Caterers clear plates of half-eaten wedding cake. Bartenders pile empty vodka handles into recycling bags. “Hey Ya!” or “Crazy in Love” slowly fades out over the last revelers standing on the dance floor. This is how many wedding parties wind toward their inevitable end. The festivities, which have cranked along at a boisterous pace for hours, suddenly dissipate as family and friends dissolve into the night. It’s only natural for the happy couple to long for something else: some next stage to prolong the merriment, some additional location where the party can more gradually unwind without a hard stop, some opportunity for hosts and guests to come to a sense of closure.
Enter: the next-day wedding brunch, that modern classic of a nuptial chaser.
Exit: the next-day wedding brunch, please.
After a day, possibly multiple, of wedding events, it’s cruel (and far too usual) to request that guests wake up to the unforgiving post-wedding morning and make themselves presentable for tepid scrambled eggs and sad breakfast sausages. No one should suffer through a hangover while making stilted conversation with the bride’s Aunt Hildegard. Even sober guests free of hangovers and morning people eager to tackle the day are unlikely to muster the same ecstatic energy as they did at the wedding party the evening before. That sour taste at the end of a middling wedding brunch isn’t the burnt coffee; it’s the flavor of poor party planning.
The ideal capstone to a wedding party is, instead, an after-party (it’s right there in the name), where the vibe can shift to better suit the wedding couple and their closest friends. Dress code heels and ties might give way to comfy shoes and open collars. The music might go from rote wedding classics to the wedding couple’s niche playlist, or from grandma-friendly radio edits to explicit party starters. And the menu could shift, too, maybe from cocktails and plated entrees to greasy food and boxed wine.
The after-party doesn’t have to be exclusive or necessarily small, but it does naturally encourage a more intimate experience. As distant relatives peel off (Aunt Hildegard isn’t coming to the after-party) and formalities dissolve, the core group of friends and family can talk freely, bond a bit tighter, and maybe get a little messy. Whether you want to wine down or let guests work out their lingering zoomies in an all-out rager, an after-party acts as a release valve on the weeks, months, or years of anticipation that have built up before the big day.
At my own wedding last fall, I didn’t have a moment’s rest from the vows until last call at the reception. As I bounced from conversation to conversation, I found enough time to sit as I inhaled a few fish tacos, but otherwise spent hours crisscrossing the room, trying to see everyone at least briefly.
It wasn’t until the after-party, when we led a handful of party guests back to our apartment (yes, we did pick a venue within walking distance of our home so we could just slide into bed at the end of the night), that I had a chance to hold a conversation for longer than a minute. I sat for awhile with friends I hadn’t seen in forever, drunkenly hugged my sister a dozen times (that I can remember), tried to karaoke to music I could barely hear over the din of the room, and cracked open a few bottles of booze I’d been saving for years.
Swapping brunch for an after-party doesn’t entirely get you out of planning duties. After-parties deserve the same attention you’d devote to a fancy meal. Pick out a venue: a nearby bar, a club where you can get rowdy, the house of a trusted friend, or one anointed room in the hotel block. Wherever you choose to decamp, it’s usually best to pick a spot that’s less formal than the main shindig. Plan a supply of booze and food, ideally something hearty and/or greasy to soak up a bit of that alcohol. And if possible, communicate all of this ahead of time; it can be painfully ambiguous to guests whether an after-party is happening and whether they’re invited, so give folks a heads-up so they can plan accordingly.
Obviously there are exceptions to all of the above. A destination wedding in a relatively remote location might require hosts to provide guests with every meal, or a brunch may offer an opportunity for the wedding couple to hang with nieces and nephews after a kid-free ceremony. But post-wedding brunch doesn’t need to accompany every “I do.” Many couples feel pressure to host an obscene number of events surrounding their wedding. Take this one off the to-do list.
The morning after my wedding, my wife and I woke up to zero responsibilities. We housed some leftover tacos, texted apologies to our neighbors for the racket the evening before, and set out on a road-trip mini-moon with nothing but fond memories of our killer after-party.
Ria Osborne is a Brooklyn-based food photographer by way of London.
Liberty Fennell is a London-born, New York City-based food stylist and recipe developer.
Sonny Ross is an illustrator based in Manchester, U.K. They love drawing food as much as cooking it but not as much as eating it. They work across editorial, publishing, textiles and packaging and in their downtime enjoys such hobbies as: sleeping.
Copy edited by Leilah Bernstein