Semisonic said it best back when I was in college. "Closing time. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here." When a wedding reception is over, it's over. Done. Lights on, clear the room, time for cleanup. Everybody needs to leave. And yet, some of the wedding guests don't want the party to end.
Let's have a laugh here at the difference between guests' behavior at a wedding back home versus at a beautiful destination on a faraway island. Have you ever seen somebody refuse to leave the country club when the reception is over? Nope. I've never seen a sit-in at a hotel banquet room either -- everybody is too busy crowding into a nearby bar so they don't lose their buzz. The wedding receptions up north last approximately the same amount of hours as the ones down here in the Caribbean, but for some reason (probably because they feel like they're on vacation), wedding guests are much more resistant to seeing the festivities come to an end down here. Sometimes they get really, really upset that the party is ending.
You can't have an all-night reception. Wait, you can. But you have to have a budget to pay for that, and you have to be prepared to pay for all of the staff you're keeping longer than the standard wedding timeframe. I have clients ask me all the time if they can extend the reception by a couple of hours and this is what I have to say about that -- if you can afford that whole tab and you really want to do it, go for it. But you have to be prepared to pay for ALL of the staff to stay later (sorry guys, we can't just keep the bartender because y'all are making a big-ass mess and we're going to need the whole team for teardown when this fiesta finally does end), you have to plan to pay an additional bar rate (more hours = more booze), and you probably need to plan for a safe ride home out of your pocket for each and every guest (think drunk bus). The liability and possibility of drunk driving increases dramatically when a wedding reception is extended to an overly-long period of time.
What's overly long? Depends on where you're from and your cultural background. Some cultures celebrate for days straight. In the United States, most wedding receptions run from four to six hours total. Here in Vieques, our usual standard is five hours. Trust me, five hours of unrestricted alcohol is more than enough booze for anybody. Especially at the rate most wedding guests suck down the signature drinks and shots.
Five hours doesn't sound like enough for you? Never does to the bride and groom. But rather than spend a fortune on your reception venue and staff, you're better off keeping to the standard reception length and planning an wedding "after hours" party at a location off site.
There are three reasons that it's a VERY good idea to have your late-night partying someplace other than your wedding venue location:
1) You have a deposit on that venue or villa, and the drunker your guests get, the higher the odds that something is going to get broken (or some idiot will bring out a forbidden glass beer bottle and break it on the pool deck). Getting them out of the venue when the party is over guarantees you that whatever they break, they break it someplace else where it's not your responsibility.
2) Most venues won't permit you to party past a certain hour because they have neighbors or other guests who are affected. Nothing puts a pall on a wedding reception like having the police show up to shut down the party. Plus, if you abuse the late-night noise situation, I won't be allowed to use that villa for future weddings.
3) When you are ready to have the party end, it ends. If you go out with your friends to a local bar for an "after-hours" event, you can sing and dance as late as you want, but when you're ready to leave, you're out of there. I tell my clients don't even stop to say goodbye because otherwise, you never get out of there. You are going to be pooped. If you have an after-hours event on site at your wedding venue, and that's where you're staying, you may never make it to bed on your wedding night.
Now maybe that's what you want: An all-night party of wedding craziness. We can do late-night beach fire pits in some locations, and in some villas where the neighbors are wayyyy out there, you can party like rock stars 'til the sun comes up. If it's in your budget. Most of my clients end up opting to have an off-site after-hours party at a local bar where they can dance and sing and PUT EVERYBODY ON THEIR OWN TABS. When you leave the reception, the financial onus is no longer on you. Heck, if you have nice guests they should be buying your drinks at the after party.
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