash the food and beverage bill," she says. "It is the highest number, but that's because people get the most out of it." Ryan says it's worth forgoing favors or smaller specialty things if that ensures guests can order the drinks they want. "Otherwise, it will be the only thing your guests talk about afterwards," she warns. "Like, 'It was an amazing wedding, but we had to pay for alcohol!' or 'They only served beer and wine!'”
3. Increased Number of Hair and Make-up Stylists
Let's take a moment of silence for all the fallen curls of bridesmaids past. Their bouncy vibrancy was taken too soon—before the bridal party photos and before the after-party groomsmen flirting—all because they were ironed a full 12 hours earlier.
"Whoever that first person is who gets her hair and make-up done at 6 a.m.—she’s not looking her best by the end of the day," says Ryan. "We’re getting more and more brides and grooms who are complaining from being in their friends’ weddings that they have to start getting ready so early after a night-out for the rehearsal dinner. They’re hungover. They’re tired. They want to work out. They just don’t want to be ready at 8:00 in the morning for a 6:00 p.m. wedding."
The most common reason why they have to, is a lack of (wo)man power. Ryan recommends hiring one stylist for every two to three people. She's seen it cut down the "getting ready" time to three hours from seven. (Side note: if your wedding party could moonlight as a drinking team, three hours of pre-gaming will leave you in much better shape for the ceremony than seven.) If you've ditched the favors, but you're still worried about cost, Ryan suggests scrolling through your 'gram. "There are so many really talented people who are available on Instagram, and many who are willing to build their portfolios and negotiate better rates."
4. Restroom Vanity Kits
Even if you're not a GoT fan, anyone can appreciate the horror of a "red wedding" when a period strikes and you aren't prepared. So instead of guest favors, you could leave out a basket of free-for-the-taking emergency items in the bathroom. "If you are going to spend your money on takeaway items, I would say make those things more purposeful," says Ryan. Common finds in a Gold Leaf Event vanity kit include double-sided tape, clear nail polish for nylon runs, tampons, hairspray, and bobby pins. But before your descend on Costco to blow more than you would've spent on favors, remember you are not responsible for fully stocking your guests' medicine cabinets. "You only need a handful of each item," says Ryan, "so it’s less money better spent."
5. "Breakfast in Bed" Service
If your budget can't support a morning-after brunch, consider sending your attendees breakfast in bed instead.
"Brunch can be a whole other huge added expense," says Ryan. "Ordering room service for your out-of-town guests is much less expensive—hotels usually charge around $10 and up—and they’ll deliver straight to the guests’ rooms." Call the concierge and request they send up whatever exceptionally yummy dish the hotel is known for, and maybe a mini-bottle of champagne with a note that contains some personalized version of, "Hey, thanks for coming to watch us get married. Eat this food because we love you!"
You don’t have to worry about anyone RSVPing, because you already know how many of your rooms were booked and by whom, and the gesture will make your traveling friends and family feel extra special. "It’s such a nice surprise," says Ryan. "People are never expecting something like that the day after."
6. Welcome Bags/Boxes
For the nurturing bride who can't bear to have her guests leave empty-handed, may we propose a different kind of giveaway? "If you really want to do favors, there are cool ways to curate welcome boxes or bags that guests receive when they get there," says Ryan, which eliminate the hassle of schlepping a favor from the reception back home (when you're tired or tipsy or otherwise distracted), "and our thoughts with these—especially for destination weddings—are always, 'what can guests easily travel with?'" Ryan recalls clients who insisted on spending tons of money on beautiful teak boxes that were then left behind in hotel rooms. "Nobody could fly with those, so we ended up giving them to the event staff," Ryan says.
A well-supplied package is also about quality over quantity. "I'd rather have two really awesome items that are representative of you and your fiancé, versus 100 Tic Tacs," says Ryan. Other excellent items Ryan commends for your welcome gifts include a map, an itinerary, and items your guests can use throughout the wedding weekend. "We once included beach towels for a Palm Beach wedding, and it was really cool because guests came to the pool and everyone was using them," says Ryan. "People who didn’t know each other were like, 'Oh, you’re here for this wedding too!'”