One of the things we love to do at Engaging Affairs is to personalize weddings. And of my my favorite ways to do this is with the welcome bags that out-of-town guests receive at their hotels.
Because we are in D.C. and so many of our couples have guests coming from all over the world, I think the bags are an important way to start the celebration and make guests feel welcome. I use the word "bags" generally because we like to use boxes, baskets, tins or any other fun container that fits the bill. Just keep in mind that guests will rarely be able to take the container with them (unless they have a huge suitcase) so don't put all your resources towards that part. We have used crab baskets for Eastern Shore weddings, DC skyline bags for city weddings, hatboxes for very swanky affairs and metal boxes for modern weddings. Now we try to choose containers that are recycled or recyclable like boxes made of 100% recycled paper or bags made out of recycled plastic bottles.
I don't think welcome bags need to be elaborate. It's better to include a few really unique, personal items than have a bag jammed full of random items. Also, remember that your guests will only be in town over the weekend so filling a bag full of enough snack food to last them through the end of the year will be a waste.
Here are what I consider to be the welcome bag essentials:
An itinerary. It's helpful to include a list of the events with the dates, times and street addresses, especially if you have numerous activities over the wedding weekend. Include pick-up information if you are providing transportation so guests know when and where to catch the buses. If you have different events for wedding party or immediate family, consider two versions of the itinerary. Of course, then you will need to put names on each bag so that guests will get the proper schedule!
Map or city guidebook. DC puts out a great guidebook called The American Experience that includes a map as well as tourist attractions and restaurant listings. Pocket metro maps of DC are also helpful if guests will be staying downtown.
Something personal or related to the city. We like to do colorful decorated cookies from Bundles of Cookies of The White House or Capitol. Guests love them and they are yummy! Just last week, we did bags of personalized cookies of the bride, groom, the family dog and a Kansas Jayhawk from Parker's Crazy Cookies. The cookies looked just like the people (or animals) and guests got such a kick out of them!
For a Fall-themed wedding, we did caramel apples wrapped in cellophane. For a bride whose wedding color was lavender, we did bags of dried lavender and lavender-scented soaps. A very political couple did bags of red, white and blue Jellybellys. An Eastern Shore couple included a stuffed crab (a toy, not a real crab--yuck!) and a tin of Old Bay so their guests could take home the flavor of the region.
After that, you can do as much or as little as you want. But don't feel like you need to do what is expected or what you've seen a dozen times before. Instead of bottles of water, get customized reusable stainless steel water bottles. Cuter and better for the environment. Or skip the water and include a $5 Starbucks card. Or a can of Sophia sparkling wine with a pink straw attached.
Buy favorite candies or snacks in bulk and repackage them in metal tins. Favorites goodies include: nuts, dried fruits, M&Ms in your wedding colors, jellybeans in your favorite flavors, or candies like Sourpatch Kids or Runts. Godiva or Toblerone candy bars are also nice options to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Of course, food isn't the only option. We have done bags themed entirely around bath products with soaps, bath bombs and loofahs in the bride's colors. A cherry blossom scented bath gel is always a fun addition to a DC welcome bag.
Try to avoid things that require a lot of effort to enjoy. Bottles of wine can be nice but guests will need to get a corkscrew from the hotel before they can enjoy it (unless you include a customized corkscrew in the bag). The same goes for food that requires a knife (like small wheels of cheese). Keep things simple and easy.
The key to creating great welcome bags is to set a budget and then get creative. Guests will appreciate the thought you put into a bag that has a connection to you or the city you've chosen to be married in. Then tie it all together with custom labels, tissue paper, a cute tag and ribbon for a look that will make your guests feel like the VIPs they are.