When Michael and Melissa Peters began planning their wedding, they knew that when the reception was over, they wouldn't be ready for the night to end. So after the last dance, instead of sending their guests off to the hotel, the Peters kept the party going with a visit from their favorite Baltimore food truck.
The couple, who live in Canton, held their reception at the American Visionary Art Museum. As that celebration was winding down, the Kooper's Chowhound food truck pulled up to the museum's courtyard, where guests continued the party as they ate burgers served right off the grill.
"We had been to enough weddings to remember how hungry you are at the end," says Melissa Peters with a laugh. "The dancing takes a toll. And there's nothing like a good burger."
Hiring the Chowhound food truck also gave the couple's out-of-town guests the opportunity to build a memory around something unique to Baltimore, says Peters.
"We had an otherwise very traditional wedding and were trying to inject quirky undertones," she says. "It's definitely one of the top things people remember about our wedding."
By focusing not just on the reception, but also an after-party, the couple joined a growing number of brides and grooms who opt to keep the festivities going long after the band stops playing.
"At least 75 percent of our clients are doing an after-party," says Baltimore wedding planner Elizabeth Bailey. "They are strategically planning and letting guests know ahead of time. It's not something they're doing at the last minute."
Bailey says couples typically choose to plan after parties that stand in stark contrast to the reception. "They're more casual, smaller and the food is completely different," she says. "We may have had a very formal, fancy wedding, and after, it's 'let your hair down' time. We go from a band to DJ, tenderloin to pizza."
The casual vibe often comes as a relief after formal weddings, with all of their built-in traditions.
"There's no structure!" says Caitlin Dieringer, whose September wedding and after-party, planned by Bailey, took place at her parents' Ellicott City home. "There are things to accomplish during the wedding — the ceremony, cake cutting, pictures. You always hear the bride talking about how it goes so quickly," she says. "I really enjoy dancing and wanted to have that time with no serious obligations just to hang out and have a good time."
To sustain the dancing, Dieringer's caterer provided finger foods like sliders and buffalo chicken dip. Casual "junk" food — from pizza to burgers — is de rigueur for wedding after-parties.
"I had a bride who was set on having McDonald's hamburgers," says Julie Savage of Strawberry Milk Events, based in Baltimore. "They had this really formal black-tie wedding, with McDonald's at the after-party."
When Jon and Courtney Sider's reception ended at Woodholme Country Club, they moved the party to a different part of the club, feeding their guests sandwiches and fries. But for the Siders, the central element of the after-party wasn't the food — it was the music.
The couple, who met at Tulane University in New Orleans, surprised their guests with a post-reception pianist who played the songs they listened to during their college days at Pat O'Brien's, a bar in the French Quarter.
"It was to incorporate something New Orleans-y into our wedding because it was such a big part of our lives and relationships," says Courtney Sider.
A change in music can be a simple way to establish a new mood at the after-party, says Brandon Casey, director of events at Michele Damon Events. "You might change from a band to a DJ," he says. "Or play a different variety of music. That's a quick and easy way to change the whole feel from the reception to the after-party."
Casey has also seen couples infuse new energy into an after-party by adding a prop, like glow sticks or sunglasses. "It sounds silly, but it's actually really fun," he says.
Planners say the key to a successful after-party is knowing your guests and knowing your venue. "You have to know your guests and what they're going to like," says Casey. Some weddings naturally evolve into a dance party — but an event, like karaoke or a wind-down campfire at an outdoor location, might be more appropriate for other groups.
Bowling was a natural fit for Mark and Rachel Meyer. The couple, who live in Manhattan and were married in Brooklyn, N.Y., wanted their after-party to honor Rachel's parents, Madlyn Fass Kruh and the late Joel Kruh, and the bride's Baltimore roots. The night her parents married, they had dinner at Tio Pepe. Then, because it was their regular bowling night, they went bowling.
"My dad passed away a few years ago, and we wanted to find a way to bring him into the event in a not-cheesy way," says Rachel. When they realized that Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley with music and nighttime bowling, was across the street from their wedding venue, they knew what to do.
"My sister organized it so after dinner, we had some lanes secured," Meyer says. "We were there until 2 in the morning. It ended up being a really emotional affair, with speeches. It was really special and sentimental."
Wedding planners believe after-parties are a part of a larger trend in wedding planning, with couples organizing events for an entire weekend, not just one day or evening.
"It's tied to a wedding weekend experience," says Bailey. "Often there's a Thursday night welcome party, Friday bridesmaids' luncheon, rehearsal and dinner, Saturday wedding, and Sunday brunch." And now, post-wedding party on Saturday night.
The goal, says planner Kate Beck, is to maximize time with friends and family. "Having the weekend more organized will ensure that they can see people where and when they want, versus finger-crossing and hoping for the best."
Wedding planners estimate that after-parties cost about 10 percent to 20 percent of the total reception cost. Bailey says that sometimes, friends or extended family members volunteer to pay for the events surrounding the wedding. "An aunt pays for the Thursday welcome or [a] grandmother pays for Sunday brunch," she says. "The after-party is taking that on, as well."
But no matter who pays, wedding planners say, the after-party is always a big hit, with couples able to relax and catch up with friends and guests. Ultimately, it's about enjoying the day to the fullest.
"It's not about keeping up with the Joneses," says Beck. "It's about how to spend all this time with the people we love and who are traveling to see us. Ultimately, weddings are four or five hours — and that's just too short."
The best after-parties are ones that combine a couple's personality with the needs and wants of their guests, experts say. Here are some tips from wedding planners.
Choose a theme. A dedicated theme can be a fun way to energize guests after a wedding. "It can be sports-themed, a cigar bar, a speakeasy, or a cheesy '80s theme," says wedding planner Kate Beck. "It could also focus on where the couples are from or where they met," she says.
Hire a food truck. Willy Dely of Kooper's Tavern says the restaurant has had requests for its Chowhound truck to show up at after-parties. "Usually, the cake is served and the party's over, grandparents go home, people are tired," he says. "Bring some food when people are dancing and they're like, 'Hey, it's not over! We can go on to the next location!' "
Head to a bar. There are plenty of local bars that double as great wedding after-party locations, say planners — starting with Wit+Wisdom in rhe Four Seasons Baltimore hotel. "The Four Seasons has got to be the hottest after-wedding drinks in town," says Alexa McCulloch of Union 3 Productions. "You can sit there on Saturday night and just watch the wedding parties roll in." But if you go with a bar, it's best to alert the staff in advance. "Maybe you pay $500 or $1,000 to make sure the additional staff is there to help serve you," she says.
Spread the word. For an after-party, invitations don't need to be formal. Meredith and Robert Ford of Hampden celebrated at the Mount Washington Tavern after their reception at the Baltimore Country Club. Their wedding planner suggested they ask close friends to spread the word. "That was good advice," says Meredith Ford. "We had a little sign saying, 'The bride and groom will be celebrating after the reception,' but I think the best way to communicate that is to have people talking about it at the reception."
Arrange transportation. Planners insist that coordinating safe transportation for guests is critical. "That's one of my sticklers as an event planner," says Beck. "We maintain a line item in the budget, no matter how tight, for transport." McCulloch agrees. "Be careful for your guests," she says. "Make sure those who do stay have a safe transportation option. Have a planner open Uber accounts on site or make sure they have shuttles ready to take people back to hotels."