The wedding industry has come a long way since the days of sending guests home with a mini jar of Jordan almonds and a note of appreciation. Nowadays, couples have inspired a new take on wedding favors: candles, themed artwork, monogrammed coffee mugs, personal-sized houseplants, and even custom face masks have brought a fresh way to show gratitude without handing out items destined for the trash bin.
But as thoughtful as personalized wedding favors may be, many couples wonder whether they’re worth it. Tighter budgets and a greater desire for sustainability suggest that there are better ways to show thanks without producing unnecessary waste.
So, what do the wedding pros think? We asked industry experts to chime in on favors and welcome gifts — keep reading for their thoughts and ideas for creative alternatives to the traditional take-home gift.
Wedding Favors: Yay or nay?
Who doesn’t have a custom koozie or matchbook collecting dust after bringing it home from a wedding? The great favor debate remains split: on one side, favors are considered unnecessary and even wasteful. But the other side contends that favors can be a thoughtful gesture when done right. So, which one is it?
The Wedding Duo’s Dominic Fournier argues that it’s neither — while physical favors are neutral, the sentiment behind them matters most.
“Favors are a ‘nice to have,’ but definitely won’t make or break your event,” he assures. “As with so much wedding planning, couples have a vision, and if this includes favors, they will not be a waste of money. It is true that not everyone may appreciate the time and effort you put into detail, like favors, but your wedding is about you.”
But plenty of wedding pros have seen countless favors left behind, leaving the couple to deal with the excess.
Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss views wedding favors as unnecessary. “So many times, couples spend on trinkets, and 90% of them get left behind,” she shares. “Unless something is edible, guests ignore it or forget to take it home!”
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners agrees with Sheils’ perspective on most favors, but she notes that certain favors can prove useful on the wedding day.
“If doing gifts or favors, I recommend helpful things like sunglasses if the ceremony is outside, flip flops for the dance floor, or pashminas for a cool evening,” she suggests.
Alicia Igess Jones shares this idea, adding that “favors and welcome gifts should be something people can use, eat, or drink. Otherwise, this expense can be unnecessary, and people toss them.”
So if you’re considering whether or not to give out favors, think about how you would feel as a wedding guest. For example, would you be thrilled to receive a magnet with the couple’s engagement photo? Or would you prefer a tasty treat to take home with you?
Welcome Bags: Yay or nay?
While wedding favors have fallen out of favor with many, welcome bags continue to be a popular way to show appreciation for out-of-town guests. “Acknowledging those who have traveled to celebrate with you is a great touch and sets the tone,” Sheils confirms.
Wedding photographer Jocelyn Filley agrees, adding that welcome bags are “a wonderful expression of gratitude to your guests traveling from afar.”
“If they don’t know the area well, incorporating a little map or list of favorite things to do is a lovely way to warmly welcome them and let them share in your love of the place you’ve chosen to get married,” Filley continues. “A small collection of local treats is also a nice touch, like mini banana bread from a nearby farm market, locally made chocolates, fudge, goat milk soaps, and salts.”
For those prioritizing sustainability, Filley cautions that typical welcome bags can create a lot of waste. “Be sure to avoid plastic water bottles, individually wrapped painkillers, and the like,” she says. “Chances are your guests will have those things on hand or can easily get them.”
While welcome bags are a kind addition, Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs ensures they aren’t required. “Welcome bags are not a necessity, but definitely, something that would be appreciated, and these can also be very helpful for guests that have traveled for the wedding,” she explains.
If you’re planning to create welcome bags, remember that it’s the thought that counts! You don’t need to blow your budget on assortments of luxury goods. Instead, stick with small and useful items, like a map of the area, a ticket to a popular museum, or some cookies from a local bakery.
Creative alternatives to traditional favors
While the typical favors are no longer in vogue, that’s not to say you cannot show your thanks in other ways! In fact, most wedding pros encourage couples to lean into experiential elements as a more interactive way to enhance the guest experience.
“My favorite way to incorporate a favor is with an escort card wall,” shares wedding photographer Jessica K. Feiden. “Whether it’s a luggage tag or a mini bottle of spices, couples retrieve their custom favor that also tells them what table they are sitting at. This also ensures they don’t get left behind or go unnoticed.”
Another popular option: photo booths! “Photo booths are a great alternative to favors,” says Peter Mitsaelides of Brooklake Country Club & Events. “Your guests still get a favor (their photo booth image), and they’ll also enjoy playing with the props. And you’ll receive all the image files as well.”
Or, if you want to take it up a notch, George Wainwright of Coastal DJ & Video recommends “hiring a live sketch artist to create on-the-spot images of your guests. These renderings are truly unique and make memorable wedding favors.”
Of course, there’s nothing better than combining experiential details with a delicious snack. “Guests always enjoy the gift of food at the end of an event,” promises Melissa Diaz of Dhalia Events. “On their way out, event hosts can opt to set up fun food displays ranging from dessert items to fast food to experiential stations (e.g., build your own loaded potato, etc.). As a bonus, for guests who may have had a bit too much to drink, these stations can help them sober up before heading back home or to their hotels.”
Eco-minded couples will love the opportunity to offer guests a zero-waste, no-footprint way to celebrate on the big day, as Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings suggests.
“Have a ‘make your own’ nature confetti to throw on the wedding day,” she encourages. “You can set out several types of dried elements that can naturally be reclaimed into the ground (if your venue allows). This way, it is both interactive AND fun on the wedding day without any take-home waste.”
Or, if you want an easy-but-meaningful way to say thanks, opt for the donation route.
“Instead of giving favors to your guests, let them know that you are making a charitable contribution to your favorite non-profit,” suggests Michael Vernon of Conch Concierge Weddings. “Use signage at your reception, letting guests know of your charity and why it means so much to you as a couple.”
So, do you really need to gift your wedding guests?
The short answer: no. Your loved ones don’t attend your wedding with the expectation of getting something in return. They show up to support and celebrate you and your partner! So if favors and welcome bags are cost-restrictive (or they’re just one extra task you don’t need on your to-do list), don’t be afraid to leave them off the table.
In fact, Anderson argues that your investment can improve the guest experience in more important ways. “Taking care of toiletries in the bathroom is a much better use of funds when taking care of guest experiences,” she assures. “Guests simply want to be sat out of the sun and rain, fed at a decent time, and have deodorant and tampons in the bathroom when needed.”
Cathy O’Connell of COJ Events shares this sentiment, encouraging couples to “use the budget you might have spent on favors or gift bags on unique elements that talk about YOU. Personalized table numbers that tell the story of your travels together, looping videos of your zaniest moments, custom hats for a golf outing. Make whatever you choose thoughtful and meaningful.”
Every detail of your wedding belongs to you, so stick with what feels comfortable. Even a handwritten note or a special thank-you toast will demonstrate your gratitude without the added price tag — as long as the gesture comes from the heart.
“No matter what you decide to offer your guests, remember that it should serve as a reminder of what their presence at your wedding meant to you,” confirms Christina Lovelace of Lovelace Design. “Your gift should truly be an experience, and your guests should feel loved and thought about.”
As such, the great favor debate continues as there is no right or wrong answer to whether couples should gift their guests. Consider it a personal decision and listen to your gut (and budget!) before making your final choice!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.