A welcome party is a fun pre-wedding event that can take many forms. It can replace a traditional rehearsal dinner or be added on to the end of one. The welcome party may also be distinct from the rehearsal dinner, taking place on a different day entirely. For example, you might hold a rehearsal dinner for only your family and bridal party on a Thursday night, with the welcome party following on Friday and the actual wedding taking place on Saturday. The event might be a chic, simple gathering with cocktails and/or dessert, or a more interactive affair. Because there are so many options, welcome parties have become more popular than ever.
Here, you'll find expert advice on how to incorporate one into your wedding weekend.
Create Your Guest List
"Welcome parties are a great way for your guests to meet and make friends before the wedding," says Dallas-based event planner Kimberly Schlegel Whitman. Though there's no set rule to follow when deciding whom to invite, couples hosting a destination wedding where everyone will have to travel often choose to include the entire group as a warm gesture of gratitude. For hometown events, it's common to limit the guest list to out-of-towners.
Meet the Expert
Dallas-based event planner Kimberly Schlegel Whitman is a TV host, author, lifestyle expert, and editor-at-large of Southern Living Magazine.
Serve Food For Thought
The fare you offer guests—and how you choose to present it—will help set the tone of the party. While making your menu picks, keep in mind that your goal is for your guests to easily mix and mingle. Help make this happen by serving small, one-bite hors d'oeuvres, or sweets for a dessert reception following a rehearsal dinner. Have them passed around on trays or arranged on an accessible buffet. Also, "This is a good time to share the flavor of the area you're marrying in," says Schlegel Whitman. A welcome party can give you the perfect opportunity to go a little more casual—with, say, barbecued ribs and coleslaw for a get-together down south, or lobsters and corn on the cob for some New England charm. Another perk, besides setting a relaxed, low-key vibe? "Serving food that's an expression of the local culture is definitely a conversation starter," Schlegel Whitman says.
Make It Multidimensional
Sure, a cocktail party can certainly suffice as your welcome event. But clients of San Francisco–based event planner Joyce Scardina Becker have been known to incorporate an activity to get their friends and family interacting with one another. Scardina Becker's couples have set up boat rides on a private or commercial yacht following the rehearsal dinner. Essentially, you can arrange whatever works for you and your group. "Your welcome party is about being with friends and family and doing fun things," she says.
Becker suggests doing something that highlights your interests or the location of the wedding, like a miniature-golf tournament or a wine tasting. An event built around those activities might take place on the afternoon or evening before your wedding, depending on when guests will be arriving.
Inform With Invites
Once you've planned your celebration, design the invitations: Use festive colors and creative wording to reflect your theme or activity. Also, make sure the invites convey to guests all they'll need to know to prepare for the cool events you've planned. Be as descriptive as you can, including clothing and footwear suggestions, area maps and any phone numbers or websites that might be useful to your guests when planning their time for the wedding weekend. "You want everyone to feel educated and excited about what they'll be doing beforehand," says Schlegel Whitman.