Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Wedding After-Party

According to a party planner.

Women drinking and dancing at wedding after-party

Photo by Melissa Marshall

You know the saying—after the party comes the after-party, and this has been holding true for more and more weddings to date. An after-party is a wedding celebration that takes place after the reception (and all the protocol of the big day) to keep the excitement going and fully let loose. Couples are by no means obligated to host their guests for a wedding after-party, but it's hard to resist. Who wouldn't want to prolong one of the biggest days of their lives? Even if finances are holding you back or you can't fathom planning yet another wedding-related event, fear not. We chatted with wedding planning expert and industry veteran Mindy Weiss, who fully makes the case for hosting a post-reception soiree and offers hassle-free tips on planning a post-wedding bash for the books. If you're still skeptical of the after-party, know that you don't have to allocate extensive funds to the cause or pull out all the decor stops to satisfy partygoers.

Meet the Expert

Mindy Weiss is a wedding and event planner with over three decades of experience in the industry. She is the owner of Mindy Weiss Party Consultants and author of three best-selling books.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect wedding after-party.

Wedding After-Party Etiquette

From who should host to day-of logistics, here are answers to the most commonly asked questions about wedding after-parties.

Who throws the wedding after-party?

The wedding after-party is typically thrown by the same hosts as the wedding itself. Weiss adds that the costs of the after-party should also fall under the wedding budget.

When should it start?

The wedding after-party takes place the same day as the wedding, directly after the reception. This could trickle into the early hours of the following day depending on how long the reception goes for and how late partygoers stay.

Where do you throw an after-party?

This is a matter of both personal preference and venue restrictions. The after-party can take place in a setting that is totally different from that of the reception to ensure that guests won't be confused where one ends and the other begins. This can either be at the same venue, but in a different vicinity, or in an entirely new location. Or, the party can continue in the same room as the reception where "the music changes, the lighting gets lower, shoes go off," says Weiss.

Who gets invited?

All wedding guests attending the reception should be invited to the after-party. Keep in mind that older guests or those with young children may choose to leave before the final festivities begin.

How do you invite guests?

If the after-party takes place in a different locale, notify your nearest and dearest through a separate insert within the wedding invitation suite (avoid advertising it on formal invites) or send out a mass evite. You can take much more informal measures, like word of mouth, if the reception itself transforms into the after-party.

How long should the after-party last?

"After-parties are typically two hours," says Weiss. "But if it’s a destination wedding, it could go all night." This will vary depending on the guests, and no one knows them better than you. If you have a bunch of partiers on your hands, prepare for a much longer—and rowdier—after-party.

Who pays for alcohol?

In terms of booze, if you alerted guests of the after-party beforehand, the expectation is likely that the hosts will be footing the bill (unless everyone is headed to a bar). However, you can get around this in a more budget-friendly manner. For example, set a time limit—cover the after-party drink costs for an hour and then leave the rest up to the guests.

Steps to Planning a Wedding After-Party

Once you're ready to plan a wedding after-party, here are seven key things to add to your to-do list.

1. Choose a location.

This will depend on the reception venue and guest count. Once you have those two factors squared away, evaluate if a secondary venue for the after-party is necessary. If so, book it right away. Logistically, it's much easier to host the after-party at the same location, but some venues may have early cutoff times or noise restrictions that can be a bit of a buzzkill. If this is the case, it's essential to scope out an after-party spot that's nearby—somewhere within a 15-minute radius. Otherwise, partygoers will start to trickle off. Size matters, too—the smaller and more intimate the venue, the more fun. Once the location is booked, save any remaining after-party planning for last. "Wait to see what gets spent of the budget on the elements you have to have first," says Weiss. "Then use what’s left of the budget on the after-party."

Consider providing transportation to the after-party venue so guests aren't tempted to drive. If the budget doesn't permit, you can always suggest a ride-share service or another alternative.

2. Time it right.

The timing of the after-party usually depends on the band, if the newlyweds choose to have one. Since bands, or entertainers, are hired for a set block of time (typically four hours), the after-party would start right after they finish. This eliminates the need for the musicians to go into costly overtime by bringing in a more budget-friendly alternative like a DJ or your very own customized playlist (that’s at least three hours long). But sometimes couples really look forward to letting loose at the after-party and expedite this timeline. "They’ll cut the cake, have the band play for another 30 minutes, and then the party kicks up a notch with the changeover to the after-party," says Weiss.

"If the DJ is the same for the reception and the after-party, you can have those conversations simultaneously about what music to play," advises Weiss. "The music selections are really important to the after-party"

3. Communicate details to guests.

Once you have a venue, you can decide on the best way to let everyone know. If the reception seamlessly transitions into the after-party, this isn't so much of an issue. "Make it a surprise or leave it up to the wedding party to get the word out," advises Weiss. "The options are much less formal for the after-party invitation." However, if a change of locale is necessary, you will need to inform guests. A note on the wedding website or an additional insert to the invitation suite is a great way to spread the word. You can also send an email, mass text, or advertise it on the day's schedule of events or wedding-weekend itinerary, if there is one. If you want to keep it a secret for as long as possible, weave some instruction into the newlywed toast.

4. Consider decor.

Thankfully, after wowing guests at the ceremony and reception, the stakes aren't nearly as high for a post-wedding affair. "At this point in the night, décor is less of a factor," says Weiss. "People just want to dance and socialize and eat after-party food." After-party decorations are hardly worth the time and money (read: no flowers necessary), but you can easily contribute to the vibe by changing up the lighting and scattering some lounge furniture. Depending on the theme, you can also add a few party staples to really set the mood. Guest accessories like glow sticks, plastic glasses, or crowns can add some pizazz but, again, aren't mandatory.

5. Factor in food and drinks.

Food and drinks are usually a package deal when it comes to the after-party. Food has a pragmatic role, buffering all the alcohol that guests have already ingested (and continue to down) and fueling them for all the dancing about to take place. "This is when we introduce fun, greasy food," says Weiss. Casual, late-night food like pizza, fries, sliders, and chicken fingers are always fan favorites that hit those snack cravings just right. For a budget-friendly option, put out an array of chips and dips to help absorb the alcohol. If you've decided not to cover the after-party bar tab, alert guests ahead of time so they can come prepared.

6. Prep for photos.

"We get the best pictures from an after-party," says Weiss. "People are in a very happy place, the couple is ready to party, and it’s time to let loose—we change the lighting and the music, and sometimes even the fashion." This makes for some great shots of complete fun and revelry that you won't want to miss out on. Consider if you will want these aspects documented by the videographer or photographer, and discuss the plans before establishing costs. For a budget-friendly approach, provide guests with disposable cameras for some amazing photos from their special points of view.

7. Have some fun.

This is quite possibly going to be the biggest party that you're going to throw for yourself, so you might as well really get to enjoy it. Be selfish with your big day, and drag the fun out for as long as possible and with any theme that gets your heart excited. We guarantee guests won't mind celebrating your love for a little longer. If a wedding after-party still isn't up your alley, get creative with any kind of backup option to the reception. Guests will be thankful for some plan of action or direction to continue partying, regardless of how casual it may be.

Related Stories