Tip Sheet

Make Guests Feel Special on Your Big Day

By Julia Feldmeier
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 14, 2007

Congratulations, you're engaged! Question popped, tears sprung, joyous phone calls made -- you've got so much to look forward to! Like, say, the abundance of gifts. The touching toasts. The band and the open bar. Oh, yeah, and that whole "till death do us part" bit.

So here you are, planning this event that's all about you and your soon-to-be spouse. Grand, ain't it? Of course, a wedding is also about your guests and making sure they're well provided for. This is especially true for out-of-town guests, now that four out of every 10 couples get married in places other than their home towns, according to Kathleen Murray, deputy editor of TheKnot.com.

"It's all about being a gracious host," Murray says. "You're basically the host of all these people for the entire weekend." And what a weekend it can be: Wedding planners say nuptial celebrations increasingly are stretching over three days or more, beginning with Friday activities and wrapping up with Sunday brunch. But how, in this era of extravagant weddings, can you distinguish yours from the rest? Here are four ideas to make your wedding a weekend to remember.

Scavenger Hunt

When guests check into their hotel, it's a nice gesture to have a "welcome" bag waiting for them, stuffed with such essentials as bottled water, soda, snacks and a weekend itinerary. But wedding planners say one of the best touches is including a custom map of the area, a sketch that highlights the bride's and groom's favorite places.

Consider creating a scavenger hunt among places that have some significance to the couple. Guests should aim to hit as many places on the list as possible before the weekend's up: It'll keep them busy in the off hours, and they'll learn something about both the area and the couple.

Bride vs. Groom Games

They say that a little competition is good for the soul -- and it's great for weddings, too. Kick off your big day with a sporting event, such as a morning kickball game, bride side vs. groom side. Murray says couples have embraced the sporty spirit with softball and dodge ball games as well -- fun activities that are also good talking points for the cocktail reception later in the day.

Bonnie Schwartz, a Bethesda-based wedding planner, says she recently had a couple who set up a basketball tournament the morning of their wedding. Even guests who weren't hoop-savvy were encouraged to come watch and enjoy some snacks, she says. Consider making fun paraphernalia for the game -- team T-shirts or sweatbands (perhaps to stuff in the welcome bags!) -- and be sure to reserve the field or court in advance.

Roast and Toast

These days, a Friday-night welcome party is pretty standard, whether it's an all-inclusive rehearsal dinner or a simple dessert gathering. It gives out-of-town guests something to do and lets the happy couple have extra time to mingle. "If the bride and groom have an opportunity to see as many people as possible, it takes so much pressure off of them for the wedding," Schwartz says.

To give the party a new twist, consider having a "Roast & Toast," a gathering in which attendees can sign up to say a few words (and get in a few digs) about the bride and groom. Whether it's a lavish affair (a theme-appropriate pig roast, for example) or a simpler event in a room rented out in a bar, it's a great way for guests to socialize -- and to get more insight into the bride and groom. You'll need: guests who are willing to speak, a microphone and a sense of humor.

Midnight Snack

The days of giving party favors just for the sake of giving favors is over, Murray says. So instead of setting out, say, a basket of monogrammed soaps for guests to take as they exit the reception, offer something more immediately gratifying: food. "It's what I would call 'drunk food,' " says Laura Weatherly, owner of Engaging Affairs, an Alexandria-based wedding planning service. "French fries in paper cones, mini burgers -- things that are really appealing after a long night."

Some of her clients have set out individual boxes containing two Krispy Kreme doughnuts, to be eaten on the spot or taken as breakfast to go. "It's fun to have those little munchies at the end of the night," she says. "You're ready for something else, something more informal."

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