Rare today is the wedding guest list made up mostly of home-towners. For many brides and grooms, friends and family have become a far-flung network, and connecting at one time in one place is difficult. A wedding is usually the occasion for such a broad ingathering and, as the bride and groom, you want to express your gratitude for the loving effort made to be there for you.
In other words, in recent years, the bride and groom not only get gifts, they give gifts, too, showing their gratitude with the Out-of-Town Gift Bag or Box (sometimes called the OOT). The OOT can range from a simple paper gift bag with bottled water and a few snacks to elaborately boxed, themed collections. The choices are vast. Google "out of town wedding gifts" and up pop dozens of sites with ideas and merchandise.
Having been to a number of weddings as an OOT-er, I can tell you that I always enjoy and appreciate the gift. A North Carolina wedding brought a gift box with lots of local goodies including cheese wafers, nuts and soft drinks (Cheerwine, I think?). There was also an itinerary of wedding events and — because shuttle buses were provided — when and where they would arrive to ferry us around.
Now, there seems to be some push-back over the practice, and the concerns are valid.
The first is the expense. Individual items can be had cheaply but they start adding up with quantity.
"You can do it as expensively as you want. But you can also do it without spending a lot of money," says my friend Lynn, whose daughter was recently married and who put together 80 gift boxes for out-of-town guests. "We had fun looking around for ideas." Her advice is to Google "cheap wedding favors." Also, buy in bulk at discount stores.
Lynn ordered boxes, shredded paper filler and large cellophane bags from nashvillewraps.com, which has a large, affordable assortment and often sells in bulk. The goodies she packed into the boxes included bottled water and sunscreen with personalized labels with the bride and groom's names, a fan, chocolates (a must!), cheese wafers she made in advance, then froze and put into small cellophane bags, and cookies made by another friend with the bride and groom's initials. She was given free brochures about downtown St. Petersburg from the Chamber of Commerce. The loveliest and most original thing she included was a little book (inexpensively bound by Sir Speedy) of wedding information and places to visit near the hotels where guests stayed that had a cover designed by an artist friend. It was a true keepsake.
Besides the cost, another major issue seems to be the logistics. Some brides have posted their disgruntlement about the time the bags require right before the wedding and problems delivering them to multiple locations. Friends of mine have enlisted other friends, the wedding planner, even groomsmen hanging around the house to help.
The bags can become even more problematic for destination weddings, which require you either to pack everything and assemble them on arrival or to spend a frenetic day shopping when you get to the destination.
Hotels can be cavalier about getting the gifts to the guests, who will arrive at varying times. If you have them delivered to the hotel room, you or your guests might face an extra charge. I have never had a problem getting mine; the front desk people plop it into my arms during check-in. Discuss your plans with the hotel staff so there are no surprises. And because you want to get the gift bags there a day in advance, perishables are probably not a good idea.
It's important to remember that this is an optional amenity. The most useful thing you can provide, which doesn't require accessories, is information about the wedding schedule and directions if your guests will be driving. Your friends and family come because they love you and are happy for you, not because there is a chocolate-coated biscotti waiting for them in a hotel room. That said, I really do adore, after a kickin' reception, a tasty little midnight finale.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.