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A personal welcome

Your wedding may draw loved ones from far and wide, and these travelers likely will be weary when they arrive. A basket of treats or a special, thoughtful welcome gift is a great way to thank them for coming and making them feel more comfortable after their journey.

Traditionally given to out-of-town guests only, welcome baskets are "an absolute necessity" for destination weddings, according to event planner Mindy Weiss' "The Wedding Book" (Workman Publishing Co., 2008).

When a destination wedding is close by — like a Los Angeles couple getting married in Ojai or Palm Springs — the gift basket question is tricky, said Heidi Mayne, owner of Beverly Hills’ Red25Events. “Since that puts everyone into the ‘out of town’ category, the question is: Do you give gift baskets to everyone or just those traveling from afar?” For Mayne the answer is everyone — if you can afford it. And if money is tight, remember that guests will appreciate even a small gesture, she said.

The essentials

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Bottled water and snacks top the list of essentials for any gift basket. “You don’t want your guests to have to pay $8 for water from the minibar after traveling all that way,” Mayne said. A personal note and the wedding itinerary also are mandatory if you want your guests to know when and where they are supposed to be throughout the weekend. 
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But what can you give your guests to make them feel special?
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In 14 years of event planning, Alyson Fox of Levine Fox Events in Beverly Hills has seen couples give their wedding guests everything from simple boxes of homemade cookies to elaborate monogrammed bags stuffed with customized Flip video cameras, digital cameras, designer sunglasses and gift certificates for new swimsuits. Fox recently created what she calls a Kama Sutra basket for guests at a wedding she planned. “We wanted the theme to be romance, so we included massage oils, a candle and some gorgeous chocolates,” she said. 
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Fox also said that some couples like to give guests iPod Nanos loaded with a weekend playlist of music. "You can make the music thematic to the wedding locale, of course," she said. Whether it's a playlist of country music for a wedding at a dude ranch or a DVD of a movie that was shot in the city where the wedding takes place, couples are getting more creative with their welcome baskets.

 “Couples are choosing a more personal flavor for their gift baskets,” said Lisa Gorjestani of Details Event Planning in Los Angeles. “The contents reflect the couple by including their favorite things, such as a beloved childhood candy, specialty items from their hometown or favorite songs from their iPods.” 

Local flavor

Souvenirs from the wedding locale, such as a Hollywood snow globe for a Los Angeles wedding or a miniature Statue of Liberty for a New York event, also add an element of fun. Similarly, a basket filled with local products, such as Napa wine or Santa Barbara olive oil, is always welcome. Tiffany Emch, catering manager for weddings at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, said she might send guests such local treats as pixie tangerines or baskets of lavender honey, lavender sachets and lavender sugar from nearby New Oak Ranch.
Event planners often will reflect the wedding’s colors in the design of the baskets. They also love to implement a theme. “If the event is in Napa, you might have an understated wine-and-cheese theme,” Fox said. “If it’s at the beach, you could include flip-flops, sunscreen and a beach towel.”
Welcome baskets don’t have to be baskets at all. Barrels, bags, hats and even antique ice buckets are among the many containers used today. Fox said that presentation is important and that she likes to use labels with the couple’s monogram or wedding logo for the items inside. “It should be wrapped beautifully,” she said. 

Practical considerations

“It’s important to consider where guests are coming from and how they will get the baskets home,” Mayne said. A tote bag that can be folded into a suitcase is a better choice than a cumbersome basket for those traveling by plane. For the same reason, she cautioned against including fragile items and suggests gifts such as designer candles be small enough to be packed in a suitcase.
Some might say the best welcome basket is a useful one that includes items such as sunscreen or a mini-medicine kit stocked with pain relievers and antacids. 
One way to make a practical item into something special is to give guests a personalized map. Mayne said she often hands out Map Totes (Maptote.com), canvas tote bags printed with a map of the area. The tote bags designed by Laura Hooper Calligraphy also are popular. 

Going green

Eco-friendly is definitely another growing trend in gift baskets. “People want to make sure items will be used — and reused,” Mayne said. Among her favorite ideas is to give guests reusable grocery tote bags stuffed with treats they can eat over the weekend.

The extra mile

If children will attend the festivities, couples might consider creating special baskets for young guests filled with juice, snacks and travel games.
To pamper grown-up guests, Weiss suggests a nightly turndown gift such as cookies and milk delivered by hotel staff, along with the itinerary for the following day. For example, Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes can offer such delicious turndown gifts as fresh macaroons or chocolates. 
A welcome basket doesn’t need to be elaborate to let your guests know how much you appreciate their presence. Whether simple or decadent, it’s the thought that counts.

Jennifer Evans GardnerCustom Publishing Writer