Have you ever traveled to attend a friend or family member’s wedding and received a welcome bag upon your arrival? Isn’t it fun to dig into the bag and find snacks and wine and other little presents?
I should start this blog by saying you do not have to do a welcome bag for your guests. If you’re having a destination wedding, you should absolutely greet your guests with at least a welcome letter that includes directions to all of your events and special information about the island. You should also include important cell phone numbers for your guests in case of emergency.
A welcome bag is an added bonus, and if you can afford to do them, I highly recommend spending the money. Most people think of “welcome baskets” not “welcome bags” — but I push my brides to give welcome bags in the form of cool beach bags that their guests can actually use. There are a lot of companies that will print custom bags for a reasonable price.
Important Note: Don’t put your names or your wedding date on the tote bags. Decorate them with the name of the island you’re getting married on and a picture of a seashell or a palm tree or a map of the island. Give your guests something they’ll actually use. If you put your name and wedding date on the bags, your guests will never carry them again after your wedding weekend unless, of course, you have an unusually large number of sorority girls attending your wedding.
My guests loved the welcome bags I created for my own wedding in Vieques a few years ago. Why was my goody bag the coolest ever? Because I started working on them early and I kept adding to it and adding to it and adding to it. Do not follow my example. I spent a fortune and really overdid it. You can do a super-cool welcome bag by just including one or two of the items I put in mine:
- A welcome letter with a detailed itinerary for the weekend
- A copy of the local monthly news magazine — Vieques Events
- A map of the island
- Playing cards with our name and wedding date on them
- Custom-labeled bottles of water for the beach
- A bottle of rum
- Two inflatable beach balls
- Refillable water bottles (I told you it was overkill)
- A couple packs of chips
- A couple packs of bite-sized cookies
Some of my recent brides have really outdone me by including other useful items like waterproof car key/cash safes for their guests to use at the beach, bottles of locally-made hot sauce with custom labels, and souvenir-sized packages of Puerto Rican coffee.
If you’re giving your guests a nice beach bag, you can really get away with just giving the bags with your welcome letter and maps inside if you can’t afford the other goodies. Your guests will recognize the bags for the nice gift that they are.
Conversely, don’t tease your guests with a welcome bag that isn’t really a welcome bag. I recently attended a wedding where I was a guest, not the hired help. At the front desk of the hotel I was given an adorable paper gift bag tied with a pretty ribbon. The bag was stuffed and looked full of promise. Unfortunately, it was an empty promise.
Once I got into my room, I eagerly untied the bag and dumped its contents. It included the following items: 2 apples, 2 mini Snickers, 1 mini Twix, four Starlite mints, directions to the ceremony and reception, and the biggest, heaviest stack of free brochures about local area attractions that you’ve ever seen. The same brochures I’d seen on the rack next to the front desk when I checked in. Boo!
My point is this: it is perfectly okay to skip the welcome bag. It’s perfectly okay to just leave a printed page with directions and a welcome note for your guests at the front desk. But don’t try to make it look like something it isn’t. If you’re going to give a welcome bag that isn’t a tote bag, don’t spend more on the paper bags and ribbon than you do on the contents. Your guests will notice and they’ll be snarky about it behind your back. Better to skip it altogether if you don’t have the budget to put something real in it.
Finally, try to deliver each welcome bag to the guests’ rooms personally if the hotel will let you. If you must leave them at the front desk, be sure to leave the hotel staff with a very specific list of who should get a goody bag at check in. Then make a point to ask a few different guests if they received their welcome bag. My cousin’s wife Anna spent months putting together a gorgeous welcome basket for each of her guests. It included wine, cloth napkins, gourmet chocolates, crackers and cheese. Each basket also held directions to the rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception.
More than a year after Anna and Will’s wedding, I was having coffee at Starbucks with Anna when the subject of welcome gifts came up. She said something about spending a fortune on hers, and I looked up in surprise. I didn’t get a welcome basket for Anna’s wedding. Neither did my mom. Or my cousins Meredith and Traci. A quick poll of relatives in our cell phone books revealed that only two people in our family had received the welcome baskets. What happened to all of the others? Anna never found out. And because it was more than a year after her wedding, it was a little late to ask the hotel to investigate. It was a real lesson to all of us about following up with your guests to make sure they actually got their welcome gifts after you delivered them to the hotel.
Until next time when we’re going to discuss rehearsal dinner options for destination weddings, HAPPY WEDDING PLANNING!