A welcome party is a fun pre-wedding event that can take many forms. It serves as the initial opportunity to greet, and obviously welcome, guests for the wedding celebrations to follow. "I think of the welcome party as a 'wedding warmup,'" says wedding planner Sara Landon. While the welcome festivities can replace a traditional rehearsal dinner or be added on to the end of one, it may also be its own distinct event, taking place on a different day entirely. For example, you might hold a rehearsal dinner for only family and the 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. With so many options to mix-and-match, welcome parties have become a wedding itinerary mainstay.
Meet the Expert
Sara Landon is a bicoastal event planner and wedding expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She is the owner, creative director, and principal planner of Sara Landon Events.
Here, you'll find expert advice on how to incorporate a welcome party into your wedding weekend.
Welcome Party Etiquette
Who Throws a Welcome Party?
"Traditionally, the groom’s family is responsible for the welcome party and/or rehearsal dinner before the wedding," explains Landon. "However, full-weekend celebrations have become more popular resulting in families combining forces to host and celebrate the whole weekend as a united group."
When Do You Throw a Welcome Party?
Customarily, the welcome party takes place the date before the wedding. While they're usually evening events, many creative couples also opt for nontraditional gatherings like brunch kick-offs or luncheons. If you are having a separate rehearsal dinner, you will need to factor this into the timing. For destination weddings, this requires a bit more planning. "The welcome party is intended to welcome everyone to your celebration," says Landon. "If you are planning a destination wedding, then you should schedule the welcome party for the day guests are set to arrive." Take into account all the travel details including hotel check-in and time zone changes so you can pad in some time for everyone to get settled and rest before the party.
"Try to schedule the start time around hotel check-in, and if you are in a remote location you may also be able to check out flight patterns well in advance for the majority of guests," adds Landon. "If you are planning a dinner for locals, give guests time to refresh after work before joining."
Who Gets Invited to a Welcome Party?
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. "If you are a more low key couple, then invite your families and bridal party to an intimate dinner then move on to a bar or more lively location with friends and extended guests," suggests Landon. "You should choose a different location for the two so you don’t have an awkward overlap should the dinner run long."
How Do You Share the Information With Guests?
This will depend on who gets a spot on that coveted guest list. If all of the wedding guests are also invited to the welcome party, the information can be included on the wedding website or as an insert within the invitation suite along with any other details pertaining to pre-wedding events. However, Landon advises sending separate invitations or event-card inserts if there will be a private dinner for some and a welcome party for others.
Should Food/Drinks Be Provided?
Food and beverages are customarily provided if the rehearsal dinner and welcome party overlap. However, Landon notes that it is acceptable to provide either food or drinks for a welcome event that is separate from a more intimate dinner with family and the wedding party. In this scenario, there is no obligation for the hosts to provide both.
Do You Need Décor for a Welcome Party?
Décor is an intrinsic element to any event and helps set the stage for what's to come, just as the welcome party sets the tone for the following wedding celebrations. The aesthetic is entirely up to you, whether you lean towards a mega-watt moment or err on the more casual side. "I like to plan welcome parties in locations with a lot of character and play into the surroundings, especially if you and your guests have traveled to celebrate," says Landon. "The wedding is the place to really represent who you are as a couple. If you’ve chosen a destination, use the ambiance for greater impact."
Do People Give Toasts at a Welcome Party?
This is the perfect time to schedule any toasts that might be spilling over from other events like the rehearsal dinner or wedding reception. "If you come from a more modern family with parents who all want to speak, keep the parent toasts on the wedding day as they are likely hosting the celebration," advises Landon. "And let friends control the welcome party." In regards to the order of the speeches, the rules of etiquette deem that the host speaks first.
Steps to Planning a Welcome Party
Find Your Groove
"The first step in planning a wedding welcome party is to find out what impression the couple wants to lead with for their guests," says Landon. "The direction may be dictated by cultural elements, what you love, hate, dream, etc. That’s where we start." Make sure the welcome party represents who you are as a couple. It’s the first introduction to the weekend and sets the tone for the celebration.
Landon advises finalizing the dates of the welcome party as soon as you set the wedding date. "That will help put into motion other items needing to be planned such as stationery, hotel room blocks, transportation, and budgeting for catering and décor."
Create Your Guest List
Welcome parties are a great way for guests to meet and make friends before the wedding. "The welcome party serves the purpose of breaking the conversational ice so that the wedding day will feel more like a warm meeting of friends," explains Landon. Once you have a clear idea of how many people will be attending the welcome event, you can settle on a location that can accommodate that occupancy.
Mind the Details
Make a list of all the nitty-gritty details to keep yourself on-task and on-budget. "The most commonly overlooked items for a welcome party are audio and visual, such as entertainment and/or microphones for toasts," notes Landon. "If you are an intimate group of people, you likely do not need amplification. However, 50 plus people in a room make more noise than you might think—plan for success, no one wants to miss the punchline."
Serve Food For Thought
The fare you offer guests—and how you choose to present it—will help set the vibe of the event. "If you are planning to invite all of the guests to the welcome party and make it a dinner, then do something different than the wedding," says Landon. "If the wedding is a formal plated dinner think about stations, family style, or a buffet for the welcome." If the welcome fête is following a rehearsal dinner, serve one-bite hors d'oeuvres or sweets for a dessert reception and have them passed around on trays or arranged on an accessible buffet. In this situation, Landon advises guests be informed that they should see to dinner options on their own and possibly suggest some restaurants. While making menu picks, keep in mind that the goal is for guests to easily mix and mingle. This is a great opportunity to have some fun and feature local cuisine or favored items that may have clashed with the aesthetic of the wedding itself.
Make It Multidimensional
Sure, a cocktail party can certainly suffice as the welcome event or you can kick things up a notch and incorporate an activity to get friends and family interacting with one another. From setting up boat rides on yachts to group excursions to cultural elements like a sangeet for Indian weddings or a Shabbat dinner for Jewish nuptials, the possibilities are endless. "Fireworks are a classic trend making a comeback," notes Landon. "It is also trending to incorporate exciting entertainment, such as a small, retro band playing covers of modern songs, or a food truck of your favorite desserts."
Word the Invites
Once you've planned the celebration, see to designing the invitations and inserts or finding the right wording for the wedding website. Use festive colors and creative verbiage to reflect any 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 guests when planning their time.
Have an Exit Strategy
While the welcome party will undoubtedly be an exciting kick-off event for the wedding festivities, remember that it's only the beginning of a very eventful schedule. "Always have an exit strategy so you can get a good night’s sleep before the wedding," advises Landon. "Hair and makeup will be knocking on your door bright and early, and we want you to look and feel your best."