How to Plan a Wedding After-Party: Tips and Etiquette

Planning a wedding is not easy, and it can be even more difficult when you’re the bride or groom. You’ve put in countless hours of planning and have been working through all of the details with your partner for months or years. The big day is finally here! But what do you do after? It’s time to celebrate with friends and family at an after-party.

Planning a wedding is no easy feat. First, you have to choose the venue, food, dress, flowers and music. And once you finally tie the knot, don’t forget about your after-party! The after-party is an opportunity for you and your friends to celebrate in style. But what can you do if you’re not throwing it?

A wedding is a very special day for the bride and groom. It’s time to celebrate with friends, family, and loved ones in honour of their new life together. But after the big event comes to the after-party! One of your duties as a guest or member of the couple’s wedding party will be to plan this celebratory gathering—so you’ll want some tips on what it takes to throw an awesome one.

But after the wedding comes to an end, you’re left with all this excess energy that needs to be used up! So it’s important to have a plan for what will happen next. How do you wind down from all of the excitement? What are some ways to celebrate the newlywed status? And how can you still feel like royalty when it feels like it’s over?

Planning a wedding is stressful and may not leave you with much time to think about the after-party. However, the last thing you want to do is forget an important detail or miss out on something your guests enjoy. So here are some tips for planning and executing a great after-party to ensure everyone has a good time, including yourself!

The first thing you need to do is decide how long you’ll have at your venue before everyone leaves for home. If you’re lucky enough that they don’t kick people out immediately following dinner, then take advantage by booking live entertainment (a band or DJ).

Here are some tips on how to plan a successful party that will leave guests feeling like they had just as much fun as you did during your big day!

Steps to Planning a Wedding After-Party

You know the saying—after the party comes to the after-party, which has been holding for more and more weddings to date. An after-party is a wedding celebration that takes place after the reception (and all the protocols 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?

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 the author of three best-selling books.

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 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. Finally, weave some instruction into the newlywed toast if you want to keep it a secret for as long as possible.

4. Consider the 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 favourites 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 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. So 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. However, if a wedding after-party still isn’t up your alley, get creative with any 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.


Wedding After-Party Etiquette

1. Settle on a Style

There are three types of post-wedding paths: one is the somewhat spontaneous let’s-meet-at-a-bar gathering where guests show up and pay their way; two is the our-own-room-in-a-bar route with or without an open tab; and the third is the well-organized-wedding-part-two celebration where guests continue in the open-bar revelry with or without added entertainment (a DJ, pool tables, sundae bar).

The main differences are the legwork, cost, and possibility of snafus (mainly that the bar is overcrowded). However, once you decide what type of after-party you want, the rest of the decisions will come easy.

After-party Pointer: Call at least a week ahead to make sure they haven’t booked any private parties for that night, even if you go for the low-maintenance, meet-at-a-bar kind of party. You don’t want to be scrambling around town in your wedding gown, looking for a good bar.

2. Invite Right

The best thing about planning the after-party is that traditional wedding etiquette need not apply. Yes, everyone should feel welcome to join, but official invites are not necessary.

If you want to ensure all your guests are aware of the post-wedding festivities (and won’t make other plans), include the after-party info on a separate card to be sent with your wedding invitations. Or, post it on your wedding website with a link to the venue.

Destination weddings will do right with the info listed on the weekend’s schedule of events. But, for a more low-key after-party, it’s fine to let everyone know about the plan through word of mouth — start spreading the news at the shower and bachelorette party.

After-party Pointer: Deciding who to invite to the after-party is simple: If they’re invited to the reception, they should be invited to the after-party. Even if you know some of your guests won’t be up for partying after the reception, still extend the invitation, so no one feels snubbed.

That said, you can position the party as a mainly friends affair by choosing a hip location like the new lounge in town or a billiards club. But if your parents and their friends want to attend, they should still be welcome with open arms.

3. Choose a Convenient Spot

You’ll hear lots of compliments and praise from your friends and family throughout your reception, so use the after-party to show your guests how much you appreciate them.

When you choose your after-party venue, remember the old real estate axiom: what matters most is location, location, location. Make sure the after-party is somewhere that’s convenient to the reception. If the majority of your out-of-town guests are staying in the same area, find a nearby bar or lounge.

If you’re having your reception in a hotel ballroom, check if you can rent a smaller room — or even a suite, if your guest list is small — in the same hotel to host your party.

After-party Pointer: By the time your reception is over, at least a few of your guests will probably have had a bit too much to drink.

Transportation to the after-party should be one of your main concerns — if the venue is not within walking distance, consider booking a shuttle to get guests around safely, or hire a few cabs to wait outside your reception space when it’s finished.

4. Vary the Decor

You’ve thought through every detail to make your guests gasp when they see your reception space — go for the same reaction when they enter your after-party. To wow them once again, you’ll need unexpected décor, so pick a theme that’s different from your reception.

If you’ve stuck with a formal, classic style throughout your wedding, make your after-party a little more laid back by giving out leis and serving tropical cocktails. If you chose big band classics for your reception tunes, hire a DJ to play all your ’80s favourites at the after-party.

Had a casual outdoor ceremony and reception? Treat your guests to a Latin-themed after-party, complete with a salsa band, mojito bar, and cigars rolled to order.

After-party Pointer: When you pick your after-party theme, make sure it matches your personality. If you and your friends have more fun at the neighbourhood bar than at a super stylish club, don’t feel like your party needs to be ultra-posh — making everyone comfortable is an important step to after-party success.

5. Feed the Crowd

You served a delicious dinner at the reception, but after hours of dancing and drinking, your guests are going to be hungry. So whether you opt for an open bar at your after-party, you should also offer your guests something to snack on.

Follow the rules of décor. Just like it’s smart to vary the look of reception and the after-party, it’s also a good idea to serve a different type of food. For example, if your main dish at dinner was salmon, a sushi bar might be fish overloaded at your after-party.

And it doesn’t have to be too fancy — we know a couple who served mini burgers, fries, and milkshakes for a tasty midnight snack.

After-party Pointer: Do you have to have an open bar? Well, that’s up to you and your budget. Open bar is always appreciated, but the decision also depends on where and what kind of after-party you’re throwing.

If you’ve rented out a room or a suite at your reception site, yes, an open bar is essential. If you’ve rented out private space at a bar, it’s a generous and appropriate gesture. However, if it’s a less formal, let’s-hit-this-bar type of event, it’s not necessary.

6. Wear What You Want

Even if the after-party is held in the bar next door, you can generally expect everyone to stay in their party clothes. However, if it’s held at the hotel where everyone is staying, many guests will want to change into more casual gear.

That’s fine unless the after-party room has a dress code. It’s considerate to let your guests know what attire is expected after the reception’s over. If you’re planning a casual after-party, tell your guests they should feel free to change out of their formalwear and into something more comfortable.

If you think it’d be fun to coordinate the attire with your party’s décor (like a black and white theme or a Hawaiian luau), make your plans clear beforehand so no one feels left out by dressing inappropriately.

After-party Pointer: If you want to sport your white dress ’til dawn, go for it. Play the princess card for as long as you wish. Just know, every extra hour you’re in your gown — especially around food and drinks — you run the risk of staining your dress. If you’re wearing a two-piece gown, consider changing into jeans and leaving the top on.


7. Cover the Costs

So, who’s paying? Chances are there will be many a guest offering to slap down their credit cards at the bar. However, because the after-party is a relatively new wedding trend, there’s no set etiquette for who traditionally pays.

The bride’s parents may consider it part of the reception and pay for the after-party, especially if it’s taking place in the same hotel or resort since it can be easily added to the final bill. On the other hand, many couples choose to pay for the after-party themselves, regardless of who pays for the wedding, since the attendees will generally be the couple’s younger friends.

If you’re uncertain about who’s planning on paying, consider offering to split the bill with your parents. No need to go overboard — if you’re worried about overspending, just put a cap on the open bar after an hour or two.

After-party Pointer: All good things must come to an end, including your wedding day. You probably have an allotted amount of time if you’re renting a space, so deciding when to go home can be pretty clear cut.

Otherwise, if you and your husband are up for it, there’s no reason you can’t celebrate till dawn! If you’re hosting a brunch or leaving early for your honeymoon the next morning, make sure you’ve got someone to give you a wake-up call, so you don’t oversleep.

Wedding After-Party FAQs

1. Who throws the wedding after-party?

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

2. 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.

3. 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 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 entirely new. 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.

4. Who gets invited?

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

5. 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 invite.

You can take more informal measures, like word of mouth, if the reception itself transforms into the after-party.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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