Once, the little gifts that couples gave out to wedding guests were as elegantly predictable as just about every other aspect of a traditional wedding. A little bud vase printed with the happy couple's names, perhaps. Or a tiny faux-Lenox picture frame inscribed with the date.
Somewhere along the way, couples and wedding planners took a different approach. They figured out that fragile trinkets like these were often taken home and ignored, or, worse, left behind at the reception.
Happily, as with so much modern wedding planning, favors have gotten a whole lot more personalized, creative and, in some cases, delicious.
TELLING YOUR STORY
Couples who opt to give guest favors are seeking something that distinguishes their wedding from others, but is relatively inexpensive, says Lauren Kay, deputy editor of the wedding website TheKnot.com. The Knot's 2016 survey found that of the 78 percent of couples giving favors to their guests, the average investment ranged between $2 and $5 per guest, depending on the number of guests and the budget.
"What can you really get for $2 or $3 that people are really going to want to hang on to and that will really represent you?" asks Kay.
The answer for many couples is creative personalization: a gift that helps tell their story.
Journalists Caitlin Kelly and Jose Lopez created a memorable favor for their 2011 wedding: Knowing that their colleagues often treasure press passes from major events, they designed authentic-looking, laminated press passes for their reception. Guests could wear these tongue-in-cheek, all-access passes on lanyards throughout the event, and take them home as mementos.
GIFTS ON ARRIVAL
If your guests have traveled to reach a wedding destination, your gift to them may be waiting at their hotel. "Welcome bags" usually offer a mix of practical things (cheese and crackers for the room, for example, and perhaps water and a packet of Advil for the morning after) and fun items designed to highlight something about the couple or location.
Pittsburgh-based wedding planner Natasha Brody of Hello Productions has designed postcards with a striking photo of Pittsburgh on one side and the wedding weekend itinerary printed on the back. She also likes to add some local favorites to the bag, like Clark bars or mini bottles of Heinz ketchup (both from Pittsburgh), or small bottles of locally distilled Wigle whiskey.
In cases where many guests know one of the people getting married but not the other, welcome bags are a great place to put items that tell something about the couple or how they met, Brody says. The more creative the better: "Do a little write-up of how he proposed," or include information on the couple's favorite local spot for brunch or other places that weekend guests shouldn't miss.
Spending on these "swag bags" may range from about $6 to $15 per bag, depending on the couple's budget and the number of out-of-town guests. Give one bag per room or couple, rather than individual bags for each visiting guest.
Another money-saving move: Some couples who give welcome gifts to out-of-town guests then skip table favors at the reception. Money they might have spent on favors can be used toward extras like "an after-party band or a really cool bartender who is making special cocktails," Kay says.
DELICIOUS AND DIY'D
Edible (or drinkable) gifts solve the problem of guests having to pack unplanned items in a suitcase or carry something fragile home. Small succulent plants are advertised as great wedding favors and can be quite beautiful, but they leave guests with the challenge of getting them home intact.
Wedding guests also get hungry. So some couples solve both problems by offering food gifts: a jar of local honey, perhaps, or a box of chocolates from a popular local business. For weddings at a winery, Kay says, a split of wine with a personalized label is a perfect gift.
Another option that's cost-effective: Offer pretty takeout containers that guests can fill with cookies as they leave the reception. Or, for couples not hosting a brunch the next day, offer gourmet muffins or jars of granola with bags of fancy tea to be enjoyed the next morning.
Again, the local tie is popular, as is do-it-yourself-ing: One of Brody's clients "had family come over and they all made homemade apple butter," she says. In the months before the wedding, the family made batches from local apples and then packed the apple butter by hand into mason jars tied with ribbons.
"It was really precious," Brody says. "No one forgot it."