It’s a basic truism of weddings: There’s no part that can’t be made more complicated if people put their minds to it.
Take the after party. Once an impromptu gathering at the closest hotel or restaurant bar, it has now blossomed into its own official event in some circles, another opportunity to create plans and themes — for those who can afford it.
“It’s not about putting up an 8-foot table and a DJ. It’s a reveal,” said Boston event planner Bryan Rafanelli, who has seen the after party mature into its own affair in the past year or two. “They’ve become as standard as throwing the bouquet or cutting the cake.”
The kind of after parties that Rafanelli plans for his well-heeled clients are often held in a space that’s separate from the wedding reception, a financial investment that translates to about 10 percent of the wedding budget. Think unique lighting and different decor, nitrogen ice cream bars, and late-night comfort food.
“One couple loved marshmallows. We hung hundreds over the dance floor and they could eat them,” said Rafanelli. “We wouldn’t do them at a wedding [but] an after party can be a whole lot more relaxing. Everyone takes their shoes off.”
Jen Pretz and Oliver Tassinari went with a nightclub theme for their wedding after party, held last September at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Event planner Amy Kimball redecorated the room where cocktails had been enjoyed earlier with new table linens, lounge lighting, and a menu of sliders, mini pizzas, and french fries. Pretz, a 34-year-old doctoral medical resident, said they splurged on keeping the bar open an extra hour, but saved the DJ expense by using a friend’s iPod playlist.
“We didn’t want to make it so elaborate. Using the same spaces made it more economical,” she said, estimating the after party was about 5 to 10 percent of her total wedding budget. “For us, the night never ended when the wedding was over. It was definitely worth it.”
The economic rebound has helped after parties emerge as a new line item in the wedding budget. The average wedding hit an all-time high of $29,858 last year, according to TheKnot.com’s 2013 Real Weddings Study of 13,000 brides and grooms. Guest entertainment is an ever-increasing expense as brides spent $220 per guest last year, up from $194 in 2009, the report read.
Locally, Linda Matzkin, president of Hopple Popple, an events company in Newton, has planned after parties for all budgets. One of the most extravagant was held last fall at the Four Seasons Hotel where the young couple, who had met during high school, let loose post-reception with a high school-themed party that celebrated their combined love of sports.
“We brought in lockers, sports jackets, and team memorabilia. We had a wall the kids signed,” Matzkin recalled. “We put down a dance floor with the football team logo on it. It meant as much to the kids as any piece of the wedding did.”
Of course, most young couples can’t manage that kind of extra wedding expense. Saving for a down payment on a house or paying down student loans usually trumps the dream of an additional open bar and late-night party decor.
Still, while after parties can mean big bucks, some can cost as little as a round of drinks. Liz Simon estimated she spent about $50 for her wedding after party — a cozy bonfire that followed a tented reception on the beach at Kalmar Village in Truro last September. When the reception ended at 11:30 p.m., guests returned to their cabins to change into sweat pants, then plopped themselves in Adirondack chairs around the fire while friends played folk tunes on guitars. Simon and her husband, Michael, passed around beers and the makings for s’mores.
“You take the dress off. You take the heels off. You put on the flip-flops. It was very low-key,” said Simon. “For us, that was the goal.”
The New York lawyer, who grew up summering on Cape Cod, said town noise ordinances prohibited loud music (hence the guitars). But the campfire sing-along vibe meant everyone felt welcome to stay up until the wee hours.
“My parents’ generation stuck around. Older guests joined us — pretty much everyone did,” she recalled.
The Simons’ inclusive after party isn’t the standard. Though everyone is always invited, older guests and friends of the bride and groom’s parents usually skip the late-night action, said Christine Altieri of AE Events, who herself has a hard time keeping her eyes open after midnight.
“We just did a wedding in the Dominican Republic. Their idea of an after party goes until 5 a.m. when the sun is rising,” she said. “I have to be honest. I didn’t make it through that one.”
Altieri said a 5 a.m. stop time would never fly in Boston — if only because of noise ordinances and drinking laws.
“The best after party location is your parents’ backyard,” agreed Rafanelli. “You can serve what you want to serve.”
Which was the case for Dana and Michael Arnold, who celebrated their wedding at her family’s former home in Norwich, Vt., over July Fourth weekend in 2011. She was one of Rafanelli’s first brides to embrace the concept of after party as planned event.
“I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, but it was what I always pictured,” said Arnold, who capped off the night by wowing guests with a 20-minute fireworks show.
For their wedding reception, the couple had built a raised wood structure with glass windows, then brought guests outside onto the deck for the elaborate sparklers and late-night food offerings including treats from an ice cream truck.
“It was very much a summer night celebration,” she said. “I felt like I got to talk to people more outside and spend more time with the people who had traveled to be with us.”
Though she’s now attended several “official” wedding after-parties, the 27-year-old Arnold, who lives in Dallas, said the casual one at the hotel bar usually means a smaller crowd.
“The bride and groom aren’t in attendance anymore,” she said.
* Jill Radsken , The Boston Globe, July 16, 2014