How to Plan the Best Wedding After-Party Everyone Will Love

Your step-by-step guide to planning a post-reception blowout.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Aug 24, 2022

Married couples will tell you that the reception flies by. But the last dance doesn't have to signal the end of the celebration. A wedding after-party allows you to prolong your wedding day and gives you another chance to impress your guests with surprising details and personal touches. And while you're going to have a good time no matter what—after all, your closest friends and family are by your side—it's worth learning some after-wedding party etiquette and tips to make your event truly unforgettable. Read on so you can let the good times roll at your postwedding celebration.

What Is a Wedding After-Party?

A wedding after-party is an optional celebration immediately after the wedding reception. This postwedding get-together can be at a different venue than the reception and stocked with food, drinks and fun entertainment.

Wedding After-Party Etiquette

Similar to a lot of other wedding events, the after-wedding party has some etiquette rules attached to it to keep in mind while wedding planning. Here's what you need to know before you start planning your after-wedding extravaganza.

Who pays for the wedding after-party?

Because wedding after-parties are a relatively new wedding trend, there isn't one person who "traditionally" pays for the party. But since a wedding after-party is an event typically hosted by the couple, it's generally expected the couple pays for any food, drinks or entertainment at the celebration. Steve Feinberg, owner of Bunn DJ Company, says that if the newlyweds are hosting the after-party, it should be a part of their wedding budget. "The after-party would be part of their budget if the couple paid for the wedding reception. Otherwise, whoever hosted the reception will cover the party costs. Ideally, guests shouldn't have to pay to attend a party," Feinberg says.

If the wedding after-party will be a more casual affair and the couple has a tighter budget, Jamie Chang, owner and destination wedding planner of Mango Muse Events, suggests an alternative way to cover costs. "If it's more casual, like going to a nearby bar that's also open to the public, the couple could either take care of the tab or guests can cover their own drinks/food or some combo where the couple covers the first hour or two and some initial snacks and then guests are on their own after that," Chang says. While it doesn't matter if you choose to do an open bar or not, you need to communicate your decision to your guests. We suggest you add that information to the wedding after-party invite or your wedding website so your guests know what to expect.

When should the wedding after-party start?

The postwedding celebration should start right after the reception. You want the upbeat energy from the reception to continue into the next event, so make sure you don't leave too much space between the two functions. "Having downtime in between kills the vibe, and people can decide [they] no longer [want] to attend the after-party. Even if not everyone shows up immediately, having it directly after just makes for a better continuation of the party and festivities," Chang says.

If you're staying at the reception venue for the after-wedding bash, Feinberg suggests you "seamlessly move into the after-party with a change of lighting and music. Hand out glow sticks or necklaces to let guests know you're shifting into after-party mode." For example, if you're hiring a live band for the reception, consider switching to a DJ for the rest of the night and give them some of your after-party playlist requests.

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Who should be on my guest list?

Deciding who to invite to the after-wedding party is simple: If they're invited to the reception, they're invited to the after-party. "It's the polite thing to do. If someone was kind enough to take the time to attend your wedding and deal with the expenses of being a wedding guest, that kindness should be reciprocated," Feinberg says. 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.

How do I invite people to the wedding after-party?

Everyone should feel free to join, but official invites aren't necessary. If you want to ensure all your guests are aware of the postwedding festivities (and won't make other plans), include the after-party information on a separate card with your wedding invitations. Or, post it on your wedding website with a link to the venue. For destination weddings, list the information on the weekend's schedule of events. For a more low-key after-party, it's fine to let everyone know about the plan through word of mouth. Ask your wedding party to start spreading the news at the prewedding events and remind everyone of the plan during the reception.

Three Reasons to Have a Wedding After-Party

You've learned the etiquette around wedding after-parties but still aren't sure if you should have one. Here are three reasons why you should have an after-wedding blowout.

You want to spend more time with your loved ones.

Your big day is one of the happiest days of your life but also one of the busiest. Your wedding day timeline will be packed with things for you and your partner to do, like giving your welcome speech and cutting the cake. In the end, you won't have as much quality time with your loved ones as you might think. So keep the party going if you want to celebrate your nuptials with your nearest and dearest even more.

You can have another outfit change.

Want to add some flair to your perfect wedding day wardrobe? Then having a wedding after-party outfit is perfect if you want to experiment with your style. Choose a classic look by wearing a white maxi dress or step out of your comfort zone and choose an iridescent blue suit for the event. Either way, changing your outfit is a fun way to let others know the after-party is about to begin.

Your wedding venue can't be rented out after 10 p.m.

Lots of venues have to abide by noise restrictions, passed down from the city, that limit noise levels depending on the time of day and zoned area. Usually, noise levels have to be lower during the nighttime and early hours of the morning to respect homeowners in residential areas or hotel guests. Unfortunately, to comply with the noise restrictions, many venues are not available to rent after 10 p.m. To avoid trying to be quieter at night, have a party after the wedding at a different location than your reception so you can be as loud as you want and for as long as you want.

The Knot Expert Tip: No matter if you're partying until midnight or until dawn, if you're hosting a postwedding brunch or leaving early for your honeymoon the next day, make sure you've got someone to give you a wake-up call so you don't oversleep.

Wedding After-Party Ideas & Planning Tips

Ready to take the late-night revelry to the next level? Check out these cool ideas and expert-backed tips for planning an awesome wedding after-party.

Pick a fun style or theme.

If there were certain things you didn't have the chance to add to your wedding theme, include them in your wedding after-party. Do you want to have Alice in Wonderland details at your wedding reception, but think it won't match your other wedding decor? Have a Mad Hatter-approved decoration, like a colorful and psychedelic photo backdrop. Or get groovy and have a '70s-themed party complete with retro outfits and disco balls over the dance floor. Once you figure out the vibe you're going for, you can base your location, decor, food, drinks and entertainment on your theme.

Choose a convenient location.

We know planning yet another event can seem like a lot, but if your reception venue has a hard cut-off, it's essential to plan ahead. If a close friend agrees to host it at their place, you're golden. Also, you and your wedding guests can all go to the hotel bar post-reception. Not unique enough? Try a karaoke bar, a place with a silent disco night, a bowling alley or a late-night arcade where everyone can get their game on. If you're near the water, have a bonfire on the beach or book a chartered boat. The sky's the limit—just remember the old real estate saying: What matters most is location, location, location. Make sure the wedding after-party is somewhere that's convenient to the reception.

By the time your reception is over, at least a few of your guests will probably have had a little too much to drink. Transportation to the postwedding celebration should be one of your main concerns––if the after-party venue isn't within walking distance. Consider booking a party bus, cab or ride-share vehicle to get guests around safely. "You don't want to have to worry about people driving at the end of the night or figuring out how to get people home when you just want to head to bed with your partner," Chang says.

Vary the decor.

You've thought through every detail to make your guests gasp when they see your wedding ceremony and reception space, so go for the same reaction when they enter your party after the wedding. To wow them again, you'll need unexpected décor, so pick a theme that's different from your reception. We love the idea of using your honeymoon destination as inspiration. Headed to Hawaii? Go to a tiki bar or set up a beach hangout with leis and palm leaf accents. Jetting off to the mountains? Go to an ice bar or rent a cabin for an après-ski lounge feel with the couches draped in faux fur blankets. This works best if you have access before the reception so you, your wedding party or other friends can set up the decor.

Determine the dress code.

Once you've picked your party location, let your guests know what sort of attire is expected after the wedding reception is over. Most likely, if you don't inform your guests of the dress code, you can generally expect everyone to stay in their wedding clothes. 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 black and white or neon outfits ), make your plans clear beforehand so no one feels left out by dressing inappropriately.

Try to feed the crowd.

If you can fit food into your wedding after-party budget, you and your guests will really appreciate it. Serve a different cuisine than what will be at your reception. If your main reception dish is salmon, a sushi bar at your after-party might be fish overload. And remember, the food doesn't have to be fancy. Mini burgers, French fries and milkshakes will definitely make for a tasty midnight snack. You can also get in on the food truck trend and hire one to pull up and serve anything from tacos to ice cream.

Consider having a videographer or photographer.

If your budget allows, hiring a wedding videographer or photographer is a great way to capture some funny and epic shots of you and your loved ones having fun. But since this is an "after-hours" event, you and your partner should consider what parts of the after-wedding celebration you want to be documented. Chang recommends only having the videographer or photographer present for the beginning of the festivities so they can leave you and the guests to party in private for the rest of the night. A more budget-friendly and personal option is asking guests to help with the after-wedding photos. "You can also have guests upload images from their phones to a file-sharing app. Or [you can] provide disposable cameras for capturing the after-party action," Feinberg suggests.

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