Wedding After-Party Ideas: How to Host a Budget-Friendly Celebration

And how to decide if this post-reception affair is for you

Women drinking and dancing at wedding after-party.

Melissa Marshall

You know the saying—after the party comes the after-party, and this has been holding true for more and more weddings recently. Couples are by no means obligated to host their guests for a wedding after-party but, think about it, who wouldn't want to prolong one of the biggest days of their lives, surrounded by friends and family?

Even if finances are holding you back or you can't fathom planning yet another wedding-related event, fear not. We chatted with Serena Merriman of Merriman Events, the New York–based planner behind Harley Viera-Newton's nuptials, who fully makes the case for hosting a post-reception soiree. "In general, I haven’t done a wedding yet without one," Merriman admits.

If you're still skeptical of the wedding after-party trend, know that that you don't have to allocate extensive funds to the cause or pull out all the decor stops to satisfy your partygoers. Here, Merriman offers hassle-free tips on planning a post-wedding bash for the books (without breaking the bank, that is).

Why Host a Wedding After-Party?

For couples hosting weddings at venues that close on the earlier side, like 10 or 11 p.m., Merriman advises that the festivities migrate to another locale, especially if the guest list largely includes a younger crowd.

"It’s another opportunity for you to personalize your day and show your personalities," she says. "It’s a wedding—it’s the biggest party you're going to have for yourself. You’re spending a lot of time and consideration. Why not go big and make a night of it?" We concur.

The only situation when an after-party might not be the best idea? "If you’re at a venue that allows you to stay until 1 or 2 [a.m.] and you choose an after-party to start at 11 [p.m.], you’re essentially breaking up the party, which can be a buzzkill," warns Merriman.

How to Let Guests Know

The key is to make sure guests are fully informed if you choose to add an after-party to your wedding agenda. Notify your nearest and dearest through a separate insert within your wedding invitation suite (avoid advertising it on your formal invites) or send out a mass e-vite.

What to Spend Money On

Thankfully, after already wowing guests at the ceremony and reception, the stakes aren't nearly as high for a post-wedding affair. "The great thing about an after-party is that it’s later in the evening and you’ve already had a great party and spoiled everyone," says Merriman. "I don’t think there are high expectations—you don’t need to spend a lot of money on decor or food. People just want to have drinks and great music."

Where to Have It

It all depends on your wedding reception venue and guest count, but it's essential to scope out an after-party spot that's nearby. Wedding attendants will likely appreciate a change of pace and scenery—however, pick somewhere within a 15-minute radius. Otherwise, partygoers will start to trickle off. You can even consider migrating to a separate area within your reception locale.

Size matters, too—the smaller and more intimate the venue, the better. "Dancing is always more fun if you’re in a smaller space," says Merriman. "You don't want it to feel empty, and you have to assume that half your guests won't make it. Find something cozy."

What to Do About Alcohol

In terms of booze, if you alerted guests of the after-party beforehand, the expectation is likely that you and your S.O. will be footing the bill (unless you're headed to a bar). However, you can get around this in a more budget-friendly manner. For example, offer to pay for a signature cocktail of sorts and establish a cash bar for the rest of the beverages. Or, set a time limit—cover the after-party drink costs for an hour, then leave the rest up to your guests. Late-night food could also be a plus (your friends and family have been drinking for a while...), but Merriman considers this the least important post-reception component.

How to Decorate

After-party decorations are hardly worth your time and money (read: no flowers necessary), but you can easily (and affordably) contribute to the vibe with a few party staples. Take Viera-Newton's post-reception celebration—Merriman decorated with balloons, gold glitter, and tinsel. Guest accessories, like plastic glasses or crowns, can also be a thoughtful additive if you're looking to add some pizazz but, again, aren't mandatory.

If a wedding after-party still isn't up your alley, Merriman advises having a backup option after your reception regardless. "Even if you're not going to have an official one, have a plan for where people can go to keep the party going," she says.

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