The Night is Young
Photo: Ama Photography & Cinema
Your wedding day is not just a celebration, but a major event, packed with people and activities. It’s also an occasion chock full of ritual and formality, where opportunities for relaxed fun can be rare, amidst all the pomp and circumstance. Which is why the late-night “after-party”—a time when the evening winds down, and the energy kicks up—is the perfect time to relax and let your hair down (perhaps literally), with close friends and family.
While wedding reception after-parties are gaining popularity, planning them well can take some finesse, as you may not wish to invite all of your guests to this intimate gathering. Planning a great after-party also means ensuring that the night doesn’t turn into a downward spiral, with guests over-indulging, and turning zany late-night Instagram photo-opps into…an embarrassing late-night Instagram photo “oops.” Here are our top tips for having an after-party that remains sophisticated, elegant, and yes, a whole lot of fun.
Location, Location, Location
Depending on your venue, your after-party may be just an elevator ride away, to a lounge or hotel suite located in the same building. Or perhaps your reception venue is in an area of town that has a string of bars and nightclubs nearby to choose from.
If you don’t have these options, turning around your reception space into the after-party area can work, although keeping an after-party in the same room as the reception requires careful planning, and requires that you are willing for all of your wedding guests to stay and enjoy.
Gary P. Baumann, director of catering and conference services at the Omni Houston, recommends that if you are planning on having an after-party, to start thinking about the celebration you want to create early on in your wedding planning process. “When working with a venue, look for out-of-the-way places to create an after-party atmosphere—a closed restaurant or bar, a pool area…even the top level of a parking garage,” he notes. “Or, convert your reception or cocktail-hour space by adding elements of lounge furniture and creating vignettes, and doing a complete change of lighting, along with going from a band to a DJ,” he adds.
Jamie Purpera, catering manager for The Crystal Ballroom at The Rice, offers this solid advice for couples planning their after-party: “Consider renting a hospitality suite in your hotel. This suite can be a place not only for an after-party, but also a room that your hotel guests can venture into throughout the weekend to visit with each other,” she adds.
At Hughes Manor, which blends a twinkle-lit outdoor lawn and lounge area with a vintage-elegant interior, “The best way to make your night an everlasting celebration is to have an indoor/outdoor cocktail time, indoor dinner and dancing, and then as everyone is thinking, ‘Ok this is it....’ turn up the music and open the doors to your outdoor party area!” says Jessca Hellwinkel. “Here we can have late-night bites accompanied by coffee,” and since Hughes Manor has a 360-degree bar with indoor and outdoor access, “nobody will have to go back inside to get a beverage.”
She also recommends bringing in fun games such as giant Jenga and cornhole, along with Instagram frames with your custom wedding hashtag, and a designated photo section “for all those wonderful group shots.”
As for entertainment, “La Hora Loca”—a Latino tradition, where costumed performers suddenly pop out and whip up guest excitement—“is a perfect touch to bring back life to your party and get the DJ to pump it up, and for your guests to interact with crazy props and all-around dancing!”
Looking for a complete change of setting for your late-night festivities? Midtown’s Clé Day | Night “features three distinctive and uniquely elegant bars that move patrons into five different indoor and outdoor lounge areas,” says assistant manager Will Brannon. “We also have a private room that can accommodate up to 200 guests, and couples can rent out our entire venue, including our beautiful outdoor patio, if their party is not held during our regular operating hours.” Just try to book your Clé after-party at least three weeks before the big day—while last-minute bookings can sometimes be accommodated, this conveniently located hotspot, known for its luxurious style, and excellent food and drink, tends to fill up. Shouldn’t it fill with your nearest and dearest?
After all the money that likely will be spent on the wedding itself, budgeting for an after-party can feel like one more item to add to the tab. But with creativity, entertainment and a touch of technology, you can put together an after-party that lets guests break loose…without breaking your bank.
Paula Foreman, director of sales at Sambuca Catering, and a big fan of post-formalities festivities, reminds clients that they do not necessarily have to hire a whole other set of professionals to work their late-night party. “After-parties are a blast!” she says. And because they are “generally more casual, with close friends,” less-formal entertainment is perfectly acceptable. If your after-party budget does not allow for a professional DJ or, say, a cigar-roller, consider “creating a playlist on your iPod, and providing a box of cigars,” as these options are less expensive, “but still allow for plenty of fun for your guests,” she states.
To surprise guests and completely change the atmosphere, Baumann suggests adding a theme for the after party: “60’s hippie, 70’s disco, 80’s rock, etc…and change the music based on the theme, along with lighting,” he says. “Plus, add decor elements from the theme to enhance the ambiance.”
If you are simply flipping your reception area for the after-party, and have a photo booth at your reception, keep it on hand for the after-party, but add new props for your guests to play with, as they snap those late-night selfies.
And speaking of props, your after-party is the perfect place to bring in all those cool—and yeah, even slightly silly—party props that would most likely be out of place at your elegant reception. Planning to dim the lights, for a more club-like atmosphere at your after-party? Light up the dark with LED knickknacks, such as colorful ice cubes, straws, foam sticks, necklaces or rings. Planning to refresh your after-party dance crowd with ice-cold beer? Snazz up those cans or bottles with personalized koozies, which will do double duty as after-party favors. And you can’t go wrong with wearable after-party decor, including feather boas, glitter top hats, sunglasses, and, of course, Mardi Gras beads—a perennial Houston favorite.
Eat, Drink & Be Married
By the time the after-party comes around, it’s been hours since dinner, your guests have been dancing and reveling all night, and everyone is ready for some late-night munchies. Foreman dishes out tips for creating a lightweight party menu to nourish guests while appealing to fun-food cravings. “The options are limitless for late-night munchies,” she notes. A couple of favorite pairings for Sambuca after-parties? Tray-passed sliders with small beers, and tasty tacos with mini margaritas. “It’s a great way to offer your guests some alcohol, without incurring a huge additional bar tab,” and without putting them in a position to consume more booze than is wise.
Planning to take the party right into the next day? “Breakfast foods, brunch and doughnut bars are popular late-night options,” says Linda Warwick, managing partner at the Majestic Metro, located in downtown Houston. “And they are a fun addition to the after-party!”
In Purpera’s opinion, meanwhile, “After-parties scream bar food!” She says, “Food trucks are a blast if you are in a location where they can park, to serve you and your guests.” Alternately, you can select an area of town, or a specific bar, frequented by food trucks, and host your festivities there, so that guests can indulge on their own as the evening continues.
Joe Pachioli, partner at The Astorian, whose chic, opulent, Deco-industrial vibe lends itself beautifully to late-night revelry, suggests ways to keep the night safe for all. If having a handful of guests stay sober to take on the task of designated driving is not an option, he recommends planning for private transportation. “A party bus is a good option. Also, you can consider offering pre-paid vouchers for Uber to hand out to guests,” he says.
Shutting down the late-night festivities graciously can be difficult, when revelers are interested in keeping the night going on and on. “For the after-party, have an emailed invitation with specifics: when, where, and what time (beginning to end) to make it easier to close down,” says Baumann. He adds that if a DJ is present, it can be much easier to shut down the party, as the DJ announces that the night is coming to an end.
Purpera agrees that it is essential to keep the after-party organized with specifics. “Put a specific end time on the invitation so guests don’t overstay their welcome. Place framed signs at the bar that indicate the specific times that the bar will be hosted, and when it will turn into a cash bar, so that nobody is caught off guard. And add cute signs at the bar, in the restrooms, and on the tables, that give your guests an Uber code (which you have previously set up), as well as a couple of local taxi numbers,” she says.
Warwick explains how to let the after-party continue on with close friends and family the following day: “In addition to having an after-party, it can be fun to spend the night in a nearby hotel and have everyone meet up the next morning for brunch at a small café nearby, or turn it into more of a destination experience and hop the light rail to tool around town.”